Thursday, June 24, 2010

Yin Yoga Sequence from Yoga Journal

I found this Yin Yoga sequence on Yoga Journal. It is part of a longer article which is worth reading. If you are interested in reading the entire article click here.

Soothe Yourself

In our speed-driven world, yoga is often fast paced. Yin Yoga offers an opportunity to slow down and come back into balance.

~By Lisa Maria, sequence by Sarah Powers
Unglamorous Yoga
Although Yin offers balance for yogis who love a more active practice, many students initially find it a turnoff. The poses aren't sexy. The sequences don't offer much to intrigue the mind. And Yin Yoga doesn't play into that sense of accomplishment that keeps some students coming back to the toughest of vinyasa classes every day. 

The pace of Yin Yoga also deters yogis who crave speed. It is an adjustment to go from holding poses for five breaths to holding them for 5 minutes. But within the stillness you'll find the gems of Yin. "Landing in this practice helps you take up residence in the body without a need for it to perform," Powers says. When you stop striving and tune in to what's happening, you begin to truly feel the sensations in your body and mind as they arise.

Once you accept that you will feel many things during a Yin practice—discomfort, boredom, anxiety—and learn to stay with the chorus of thoughts and feelings, your relationship to them will begin to change. You will learn that you have the inner strength to stay in situations you previously thought you couldn't handle. You will see the impermanent nature of thoughts and feelings as you watch them arise and then pass on their own. And when you stop resisting what's happening around you, you'll gain a sense of liberation and trust in life.
Before You Begin
As in any style of yoga, you may need to modify or abandon a pose. Come out of a pose if it produces a sharp pain or exacerbates a joint strain or injury, if you cannot breathe smoothly, or if you simply feel overwhelmed. An experienced Yin teacher can help you modify any pose with props, which can bring you to a level of comfort you might not otherwise be able to achieve.

Powers says that the breath is your best guide: "If your breath feels tight, shortened, or jagged, if you're holding it, or if you're involuntarily in survival mode, pushing your way through your hold time rather than being curious and interested in the experience, it's a good idea to come out."

With the exception of Seal and Saddle, begin by holding each pose in this sequence for 1 to 3 minutes. Eventually, you can build up to 3 to 5 minutes. Seal and Saddle may require that you begin with a shorter hold of 1 minute, eventually building up to 3 to 5 minutes.

Benefits Lengthens the inner groins and lower-back muscles; increases range of motion in hips.
Instructions Sit with the soles of your feet touching, about a foot in front of your pelvis. Keep your sacrum tilted slightly forward. If your hips allow it, lean forward. When you reach an appropriate edge, let your back round gently.
Modifications For knee or hip strain, support the thighs with blankets or bolsters. For neck strain, support the head with bolsters or hands. For sacroiliac strain or disk displacement, lie with your back on the floor and feet on a wall.
Contraindications Knee strain or sharp back pain.
Saddle (do Sphinx if you have knee issues)

Benefits Restores and maintains the arch of the lower spine; restores and maintains full knee flexion; lengthens quadriceps.
Instructions Sit on your heels, knees slightly wider than hip width. Moving slowly and evenly, lean back until you reach an appropriate edge. You may be able to bring your head or even your upper back to the floor; otherwise, place a support (blankets or a bolster) under your middle and upper back. Come out of the pose on an inhalation, using your arms and abdominal muscles and trying not to torque to one side.
Modifications For knee pain, sit on a low support; in addition, place a thin towel directly behind the knees, between the calves and hamstrings. For ankle pain, place a towel or blanket roll at the bottom of the shins.
Contraindications Limited knee flexion or sharp back pain.

Benefits Restores and maintains the arch of the lower spine.
Instructions Lie belly-down with your forearms on the floor in front of you, shoulder-width apart. To go deeper, place your hands about a foot in front of your shoulders and turn them out. Straighten the elbows. To lessen the intensity, take the hands farther away from you. Exhale to come out of the pose.
Modifications To decrease sensation in your lower back, try engaging or releasing the buttocks and varying the space between the legs.
Contraindications Disk displacement or sharp back pain.

Benefits Stretches external hip rotators; opens the groins and the lower back.
Instructions Begin on all fours. Cross your right knee behind your left so that your right knee and shin come to the floor, then sit back between your feet so that your knees stack on top of each other. If your lower back rounds, sit on firm folded blankets to keep your sacrum tilted forward. If your hips allow it, lean forward, letting your upper back round gently.
Modifications For discomfort in the lower knee, do the pose with that leg pointing straight forward. If the hip sensations are overwhelmingly intense, sit on blankets or bolsters and use your hands on the floor to bear some of your weight.
Contraindications Knee pain. Omit forward bending if you have sciatica or disk displacement or are in your second or third trimester of pregnancy.

Benefits Opens the hips, groins, hamstrings, and lower back.
Instructions Sit with your legs spread 90 to 120 degrees apart. If your lower back rounds, sit on firm folded blankets. If possible, walk your hands forward with a straight back. Rest on a bolster if needed. When you reach an appropriate edge, let your back round gently.
Modifications For pain at the back of the knees or painfully tight hamstrings, bend your knees; you can also place a rolled blanket or towel behind each knee or engage your quadriceps. Alternatively, bend toward one leg at a time, either facing each leg in turn or sidebending over each leg.
Contraindications For lumbar disk displacement or sciatica, remain upright.
Reclining Twist

Benefits Stretches, rotates, and releases tension around the spine.
Instructions Lying on your back with your arms straight out at shoulder height, bend your left knee and draw it toward your chest; then draw your left leg to the right and let it descend toward the floor. Gently draw your left shoulder toward the floor as well. Experiment with the following: moving the knee closer to your feet or your head, extending your left arm overhead, and keeping your head neutral and turning it to each side.
Modifications For lower-back sensitivity, bend both knees in the twist. For rotator cuff injury or other shoulder pain, use blankets or a cushion to support the shoulder that you are twisting away from.
Contraindications Continued shoulder pain or sharp lower-back pain.
Happy Baby

Benefits Opens the hips, groins, and hamstrings.
Instructions Lying on your back, draw both knees toward your chest, shoulder-width apart. Aim the soles of your feet straight toward the ceiling, making your shins perpendicular to the floor. Grasp the soles of your feet (from the inner or outer edges, whichever you prefer) or your toes, and actively draw your knees toward your armpits. Experiment, first allowing your tailbone and sacrum to curl up toward the ceiling, then drawing them more toward the floor.
Modifications If holding the feet is uncomfortable, hold the backs of the thighs.
Contraindications Pregnancy; neck, disk, sacral, groin, or knee injuries. Finish After you come out of the pose, bring both knees briefly to your chest, then stretch them out along the floor and spend 5 to 10 minutes in Savasana (Corpse Pose) as your final relaxation.

Sara's note: I'm pleased to find more and more Restorative and Yin Yoga information on both Yoga Journal and Yoga + Joyful Living magazines lately. We all have such "busy" lives that taking some time to settle in and listen to our bodies can be more refreshing than pushing through another active practice. Enjoy!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Restorative Stations class coming up Thursday, June 24, 2010

Restorative Stations - Join us Thursday, June 24 at 7 PM

Location: Yoga North
Scheduled Dates: June 24, July 22, August 19
Time: 7–8:15pm
Cost: Drop-in rate/ punchcard*

*Please pre-register. This class requires tons of set-up and I need to know how many people will be attending. Sign up online or call the Yoga North office at 218-722-9642.

You do not need to bring your own mat or any other props except a personal eye pillow (if desired). Wear warm, stretchy clothing.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Yoga for Chronic Pain

Kelly McGonigal wrote an article for Do Restorative Yoga back in December 2009. Here's another article by her from Yoga + Joyful Living magazine. The entire article is quite long so I am excerpting the part specific to Restorative Yoga. If you are interested in reading the whole article visit Yoga +.

Yoga for Chronic Pain
By Kelly McGonigal

 Most chronic pain has its roots in a physical injury or illness, but it is sustained by how that initial trauma changes not just the body but also the mind-body relationship. The complexity of chronic pain is actually good news. It means that trying to fix the body with surgeries, pain medications, or physical therapy is not your only hope. By first understanding chronic pain as a mind-body experience and then using yoga’s toolbox of healing practices—including breathing exercises and restorative poses—you can find true relief from pain and begin to reclaim your life.

The Protective Pain Response
Understanding the difference between acute pain and chronic pain will be critical to your ability to reduce and manage your pain. Let’s begin by examining the basic steps of the pain response: sensation, stress, and suffering.

The protective pain response begins when the body experiences some physical threat, such as a cut, a burn, or an inflamed muscle. This threat is detected by specialized nerves and sent through the spinal cord and up to the brain where, among other things, the threat signals are transformed into pain sensations. Emotion-processing areas of the brain also get the message, triggering a wide range of reactions, from fear to anger. Combined, your thoughts and emotions about the physical sensations of pain make up the suffering component of the full pain experience. Any kind of injury or illness, even one that is short-lived or appears to be fully healed, can change the way the nervous system processes pain.

Pain Again
Through the repeated experience of pain, the nervous system gets better at detecting threat and producing the protective pain response. So unfortunately, in the case of chronic pain, learning from experience and getting “better” at pain paradoxically means more pain, not less.

What you practice, you become. Learning is lifelong, and none of the changes you’ve learned have to be permanent. Your mind and body have learned how to “do” chronic pain, and your job is to teach it something new.

Unlearning Pain Through Relaxation
The best way to unlearn chronic stress and pain responses is to give the mind and body healthier responses to practice.

By helping you transform chronic pain-and-stress responses into “chronic healing” responses of mind and body, yoga helps reduce your suffering of chronic pain. Your mind and body have built-in healing responses that are just as powerful as their protective pain-and-stress responses. Relaxation specifically has been shown to be healing for chronic pain. It turns off the stress response and directs the body’s energy to growth, repair, immune function, digestion, and other self-nurturing processes. Consistent relaxation practice teaches the mind and body how to rest in a sense of safety rather than chronic emergency.

Restorative Yoga
Restorative yoga turns on the healing relaxation response by combining gentle yoga poses with conscious breathing. There are several factors that make restorative yoga so relaxing. First, each pose is meant to be held for longer than a few breaths. You can stay in a restorative pose for 10 minutes or even longer. The stillness allows the body to drop even the deepest layers of tension. Second, restorative poses use props to support your body. Props can include the wall, a chair, a couch, pillows, blankets, towels, or bolsters designed especially for restorative yoga practice. The right support in a pose will make it feel effortless, so your body can fully let go.

You shouldn’t feel strong sensations of stretch or strength the way you might in a more active yoga pose. Stretching and strengthening, although healthy, are both forms of tension in the body. They are a kind of good stress on the body, asking the body to adapt to the challenges of a pose. But restorative yoga is all about letting go of tension and stress.

Although these poses may look as though you are doing nothing, this is far from the truth. Restorative yoga rests the body but engages the mind. The breathing elements of each pose make restorative yoga an active process of focusing the mind on healing thoughts, sensations, and emotions.

The order of poses presented here is just one possible sequence. As you explore the poses, you may find that your body prefers a different sequence or that you would rather stay longer in one pose than practice several poses for shorter periods. You can also integrate restorative poses into an active yoga session.

Nesting Pose

Nesting pose creates a sense of security and nurturing. It may also be a position you are comfortable sleeping in, making it an excellent posture to practice if you have insomnia or other difficulty sleeping.

Lie on your side, legs bent and drawn in toward your belly. Rest your head on a pillow, and place a pillow or a bolster between your knees. Rest your arms in whatever position feels most comfortable. If available, another bolster or pillow may be placed behind your back for an extra sense of support.

Rest in the natural rhythm of your breath, observing each inhalation and exhalation as it moves through the body. Take comfort in the simplicity and effortlessness of this action.

Supported Bound Angle Pose

This pose relaxes tension in the belly, chest, and shoulders that otherwise can restrict the breath. Lean a bolster on a block or other support (such as telephone books). Sit in front of the bolster with your legs in a diamond shape. Place a pillow or a rolled blanket under each outer thigh and knee, making sure that the legs are fully supported without a deep stretch or strain in the knees, legs, or hips. Lean back onto the bolster so that you are supported from the lower back to the back of the head. Rest your arms wherever is most comfortable.

Now notice the whole front of your body relax and gently open as you inhale. Follow this sensation and feel the ease in the front of the body as you breathe.

Supported Backbend Pose

Supported backbend is a heart-opening pose that reinforces your desire to embrace life and not let challenges—including pain—separate you from life. This pose also works magic to release chronic tension in the back and shoulders, undoing postural habits that come from spending too much time at a desk, at a computer, or driving.

Sitting, place a bolster or a stack of pillows or blankets under slightly bent knees. Place one folded pillow or rolled blanket or towel behind you; when you lie back, it should support the upper rib cage, not the lower back. If you need extra support underneath the lower rib cage and lower back, roll a small towel to support the natural curve of the spine. Place a rolled towel or a small blanket to support your head and neck at whatever height is most comfortable.

This pose improves the flow of the breath in the upper chest, rib cage, and belly. Allow yourself to feel this movement as you inhale and exhale. Imagine breathing in and out through your heart center. Visualize the movement of breath from your heart to your lungs as you inhale, and from the lungs back out through the heart center as you exhale.

Supported Forward Bend

This pose relaxes the hips and back, unraveling the stress of daily activities on the spine. Hugging a bolster and resting your head on its support provides a natural sense of security and comfort.

Sit cross-legged on the floor. Lean forward onto the support of a sofa, a chair, or a stack of pillows, blankets, or cushions. If you have a bolster, place one end in your lap and the other end on the sofa, the chair, or the stack of support. Rest your head on whatever support is available. If you are using the bolster, you can hug it in any way that feels comfortable, turning your head to the side. Be sure that whatever support you are using is high enough and sturdy enough to support you, without creating strain in the back or hips. If you feel a strong stretch that is uncomfortable to hold, you need more support.

In this pose, the belly, chest, and back all expand and contract with each breath. Feel the movement of the whole torso as you inhale and exhale. Feel your belly and chest gently press into the support of the bolster or pillows as you inhale. Let the sensation of your breath deepen the sensation of being hugged.

These simple relaxation practices will lead you on the path of ending your suffering. Yoga can teach you how to focus your mind to change your experience of physical pain. It can give you back the sense of safety, control, and courage that you need to move past your experience of chronic pain.

Kelly McGonigal is the editor in chief of the International Journal of Yoga Therapy.

This article is excerpted from her book, Yoga for Pain Relief: Simple Practices to Calm Your Mind and Heal Your Chronic Pain, which is now available at

Sara's note: After Ms. McGonigal wrote for Do Restorative Yoga last year I have been noticing her name popping up all over the place: Yoga + and Yoga Journal to name a few. I've really been appreciating her approach to dealing with pain and I recommend that you follow this link to Yoga + and read the whole article. If you are interested in more articles from Yoga + Magazine visit their website to read archived articles or to subscribe.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Musings on Relaxation

Recently my partner and I took a trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina and while we were on vacation I caught a cold (go figure). But it didn't really matter to me since most of the trip consisted of either sitting in the car or sitting on the beach. Easy enough to do when you are sick. We rented a cottage in Avon right by the beach. The cottage we rented had sliding glass doors (facing the water) which I left open to feel the ocean breeze. The living room was on the 2nd story of the cottage and the cottage was up on stilts so the view was great. Plus, the height had the added benefit of being out of the bug zone. While we were there, I had the lovely experience of laying on a couch which was facing the ocean. My view was just over the top of the dunes so I could clearly see the waves crashing.

As I was laying there on the couch, in the breeze, watching the waves, I felt so happy and so at peace. I napped a bit, I zoned out a bit, and I was perfectly content to be where I was, when I was, how I was. How often does that happen? OK, I know it's easier to feel content when we are somewhere awesome but it made me think about how to settle into contentment at home too.

When I got home, I was walking to work and listening to a Yoga Peeps podcast featuring Eoin Finn, who was talking about Blissology, connecting with nature and finding enlightenment by laying in a hammock. It reminded me of my couch-beach experience. I was so relaxed, so at ease. My mind was quiet, mesmerized by the waves and the feeling of the breeze I guess. My hope is to remember that feeling of living in the moment, settling into relaxation and feeling content in the moment. I find myself drawn more and more towards, Yoga Nidra, Deep Relaxation and Restorative Yoga to feed my need to soften into life.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Nap like a Yogi

I've been searching out anything Yoga Nidra related lately so naturally my eye was caught by the title, "How to Nap like a Yogi" in the spring issue of Yoga + Joyful Living magazine. It details a version of Yoga Nidra taught by Swami Rama, the founder of the Himalayan Tradition and the Himalayan Institute. Yoga North, the studio where I took my teacher training and where I currently teach, teaches from this tradition.

Here's the article as written in Yoga +:

How to Nap Like a Yogi

By Rolf Sovik
When travel (or everyday life) wears you down, a simple variation of yoga nidra (yogic sleep) taught by Swami Rama can help you restore your energy. This practice helps you settle into a profound state of rest while remaining alert at a deeper level of consciousness. By drawing your attention to your heart center, you will become a silent witness to your sleeping body and mind.

1 Choose a room where you will not be disturbed. Sit on the floor against a wall, stretching your legs out and crossing one ankle over the other. Cup your palms in your lap and, with your eyes closed, either allow your head to hang forward or to rest against the wall.

2 Feel the relaxed movement of your breath, letting it flow easily and smoothly. Then observe 3 to 5 breaths at the nostrils, to center your mind.

3 Next, one by one, rest your awareness (and breath) at the eyebrow center, then at the throat center, and finally the heart center.

4 Keeping your awareness at the heart center, quietly resolve to let your body and mind sleep for a specified length of time (say, 10 minutes). Trust your mind to awaken you when that time has elapsed.

5 As you sleep, continue to be aware of the merest sensation of the breath (but no mantra). You are simply letting your body sleep, with awareness.

6 Stay in this state until your mind wakes you up. Then slowly shift your head and stretch your body. Draw your attention outward, opening your eyes into your hands and then to the room around you.

Rolf Sovik, PsyD, is the author of Moving Inward: The Journey to Meditation. He is the president of the Himalayan Institute, and serves as the director of the Institute’s branch center in Buffalo, New York.

Photo by Andrea Killiam; Model: Stacey Galloway; Top by Lily Lotus

Spring 2010
Yoga+ magazine

Sara's note: If you are interested in more articles from Yoga + Magazine visit their website to read archived articles or to subscribe.