10 Essential Yin Yoga Poses
Life is all about balance and it is crucial in all aspects of our lives. Yin, can balance our daily activities, which are more Yang. During exercise, balance is also important. Too little exercise will degenerate, therefore we must stress tissue a little. On the other hand, too much yang will deteriorate, which might lead to tears, injuries or breaks.
Our body consists of 75% fluid when we were born. The fluidity becomes less in our bodies when we age and due to this, especially tissues, ligaments and joints get affected. Yin tissues (such as ligaments) don’t respond or get elastic like yang tissues (muscles). Yin yoga can be like therapy for joint capsule and all connective tissues. By holding the pose, pressuring and stimulating targeted areas, Yin yoga breaks fibers and collagen into small parts. Yin Yoga reaches deeper into connective tissue and fascia. Yin is like acupressure or deep tissue massage on the body, because it pulls on and pressurises tissues. And this pressure, initiates body’s natural response to stress by stimulating the circulation of Chi through them.
Yang yoga such as Qi-Gong influenced dynamic movements like Taoist Vinyasa, create heat and moves dirt out of the channels in the body. It is a dynamic practice, incorporating steady flowing, fluid movements using the rhythm of the breath. Moving in a yang way, in a safe and effective way to strengthen muscles is also beneficial.
In Yin Yoga, only two tools are used; gravity and time. Let gravity have you! ‘Surrendering’ is Yin.
Yin yoga has powerful effects on all levels of our being-mind, body, spirit. It cultivates patience, mindfulness and meditative aspects. Sarah Powers explains Yin Yoga, “As we settle into stillness, our yin aspects of being-our contemplative, receptive qualities are also enhanced. Yin creates environment and space for not only our physical body but mentally and emotionally. This practice has therapeutic effects on many levels and layers. by cultivating mindfulness about self and embracing self as is.”
There are 14 main meridians in the body. Meridians are energy channels which are connected to yin and yang organs in the body and each Yin Yoga pose stimulates specific meridians.
- Below, 10 essential Yin Yoga poses are explained. This program is suitable for all levels. You can warm up with a Yang Yoga sequence (such as Taoist Vinyasa or Sun Salutations) before starting this Yin Yoga practice. Take care of yourself and move slowly, gently during transitions in and out of the yin yoga poses. It is normal to feel temporarily fragile and vulnerable when especially coming out of the poses. You can hold the poses min. 3 minutes and max. 12 minutes. Rest few minutes between each pose during the practice.
- In Yin yoga, the place of hands & feet and alignment are not important. Hands and arms can be used as leverage during some poses.
- Breathing should be normal and natural throughout the practice. During practicing a yin yoga pose, place your attention on the breath and be present with the sensations in the body. With each exhalation, you can let go and surrender into the pose and sink into the earth a little bit more.
- After getting into the pose, start timing and become still, muscles on the targeted area should be loose and relaxed. Yin Yoga focuses on tissues, ligament and joints, not the muscles.
- Finding the ‘appropriate edge’ is important. Coming into the pose just enough to stimulate chi flow without any feeling of strain is the key.
- Learning the difference between Tension and compression: Compression is the ultimate limit for stretching or elasticity of the muscle and fascia. Tension is necessary stress on joints and ligaments. The aim is to feel the ‘tension’ on the target area. If you feel a sharp pain during a pose, adjust your position or come out of the pose.
- The sequence of poses while practicing Yin yoga is very important. Make sure you do the counterposes of each pose to balance out your body, for example Child’s pose/caterpillar/half-butterfly can be counterpose of Sphinx pose/reclined butterfly/fish pose/saddle pose.
- If you are pregnant or have any injuries in any part of your body or chronic health issues, please consult your doctor before practicing Yin yoga.
Taoist black & white circle represents the two polarities within our physical bodies and in all our existence as human beings.
According to Taoist belief, lower body is Yin as it is closer to earth and upper body, which is closer to the sun is Yang. Inner body -like bones, ligaments closer to our core- is Yin and outer layers of the body- like muscles and skin –is Yang.
These props can be used while practicing Yin Yoga Poses:
- Yoga mat
- Eye bags
- Alarm clock for timing
YIN YOGA POSES:
1. BALASANA-CHILD’S POSE:
Begin by sitting on your heels and then slowly fold forward, bringing your chest to your thighs and your forehead to the earth. Can be done with arms stretched forward, which may avoid placing too much pressure on the neck (this reduces the shoulder relaxation) If you cannot get your buttocks to your heels, the head will have a lot of weight on it. Support the neck by placing the forehead on hands or on a bolster. Allow the knees to be as close together as is comfortable, but they do not have to touch. You can also separate the knees wider. You can place a bolster under their chest. To get out of the pose, use your hands to push the floor away and slowly roll up.
- The Spleen and Stomach meridians are compressed while the Kidneys and Urinary Bladder meridians are stretched.
- The spine and ankles.
Contraindications: If you have diarrhea or if you are pregnant avoid this pose. This pose can be uncomfortable just after eating. If knee issues exist, you may need to place a towel or blanket between thighs and calves or avoid the pose altogether. You may need a blanket or other padding under the ankles to reduce discomfort on the top of the feet.
2. SADDLE POSE:
Start with simply sitting on the heels and notice how this feels. If there’s pain in the knees, avoid this pose. If your ankles are complaining, try a blanket under them or skip the pose. Lean back on your hands, creating a little arch to the lower back. Check in with how this feels. This may be it for you today! If you can go further, come down onto your elbows.
There are several ways to end this pose. If you can, come back up the way you went down, propping yourself up on your elbows and then onto the hands. Lie down on your back, straightening your legs slowly to allow the knees to release. If they are not available, trying rolling to one side and slowly straighten the opposite leg. Before rolling onto your back, you may want to wait a bit or hold your sacrum with your free hand and ease down to your back. If you’re flexible, you can just lift your knees up and pop your feet out.
- Stomach, Spleen, Urinary Bladder, and Kidney meridian lines
- If your arms are overhead, you will also work the Heart and Lung meridians.
- The SI joints, lower spine, Sacral-lumbar area, hips flexors and quadriceps, knees and ankles
Contraindications: If you have a bad back or tight sacroiliac (SI) joints, if knees and ankles are too much in discomfort and/or if you feel any sharp or burning pain, come out of the pose.
3. CATERPILLAR POSE:
From a seated position with your legs straight in front of you, fold forward, allowing your spine to gently round. Relax your legs and spine, it’s OK if your legs externally rotate a little when you do this. If your hamstrings are really tight, bend your knees and place a bolster underneath; allow the back to round fully. If that doesn’t work, sit up on more cushions. If neck feels strained by the weight of the head, support your head in your hands, resting your elbows on the legs or a bolster. You can also rest your chest on a bolster to help relax into the pose. Fold forward enough that gravity is doing the work, not your muscles. For coming out of the pose, use your hands to push the floor away and slowly roll up. Once you are up, lean back on your hands to release the hips and then shake out the legs. As an alternative, you can lie on your back with your legs up the wall.
• The Urinary Bladder and kidney meridians. Also, heart and stomach meridians.
- The spine.
Contraindications: This pose can aggravate sciatica. If you have sciatica, elevate the hips by sitting on a cushion, until the knees are below the hips, or avoid this pose entirely. If you have any lower back disorders which do not allow flexion of the spine, then keep the back as straight as you can.
4. SPHINX / SEAL POSE:
Lie on your stomach and place your elbows under your shoulders. Let your weight rest into your forearms. Allow your lower back to relax, softening your abdomen and thighs. Aim for mild compression in your lower back. If you don’t feel this subtle stress, try pressing your palms down and straightening your elbows (seal pose) to increase your spine’s extension. Notice how this feels in your lower back. If the sensations are too strong, move your elbows further ahead, lowering your chest closer to the floor. For a gentle Sphinx, rest on the ribs, sliding the elbows away to reduce compression in the lower back. Simply lying on your stomach may be enough of a backbend for you.
You can use a cushion under the elbows, helping to elevate the chest and deepen the posture. Alternatively, you can place a bolster under the arm pits and relax completely. Seal pose with straight, locked arms is the deepest pose; let the hands rotate outward a little. Slide your hands away to lessen the intensity. You may spread the legs apart to deepen the sensations in the lower back. You may prefer to keep the legs together to release the sacrum or make the sensations more even along the spine. Tightening the buttocks is okay within reason. Sagging the shoulders is also okay. If your head gets too heavy for your neck, try resting your head in your hands or your chin on your fists.
To come out, slowly lower your chest to the floor. Turn your head to one side and rest your cheek on your palms.
• The Urinary Bladder and Kidney meridian lines, as they run through the lower back and sacrum. This pose also activates the stomach and spleen meridians along top of legs. In addition, it stimulates the kidneys and adrenal glands through compression.
• Lower spine
Contraindications: If you have a bad back or tight sacrum and feel any sharp pains here, come out of the pose.
5. HALF BUTTERFLY POSE:
From a seated position, draw one foot in toward you and stretch the other leg straight out to the side. Allowing your back to round, fold forward onto your leg or down the middle between legs. You can place cushions under both knees to support them. To come out of the pose, slowly roll up, pushing the floor away with your hands. Before straightening the opposite leg, lean back on your hands to release the hips. Then slowly straighten the leg. After resting for a while, repeat the pose with the other side.
- Urinary Bladder meridian. If there is a lot of sensation in the groin and inner legs, the Liver and Kidneys are stimulated.
- Spine, especially the back and side
- Knees, although this is not as deep of a stretch for the inner knees as the Dragonfly
Contraindications: This pose can aggravate sciatica. If you have sciatica, elevate the hips by sitting on a cushion, until the knees are below the hips, or avoid this pose entirely. Beware of hips rotating backward while seated, aim is to rotate forward. If you have any lower back disorders which do not allow flexion of the spine, then do not allow the spine to round, keep the back as straight as you can or do the reclining version. Avoid dropping the head down if the neck has suffered whiplash or has reverse curvature. Beware of any sharp pain in the knees.
6. SUPPORTED FISH POSE/RECLINED BUTTERFLY:
Using a block or bolster, positioned directly under the shoulders and head, lie back ensuring that your shoulders and chest are open and you feel supported. Find a comfortable position for your arms, allowing your palms to face up. Relax your legs—knees can be bent or straight, just find a shape that allows you to surrender your body for the next several minutes. You can support the knees with cushions.
To come out of the pose, press into your elbows and release to one side, as you come off your props. Take a few breaths here before rolling onto your back.
- Kidney and Urinary Bladder, liver, heart meridians
- Sacrum, Spine, especially the back and side
- Knees, although this is not as deep of a stretch for the inner knees as the Dragonfly
Contraindications: If you have any lower back disorders then keep the legs straight. Avoid dropping the head back down if the neck has suffered whiplash or has reverse curvature.
7. SWAN POSE:
From tabletop position or downward dog pose, draw your right knee toward your right wrist. Bring your right foot in front of your left hip, and slide your left leg back—seeking sensation in your right outer hip and the front of your left thigh and avoiding sensation in your right knee. Consider supporting your right hip with a blanket or block; also consider letting your right hip come all the way to the floor, allowing your left leg to externally rotate slightly. Hold for 3-5 minutes, then switch sides.
Activates: Liver and Kidney meridians as these energy lines come through the inner groin, the Stomach and Spleen meridians (from the line on the top of the back leg); the Gallbladder line on outer leg and the Urinary Bladder line through lumbar arch.
Target areas: Outer hips, IT band, gluts (front leg), lower back, hip flexors (back leg)
Contraindications: If you have bad knees (especially any problems with the inner meniscus), watch the pressure. If hips are too tight, that is where the pressure will go. If this happens, bring the front foot back, more toward or under that hip.
8. DRAGONFLY POSE:
Open the legs and lean forward on your sitting bones. If available, you can grab a hold of the foot or rest your head on a bolster, or keep your hands/arms ion the floor between the legs. You can also support your knees with padding to ease tension in tight hamstrings or bend your knees and place feet on the floor. If you have fragile knees engage your quads (tops of the thighs). To come out of the pose inhale, roll up and rest back on your hands. As an alternative, you can lie on your back with your legs up the wall spread wide.
Activates: The Kidney, Urinary Bladder, Liver and Spleen meridian energy lines.
Target areas: It opens the hips, groin, backs of the thighs, and inner knees.
Contraindications: If you have a history of sciatica make sure to elevate your hips.
9. TWISTED ROOT POSE /LYING CAT STRETCH:
On your back, gently drawn your knees into your chest, holding onto your shins or the backs of your thighs. Do what feels good in your body, perhaps slowly rocking from side to side. Stay on your back and bend your knees, keeping your feet on the floor. Then, lift and shift your hips a little to the right. Roll over to your left side in a modified fetal position, then slowly take your right arm out to the right side, allowing your upper right shoulder to rest toward the ground. If this is challenging, initially keep your right hand on your right waist, then gradually reach it out to the side to deepen the twist. Hold 4–5 minutes, then repeat on the other side.
Activates: The Gallbladder and the Urinary Bladder meridians and also the Heart-Lungs are activated.
Target areas: Lower spine, pelvis and upper body. Also stimulates the obliques, gluts and IT band.
Contraindications: Proceed with care in case of hernia or prolapsed disc. Support the knee if high in the air so the body can relax. If the shoulder is off the floor, use a prop to support the arm enhancing relaxation.
10. CORPSE POSE-SHAVASANA:
Lying on your back, let the arms and legs drop open, with the arms about 45 degrees from the side of your body. Make sure you are warm and comfortable, if you need to place blankets under or over your body. Close the eyes and take slow deep breaths through the nose. You can use eye bags to help you relax deeper. Allow your whole body to become soft and heavy, letting it sink into the floor. As the body relaxes, feel the whole body rising and falling with each breath. Scan the body from the toes to the fingers to the crown of the head, releasing all the tension, tightness and contracted muscles. Release all control of the breath, the mind, and the body. Let your body move deeper and deeper into a state of total relaxation. Stay in Shavasana for 5 to 15 minutes.
To come out of the pose, slowly deepen the breath, wiggle the fingers and toes, reach the arms over your head and stretch the whole body, exhale bend the knees into the chest and roll over to one side coming into a fetal position. When you are ready, slowly inhale up to a seated position.
Corpse pose is essential to practice at the end of every yoga practice. This posture rejuvenates the body, mind and spirit while reducing stress and tension.
Activates: All meridians. Target areas: Whole body and mind Contraindications: Third trimester of pregnancy. If you have a lower back discomfort, you can place a bolster under your knees.
Photos by: Ada Dolanay, Amsterdam-2018