Yin Yoga takes patience and kindness, for yourself. In the practice of yin yoga, you learn to quiet the mind and listen to the body. It becomes a way to mindfully observe your experiences in the present moment. I like to call this experience 'JOYFUL DISCOMFORT'. Discomfort is not something we need to always avoid, instead try practicing listening to it. What can you learn from it?
The following are some of my favourite yin yoga poses to find my 'joyful discomfort'.
1. Cat Pulling It's Tail
I love this pose because it stretches so many things at the same time. Depending on the day I feel it different areas of the body. It's challenging but you can adjust it by placing your head and chest on the floor for those days when you need more 'joy' and less 'discomfort'.
-Stretches the upper quads and hamstrings.
- Teaches us to surrender in the moment.
- Releases tension in the hips, lower back and pelvis.
- Great for sciatica.
- Stretches/ strengthens abdominal muscles.
- Good for liver, kidneys, stomach and spleen.
Begin laying on your stomach, with your head resting on your hands. Turn your head to the right, resting on your left cheek. Bend your right knee and externally rotate your hip, so your inner knee/thigh are rest on the floor. This is a great place to rest on days when your lower back is feeling tight and you want a more restorative practice.
To go a bit deeper you can come up to your forearms like you would in sphinx pose. Or bend your left knee straight back and hold your left foot with your right hand or a strap.
Want to go even deeper combine all these options. Lift up onto your left forearm, use your right hand on the back of your right hip first to lengthen out of the lower back and then gently twist to the right. Now you can hold your left foot or use a strap.
Remember to breathe and ease into the pose so you can stay in 'joyful discomfort'. Repeat on the second side.
Butterfly in yin yoga is a great forward fold variation. I like to take my feet further away from my pelvis so my legs create a diamond shape. This allows my hips to release so I can fold deeper.
-Stimulates abdominal organs like the ovaries, bladder and kidneys.
- Stretches the inner thigh/adductors, groin, knees.
- Relieves symptoms of mild stress, menstruation and menopause.
- Helps relax and lengthen the pelvic floor, releasing tension in the pelvis, hips and lower back.
There are many great ways to practice this pose. For the purpose of yin yoga its nice to have some props handy like block, a blanket and a bolster. Start seated in easy pose (cross-legged on a folded blanket or towel. Sit towards the front edge so that your sitz bones are slightly behind you and the pelvis wants to tip forward in an anterior tilt.
Uncross the legs and bring the bottoms of the feet together. You may want to support the knees and hips by placing blocks or rolled blankets/towels under your thighs (or a bolster). With the pelvis tilted forward slowly allow the spine to fold forward towards your toes. You may want to support the head here with a bolster so you can relax the neck and shoulders as well. Begin with about 30 seconds and gradually build your time up from there.
One of my all time favourite stretches, even before I started practicing yoga. It feels great in the hips, legs and lower back.
-Opens groin, hips and hamstrings.
-Stimulates liver, spleen, kidneys and urinary bladder meridians.
-Lengthens the connective tissues in the pelvis, releasing tension in the deep core muscles, including the pelvic floor.
-Releases the muscles along the spine, including neck and shoulder tension.
- Begin sitting on a folded blanket or towel once again to support the forward tilt of the pelvis with the sitz bones slightly behind. Extend one or both legs out to your natural range of motion. In yin yoga we try not to worry too much about alignment because we want to let the body naturally relax into the pose. Bring your hands behind the hips to ensure the pelvis tilts forward and the spine extends. If you can maintain this position in the pelvis bring our hands to the floor in front of you. And you might want to grab a bolster or chair to rest your head on so you can relax and breathe.
This one, I've learned to love. It didn't start off that way. I always avoided back bends because they aggravated my lower back. But once I learned how to make my body find space in them they quickly became a new favourite.
-Stretches the abdomen.
- Improves digestion.
-Lengthens the lower back.
-Improves menstrual irregularities.
-Strengthens the upper and mid back.
-Opens the chest, lungs and shoulders.
-Soothes the nervous system.
-Therapeutic for fatigue.
-Improves circulation of the blood and oxygen especially along the spine and pelvic area.
There are lots of variation for this one that I love. Personally I favour placing a bolster or rolled blanket under the abdomen (just below the naval). It helps to support a posterior tilt of the pelvis, so the pubic bone is down towards the mat. But you can achieve this without the support as well.
Begin by laying on your stomach holding opposite elbows. If your experiencing lower back pain you can stay here or gently lift your gaze over your forearms. If you need to go deeper you can bring your finger tips towards the front of the mat elbows under the shoulders and lift the heart. If you need even more space you can also take your finger tips outside the width of the mat and lift the elbow.
I also like to have my feet wide. Especially for women are hips are wide and sometimes trying to keep the feet in causes painful compression to the base of the spine. Having the feet wider just creates more space. But I encourage you to wiggle the hips and find your own space here before for pause and hold.
5. Shoe Lace
This is another one that has many variations. None are better than the other they are each unique in their own way just like every yogis unique body. My favourite is laying on my back and holding the feet.
-Improves intestinal movement and benefits overall digestion.
-Compression of the hips stretches the lumbar spine.
-Encourage circulation overal.
-Stimulates the glutei and erector spinae.
-Targets the bladder.
Energizing and relaxing at the same time.
If you are doing the seated version I recommend sitting on a blanket or towel again to support the pelvis. Start with the legs straight out in front of you. Hug the right knee in and cross it over the left leg. With the right leg bent over the left try to externally rotate the right hip and bring the knees into line with each other as best you can so that the right foot is to the left. You are welcome to stay here.
If you need to go deeper because you are not feeling that 'joyful discomfort', now try bend the bottom leg (the left leg) and doing the same steps as the first leg. Externally rotate the hip and bring the foot out to the right. If this doesn't feel good in the knees, this is not the variation for you. You may tray the same techniques but laying on your back. You can also you a strap to hold the legs rather than the hands.
Or you can try a figure four (reclined pigeon pose). Or instead of crossing the ankle over the thigh you can hold the bend leg with your hands or a strap for another alternative. The possibilities are endless. Find your space, find your breath, then do the same on the second side.
I you have one side that is significantly tighter than the other, start with that side and then go back to it again, until you can hold both sides for the same amount of time.
I know a lot of people who find this one quit challenging. I am not one of those people so I have to get creative to find my edge here. I really enjoy bringing my hands to the floor and folding into it.
-Stretches thighs, hips, groin, ankles and torso.
-Tones abdominal muscles, improving function of the colon.
- Increases blood flow and circulation to the pelvis.
-Improves balance and concentration.
There are ways to practice this one without having to go all the way down if you are someone who has tight hips or knee issues. You can sit on a chair, blocks, stool, or right on the floor. Where ever you start from, take the feet a little wider than the hips and turn the toes out to about a 45 degree angle (you can of course adjust this to your body and needs). Root into the big toes and the heels of the feet at the same time. Keep the knees out and the torso long as you sit the hips down into this squat. Support as you need and adjust where you need to. Remember 'joyful discomfort' not pain.
Now the true test is that even after hold, you should be able to stand straight up without collapsing the knees (yes it is possible even from the floor. Difficult, but possible).
7. Sleeping Swan
Who doesn't love a deep hip opener? Okay I know there are some of you out there that do not enjoy this one so of course there are alternatives. Also known as pigeon pose this one takes some deep fiery breaths.
-Stretches the hip flexors.
- Opens the hip joints.
-Lengthens the quads, hamstrings, gluteals, and piriformis muscles.
-Extends the psoas and muscles of the groin and pelvic floor.
-Stimulates internal organs.
-Aids urinary incontinence.
-Helps release tension and stiffness in the lower back.
-Releases negative emotions help in the hips.
If this pose is not for you (ie knee issues or excessive stiffness and restriction in the hips) you can practice one of the alternative to Shoe Lace like Figure Four.
To practice Sleeping Swan, start on the hands and knees. Externally rotate the right hip. Bring the right knee towards the right side of you mat and the the right foot towards the left side of your mat (shin towards the front edge of your mat). Extend the left leg back behind you. Slightly adjust the hips, right hip back, left hip forward, so the front of your pelvis is facing the front of the mat. Now exhale and release into the hips. Walk the hands forward and if you can rest your head on your hands, floor, a block or bolster.
It's a deep hip stretch so exhaling through the mouth helps release the tension you are experiencing. Repeat on second side.
8. Tipsy Frog
Not just a great name, but a great pose. It's a bit of a combination between Sphinx and Frog. I love a good multi-tasking pose.
-Simultaneously stretching the inner thigh/adductor of one leg and the quad of the other leg.
-Stretches the abdomen.
-Lengthen and releases the lower back muscles.
-Increases circulation and blood supply to the pelvis.
-Strengthens the upper/mid back muscles.
-Improves digestion and posture.
From Sphinx pose externally rotate your right hip and rest the inner knee on the floor. You may want to support with a blanket under the bent knee. Adjust the foot so that it is comfortable. If you want to go deeper you can extend the bent leg.
Set your timer so you can focus on your breath and not the clock. Ready, set, breathe.
9. Dragonfly on the Wall
I included this one on its own instead of just a variation of Dragonfly because gravity works very differently on the spine in both. This one allows the spine to relax while all the experience is felt in the legs and hips.
-Allows gravity to gently lengthen the connective tissues in the pelvis and pelvic floor.
-Stretches the inner thighs/adductors, hips and hamstrings.
-Relaxes the lower back.
-Eases stress and tension.
Sit with your side touching the wall (shoulder/hips). Roll onto your back so that your legs are up the wall. Slowly allow your legs to separate into your end range. You can support here under the thighs so your legs aren't just hanging (chairs, blocks, bolsters, cushions). If it is beyond 'joyful discomfort' you can also try bringing one foot into wards your pelvis so you are only stretching one side at a time.
Relax and close your eyes.
I left this one for last because it's one to build up to. It gets pretty intense pretty quickly. Prop up and breathe deep.
-Deep inner thigh opener.
-Energizing and stimulating energy.
-Lengthens the connective tissues in the pelvic floor.
Have some props handy. You can use blankets to support under the inner knees and a bolster or cushion for under the torso and chest. You can start in a wide Child's Pose, knees wide, feet separated, hips stay inline with the knees to open the inner thighs. Toes can point in like they do in Childs Pose, this is called Tadpole or they can point outwards for Frog. Slowly ease the hips towards the floor as you relax the torso, head and shoulders.
Many of these poses challenge us become comfortable with discomfort. Remember to ease your way in, listen to your body, and breathe.