Winter is the season of introspection, hibernation, and surrender. It is a perfect season to practice Yin yoga. In this winter yoga blog I share with you my love of Yin yoga: what it is; it’s benefits and a short 30 minute practice for you, that is beneficial for the water element and the Kidney/Bladder meridian.
Wintertime … the call to more Yin time
Winter is the time of year of shorter days and longer nights. It is generally colder and can be wetter and damper (depending on where you live). Our natural inclination will be to slow down, become less active, and spend more time indoors. We find that we need to spend more time resting.
Sadly, the developed world has got out of balance with the seasons. The ‘ON’ button is often permanently switched on. The use of unnatural lighting, to extend our ‘productivity’ means our body’s clock gets confused and does not get to respond to natures call to rest.
Most of us are overworking, if it’s not our jobs we are often spending long hours on devices and social media. We are not giving ourselves enough ‘yin’ – receptive, quiet, passive time.
Adrenal exhaustion is a common and a growing problem in modern life and is largely unrecognised by the medical establishment, despite stress and adrenal exhaustion becoming a ‘21st Century epidemic’.
My journey into teaching Yin yoga
I discovered Yin yoga at a time of my life that I was suffering from adrenal fatigue/burn out and it has been a profound practice for balancing my over active, over functioning, adrenaline charged body and mind.
I was blessed to be introduced to Yin yoga during my yoga teacher training with Tina Nance, whose knowledge and passion for yoga, meridian theory and women’s health is inspiring (www.tinanance.com).
I learnt how Yin yoga sequences can focus on particular meridians and how these meridians are governed by one of the five elements. I have found these sequences to be helpful to align my body with the seasons which, as Ayurveda teaches us, is a foundation for optimal health.
I find the practice of Yin yoga according to elements, meridians and the seasons is a beautiful and profound practice that aligns my body and spirit to nature’s rhythms bringing me greater health and vitality on all levels.
I now share this practice with women in seasonal workshops throughout the year, where women come back each season for deep relaxation and to connect to and nourish, the body, mind and spirit to align with the energy of each season.
Jane’s Yin yoga workshops offer a deep connection with not only yourself, but the seasons. They allow contemplation, opening and deep relaxation and a melding of the mind, body, spirit and the environment. For me, they have become anchor points in the busyness of the year. Lisa Eastley, Naturopath
What is Yin yoga?
Yin yoga was first developed by Paul Grilley, and has at its foundation ancient Yogic and Taoist Meridian and Acupuncture theories. Students of Paul including Sarah Powers and Bernie Clark have continued to develop and spread these teachings.
Yin yoga is a relatively new yoga that is growing exponentially in the western ‘yoga world’. I believe this is because our society has been so out of balance, predominantly operating in overactive, switched on, predominantly ‘yang’ way.
Most forms of Yoga that have been practiced in the West can be seen as more “Yang” (e.g. Ashtanga Iyenga, Hatha etc) with an emphasis on muscular movement and contraction. In contrast, Yin yoga targets the deeper connective tissues of the body.
Yin Yoga is designed to calm, rather than energise, enabling the parasympathetic nervous system to relax, heal and repair the body. In contrast to the more ‘Yang’ styles of yoga, which tend to target the more superficial, soft tissues of the body, such as the muscles, and tend to be more movement oriented, dynamic, rhythmic, repetitive and stimulating of the sympathetic nervous system (Tina Nance, 2014)
Yin yoga uses long passive holds to work on the deep, dense connective tissues of the body, the tendons, ligaments and cartilage, which can often be difficult to engage and open.
There is increasing evidence that the network of connective tissue corresponds with the meridians and nadis and therefore the opening, strengthening and stretching of the connective tissue of the body may be critical for long-term health (Paul Grilley, 2007)
Connective tissue responds best to gentle engagement over a long period of time, so Yin postures are held for longer, usually for 3-5 minutes, so as to stretch the deeper layers of the physical body, and to stimulate the flow of chi through the meridians.
Yin yoga is also different to Restorative yoga. In Restorative yoga the body holds positions that relax ALL parts of the body. It is generally used to help an ‘unhealthy’ or injured body restore itself back to ‘normal’ health. In Yin yoga the muscles are soft, but the deeper connective tissue is engaged in order to open up the meridians and to affect the flow of chi in the body.
Benefits of Yin yoga
Like all yoga, Yin yoga can benefit us on all levels: physically, energetically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. As the poses target the meridians, our organs by virtue also benefit, which benefits all levels of our health, wellbeing and vitality.
On the physical level, Yin yoga can help increase flexibility. The main target areas of Yin yoga are the hips, pelvis and lower spine where many of us can hold deep-seated tensions.
Many of my students find Yin to be a wonderful compliment to their more ‘yang’ yoga practices as it helps increase flexibility and mobility. In addition, as many of the postures work with the hips, Yin yoga enables us to be able to sit more comfortably, and for longer, benefiting our meditation practice.
Energetically Yin yoga stimulates the flow of chi/prana or life force through the meridians of the body that flow through the connective tissue, enabling the energy system to move towards its own natural equilibrium, balance and harmony. This explains why after a Yin yoga practice it can feel like you have just had an acupuncture or shiatsu treatment.
Yin yoga is very empowering, where through our own personal practice we can support and open our energetic body, helping release blockages along the meridians, allowing our organs to function more efficiently. This helps to raise the level of chi, which raises our vitality.
Yin yoga can be very beneficial emotionally as the practice invites us to sit with emotions as they arise and to cultivate mindfulness whilst deepening into the posture. We are invited to remain present with any emotions as they arise allowing the emotions to rise and fall, open and change. Challenging emotions related to the meridian or season can often be activated, for example grief (Lung/large Intestine), fear (Kidney/Bladder) and anger (Liver/Gall Bladder). Yin Yoga helps let go of old emotional patterns that are stored deep in the body and is a way to develop equanimity.
Whilst Yin yoga can be hugely challenging for some people when they first try it, as engaging with buried parts of us can be confronting, we can learn that releasing any deep holding within can bring great benefits.
Yin yoga helps develop our mental faculty and our capacity to concentrate. Through focusing our attention and cultivating an awareness of what is arising Yin yoga helps us access our deeper states of consciousness and insight.
Yin yoga is a body-centered meditation. Through deep and still postures we can access a deep meditative state. In the past I struggled with many meditation approaches, particularly ones that attempted to still my active mind or practices that separated me from my emotional body. I have found Yin yoga to be a key for helping me develop and deepen my meditation practice.
Yin yoga facilitates the cultivation of patience, endurance, mindfulness, contentment, equanimity insight and the art of being with what arises and letting go (Tina Nance, 2014)
Yin yoga for Winter
The gift that Wintertime offers us, with the darkness and stillness surrounding us, is the opportunity to rest, look within, and reflect on our lives. It is a time of year to review where we are physically, mentally, and spiritually and consider where it is that we want to be going when the time for movement comes. Our Truth can be revealed when we allow ourselves to surrender to this natural cycle of finding stillness. Yin yoga is a wonderful practice to help us do this.
In Meridian Theory the season of winter relates to the water element, which governs the Kidney and Bladder meridians. Their function is to store, balance, and distribute our bodies’ fluids and maintain our energy reserves.
The Kidney/Bladder meridians and organs in Chinese medicine, are the foundation of Yin and Yang balance for all the other organs. They are the storehouse of vital energy and need to remain balanced for all the other organs to function well (Sarah Powers, 2008). When the water element is depleted we may experience exhaustion or feel overwhelmed as we struggle to cope physically and emotionally without healthy energy reserves to fuel us.
Below is a Yin Yoga sequence that is gentle and nourishing for the cold winter months ahead and will help tonify the Kidney/Bladder meridian.
Winter Yin yoga sequence
IMPORTANT! Please read the Yin yoga practice tips below before attempting any of the postures. *
Disclaimer. As I am not present to guide you through the practices, if you choose to perform the following yoga postures, you are agreeing to the following:
- that you take full responsibility for your wellbeing while performing these practices and you will read and follow all instructions carefully to avoid injuries.
- that no responsibility will be taken by Jane Mallick, for injuries from, or as a result of, your practicing any of the yoga postures shared.
- for any serious health concerns or medical conditions you may have, that you consult you doctor or health practitioner to gain permission to practice.
Important practice tips for Yin yoga
Yin yoga, in the main, is practiced on the floor, either sitting or lying down. The practice uses gravity to assist the body to surrender deeper into the posture. The emphasis is on ‘passive stretching’ or surrendering to gravity. It is not about pushing or forcing oneself into any posture.
- Be mindful while slowly and gently moving into a posture.
- Find your appropriate edge. Don’t go straight to your ‘maximum’ in the pose and never stretch so far as to cause pain.
- Safety warning!! If you feel at any point a hot sharp burning sensation that continues (i.e. does not change), gently ease out, to lessen the depth of the posture. With practice, you will be able to distinguish between the potentially injurious intense sensations and those that are beneficial for opening the body.
- Come to stillness. Begin to consciously release into the pose. Cultivate a mindful awareness of the sensations as they arise, and fall, evolve and change. Use the exhale of your breath to gradually, and effortlessly, surrender to gravity.
- Props, such as a bolster and folded blankets can used (if needed) to support the body, and allow it to surrender more fully.
- Hold the position: start with holding a pose for 1-3 minutes and progress to 5 minutes.
- Rest in stillness and become aware of the sensations in your body. Breath into the various parts of you body that are opened within the posture, especially the target areas suggested, or the areas where you experience the strongest sensation.
- Some postures can be challenging at times, creating an intense physical or emotional response. The invitation is to stay present to the intensity and observe it change and release in time.
- Take your time transitioning between poses, staying quiet, and aware as you do.
- Rest (approx. 5 breaths) between each pose, in the suggested resting poses. Observe the effects of the practice on the body and the mind.
1. Sphynx Pose
The Sphinx Pose stimulates the Kidney meridian-organ as it flows through the sacrolumbar area and the ligaments along the lumbar spine. (Powers, 2008)
- Lie on your belly. With bent elbows and hands out in front of you on the floor. Gentle lift your upper body, and rest on your elbows, which should be shoulder-width apart and an inch or so forward of the shoulder line.
- Your back will arch in a gentle sway, that creates length along the anterior of your spine and a gentle compression on the posterior side.
- Allow your buttocks and legs to relax. Allow your belly and organs to drape towards the floor and relax your buttocks and legs.
- Hold for 1 minute and then slowly lower yourself down. Repeat for 2-3 times.
Rest: Lie on your belly, with your head gently turned to the side, for 5 breaths.
Childs pose can be a beautiful counter pose to open the lower spine.
- Come to kneeling, sit back with buttocks on the heals, and fold you upper body forward to rest over your thighs.
- Place our hands to rest by your sides, or stack them like a pillow under your forehead.
- Close your eyes, and rest 3 minutes.
2. Full Forward Bend
Forward bend is one of the most basic and important postures. It stretches the legs and the entire spinal column. It stimulates the Bladder meridian as it flows down the back of your body and the backs of your legs. (Powers, 2008)
- Sit with both legs stretched out in front of you, feet just under hip width apart.
- Drop your chin to your chest, so the muscles and ligaments at the base of the skull are stretched.
- Lean forward and clasp you ankles feet, or shins, wherever you have easy reach. Keep your legs straight but don’t work too hard, a slight bend of the knees is fine as long as you still feel the stretch.
- Relax the muscles of the legs and spine and feel the stretch move up through the legs and hips and the spine.
- Hold for 3-5 minutes.
Rest in Pentacle for 5 breaths
- Lie on your back, spread arms and legs out to the sides in a comfortable and open position.
- Close your eyes and let your physical body to relax and surrender your weight into the floor.
- Feel into the different sensations around the body, noticing the parts of the body that were opened or activated during the previous posture.
3. Reclined spinal twist
This pose benefits all of your internal organs which are gently massaged by the twisting motion. It stimulates the Kidney and Bladder meridians along both sides of your spine and the Kidney Meridian along your inner legs and torso. (Powers, 2008)
- Lie on your back, hug your right knee into the chest, keeping your left leg straight.
- Allow your right knee to lower to the floor to left, whilst keeping the right side of your upper back and shoulder weighted toward the floor.
- If you shoulder is not resting on the floor, place a small cushion/folded blanket under the shoulder. If your knee does not rest on the floor, use a folded blanket or bolster to support the weight.
- Rest you arms on the floor by your side. Stay in the pose for 3-5 minutes.
Lie on your back, feet hip width apart, toes falling out to the sides, arms by your sides, hands facing upwards or slightly inwards. Move your head gently from side to side, allowing the neck to let go, and to find a balance of weight on the back of your head.
Gently and gradually allow your body to relax. Bring your awareness to your natural breath, flowing in and out of the nose. Imagine with each exhale, you let go and relax. Rest for 5-10 minutes
Tina Nance (2014) Teaching Notes. Sacred Journey into Yoga, 2014
Paul Grilley (2007) Why Try Yin yoga? http://www.yogajournal.com/yoga-101/yin-yoga-2
Paul Grilley (2002) Yin Yoga: Outline of a quiet practice. White Cloud Press, Ashland Oregon.
Sarah Powers (2008) Insight Yoga. Shambhala, Boston.
* The health information presented on this site is provided for educational purposes only. It is not meant to be a substitute for medical advice or a diagnosis provided by your medical or other health professional. Do not use this information to diagnose, treat or cure any illness or health condition. If you have, or suspect that you have a medical problem, contact your physician or health care provider.
© 2017 Jane Mallick. All rights reserved.