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Most yoga today is considered to be “yang”—centered on movement, sweating, strengthening and stretching your muscles. In contrast, yin yoga stretches your connective tissue through longer, passive holds. Yin might be seen to require a bit more patience; one must be content to be still, breathe, and wait. However, yin is also extremely calming and restorative; once you find yourself in a yin posture, it usually doesn’t take any convincing to keep you there! The fun of yin is also how the feel of the stretch changes the longer you hold it. You might not feel much in the first 30 seconds, but will notice your body releasing in different ways the longer you let yourself pause and stay in the posture.
Here are a few of my favorite yin poses to calm, relax, and restore my body. I find I get more out of a yin practice when I’m already a bit warmed up; rather than trying these first thing in the morning, settle into these poses at the end of a long day. When it’s dark outside, try these fire-side. This sequence takes 20-30 minutes depending upon how long you hold each pose.
1. Diamond Pose Forward Fold.
From seated, connect soles of feet. Slide feet as far away as they can go with still staying comfortably connected. Now stack up cushions or blankets immediately behind your heels. Inhale tall through your spine, then round gently until your forehead rests on the blankets. Pause 3-5 min.
2. Banana Pose
Lay on your mat. Scoot your feet towards the bottom right corner of your mat. Cross feet at ankles so that left foot is on top. Stretch your arms up to the top right corner of your mat. Relax. The aim here is to feel a stretch all along the left side of your body. Pause for 3 minutes, then switch sides.
3. Supported Bridge Pose.
Place a yoga block (or a more firm pillow) under your sacrum. (Reminder: your sacrum is the big bone just above your hips; this is lower than your lower back.) Gently tuck shoulder blades under your back, allowing palms to rest up towards the ceiling. Rest down into your block. Breathe here for 3-5 minutes
Sit sideways next to a wall. In one smooth motion, swivel legs up the wall as you let your head and torso rest on the floor. If you find you’re still too far away, wiggle one side of your bum, then other side of your bum until you are right up against the wall. Again tuck shoulder blades gently under your back and allow palms to rest up toward the ceiling. Pause 5-10 minutes.
5. Legs-Up-the-Wall Middle Split.
From your standard legs-up-the-wall, let legs drop out to the sides into a middle split. This one is an effective way to work on your middle split, especially if this is normally a challenging posture for you. Allow legs to fully relax. Pause for 3-5 minutes. To exit the pose, press heels back together to come back to regular legs-up-the-wall, then bend knees to bring them into your chest, and roll off to one side. Allow yourself to take as much time as you need as you come down off the wall. I like to take a few extra breathes on my side, once off the wall, before pressing back up to seated.
A yin yoga practice can calm, center, and restore your body and mind. Give the above sequence a try, and notice the difference in your body before and after. End your December night with some yin; awake refreshed and peaceful the next morning.