Yin Yoga for the Dark Days
"When one stays in darkness long enough, one begins to see." C.G. Jung
As we move slowly through the Winter season, you may notice a sense of hibernation, of wanting to rest more. We are in the most Yin time of the year, a time of introspection and quiet. Winter began in the midst of the holiday season, with twinkling lights and festivities. Then those lights were taken down in the New Year and there was less connecting with friends. This shifting from light to dark can sometimes bring with it feelings of loneliness or depression.
To honor our bodies and move with the cycle of seasons, it important to allow that sense of rest and hibernation to come in, to find that space of introspection and solitude- but not get lost in it. Though we have passed the darkest day of the year and are moving towards the light, heavy feelings may arise. As with any emotions, acknowledge them and move through them.
If darkness, stillness, & silence make you uncomfortable, notice that and open a line of inquiry. What are you avoiding? What activities do you bring in so you don't have to sit in quiet (TV, texting, social media, etc.)?
I love to start my days with meditation and Yin, then bring in gentle movement to warm the body. Evenings I like to turn off devices at least an hour before bed and read or journal.
Principles of Yin
-Find an appropriate edge (as you come into the pose, note the place where you meet resistance or tension- this can be physical, mental, or emotional. Hold and soften.)
-Be Still and Soften the Muscles. Yin yoga targets the fascia (connective tissue layered above the muscle)
-Hold for Time
-Slowly release the pose
Pause between sides/ poses up to 1 minute, noticing circulation and energy movement through the body.
After a brief centering and meditation, draw your feet towards your body, bending your knees. Place your thumbs on K1- the first acupuncture/ acupressure point on the Kidney meridian (also the only point on the bottom of the foot- connecting to the earth). Lightly rest the thumbs there. You might start to feel pulsing under the thumbs. Rest here for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
Slowly release the hands and legs. Pause before transitioning into the first Yin pose.
Sphinx- 4 minutes
Your elbows are under your shoulders. If your head drops too far down, use a prop under the forehead to support your natural cervical curve. Breathe full breaths allowing the belly to gently push into the mat. To release, you can slide onto your belly for long prostration, arms extended overhead. Pause and breathe, low back relaxed.
Caterpillar- 5 minutes
Slide a rolled up blanket under your sits bones, to help tilt your pelvis forward. Try to relax the legs and torso without too much rounding of the spine. If your hamstrings are tighter or your knees are uncomfortable, slide a second blanket roll under the knees for support. You can rest your head in your hands or on a prop. Soften where you're holding tension.
Seal (or Sphinx)- 3 minutes
Repeat Sphinx or straighten the arms to come in to Seal.
To release, you can slide onto your belly for long prostration, arms extended overhead. Pause and breathe, low back relaxed.
Embryo- 5 minutes
Have your knees together and bring your hips back towards your heels. With your arms by your sides, allow the natural rounding of the spine to happen.
You can have a blanket under the knees or behind the knees for support. You can also place a prop under the head.
Supported reclined butterfly- 5 minutes
Using 2 blocks, recline with the head supported on 1 block and the second block under your heart. The soles of your feet tough & the knees are wide- have a roughly 90 degree angle at the knees. Soften through the hips and low back. Breathe fully, allowing the exhale to become slightly longer than the inhale. After the pose is complete, slide your props out of the way and return to your back. Pause with a neutral spine or draw the knees into the chest.
Sleeping swan- 4 minutes each side
From tabletop, take your right knee towards your right wrist, externally rotating at the hip. Find a neutral pelvis, side to side, and front to back, using a blanket to support. Your left leg is extended, with the knee rotated to point down. As you fold forward, fold inside the front knee, resting your head on your arms or a prop. You can also stay more upright. If this pose feels uncomfortable, your can choose to take Pinwheel instead- seated with both knees bent at roughly 90 degrees, potentially folding over the front knee. Soften and let go. Allow yourself to feel whatever arises. Pause in embryo pose between sides.
Saddle- 4 minutes
In this version, you will be sitting on your heels, to create a deeper back bend.
You can have a blanket under your legs for padding. If you have sensitive knees or an old injury, you can place padding behind the knees. If you experience pain in the knees (different from sensation of tension unraveling) please take Sphinx pose again.
Here I have my arms straight for a lighter modification. To deepen, you may choose to come down to forearms or blocks or even rest the shoulder blades & head on the earth.
To release, press evenly through both hands. Pause with the spine in neutral before slowly making your way either into staff pose or long prostration.
Dragonfly- 4 minutes
From your seat, take your legs wide into a V. Similar to the instructions for Caterpillar, slide a blanket under the seat so the sits bones are resting on the edge, to help the pelvis tilt forward. Stay upright with the spine or fold forward. You can use a block under the forearms or head, being mindful of any rounding of the lower spine. There is also the option for blankets under the knees or bending the knees to support any strain. After time, pause with a neutral spine before sliding the hands under the hamstrings, bending the knees, and drawing them to center. Notice any sensations.
Reclined Twist- 5 minutes each side
Make your way onto your back. Move your pelvis slightly to the right and allow the knees to drop to your left, with both shoulder blades resting on the ground.
Prop options- blanket under bottom knee or between the knees. Blanket can slide under the opposite shoulder or elbows can bend into a goal post shape. if there is no sensation in the twist, you might try taking the knees higher towards the armpit and soften there.
Between sides, neutralize in Shavasana.
Half Happy Baby/ Stirrup- 3 minutes each side
Bring your right knee in towards your arm pit. If you'd like you can stack your ankle over your knee. You hand can rest on your hamstrings, shin, or arch of the foot, without strain. Your left leg can be bent or straight, but your pelvis is level & not rocking towards the right. Rest without pulling or straining. After time, pause in shavasana between sides.
After both sides, windshield wipers the legs or hug the knees in towards the chest.
Legs up the Wall- 10 minutes
A more traditional shavasana is always an option.
Allow yourself to rest in stillness, giving in to the support of the wall and ground beneath you.
Water Element in Chinese Medicine
The Water Element corresponds with the Kidneys (yin) and Bladder (yang) and the Winter season.
The Kidney energy stores our Essence, the root of life. The kidneys are responsible for water circulation in the body and the filtering of the blood. They grasp Qi from the lungs to complete the inhalation. Kidney energy also rules the health of the bones and the reproductive system. The Bladder eliminates impure fluids. Together they help with the process of finding courage and going with the flow. This energy helps us find a balance of rest and restore. It connects with our wisdom, our fears, our contentment, as well as, feeling comfortable in our own skin. When out of balance, it can show up as being exhausted, low bone density, getting cold easier, low back pain, inability to be introspective, and trouble connecting with others or feeling anti-social. For more, click here.
Images from ACATCM.com
Kidney (left) and Bladder meridians