Living a limitless life starts with removing the limits we’ve physically embodied, starting a compassionate dialogue with the parts of our past that have settled into our bodies and become aches and pains. Yin yoga, with its long, meditative holds, allows us to crawl “inside the cocoon of long-held poses,” explains yinster Sarah Powers, giving us space to examine our physical history. Yin yoga goes beyond lengthening the muscles into gently stressing the connective tissues, the ligaments, bones, and joints, thus it must be performed compassionately and with full attention to the experience. The Tao Te Ching neatly encapsulates the mindset we seek for a yin practice: “The gentle and soft overcomes the hard and aggressive”.
Yin yoga can be viewed as the low-key counterpoint to yang styles of yoga like power yoga, Bikram, Ashtanga, anything hot, sweaty, strong, and fast. The rhythm and repetition of flowy yang yoga targets the muscles with shorter holds and greater cardiovascular engagement. Yin yoga, with its multi-minute holds of basic seated postures, targets the connective tissues, which yogi Paul Grilley envisions as taffy: “The analogy is that of stretching taffy versus stretching a rubber band. Muscles are like rubber bands, they can be stretched easily. Ligaments are like taffy, if they are pulled too hard they tear. But if a modest stress is placed upon them and sustained then they gently elongate without tearing.”
Powers outlines three simple and effective principles for a safe yin practice:
1.Come into the pose to an appropriate depth
2.Resolve to remain still
3.Hold the pose for some time
Only you know the appropriate depth– there should be sensation, but nothing sudden or alarming. The pose should be maintainable. You should be able to breathe slowly and deeply while un-engaging your muscles. Yin poses can be held anywhere from one to twenty minutes. Start slowly and use a timer, or before you begin, time out how many breaths you take in one minute to use as an indicator. While in the poses relax, watching yourself and your attitude towards yourself, watching your breath, your sensations, your thoughts. Just explore, observe and breathe. “The cure for pain is in the pain,” says Rumi. Be brave and find something in your sensations to look into.
Our yin pose today targets the kidney and urinary bladder meridians running respectively up the center of the body and down the back of the body. Kidney energy is connected to our fluid systems and the moisture content of our body, while kidney-focused yin yoga is cooling and balancing to all the organs and systems.
Bound Angle- If you have lower back history, try supine bound angle: lie on your back, bring the palms of your feet together at a comfortable distance from the body, let your knees open out, and rest your hands palms up at your sides. If you have no lower back history, try the pose upright or folded. Sit upright, bring the palms of your feet together so that your legs form a generous diamond, and relax your knees. Stay here, or gently, over time, begin to fold forward from your hips. You can let your spine round a bit, dropping your chin and shoulders to bring the pose into the neck and trapezius. Then stay where you are for at least 30 slow breaths. To exit the pose, move like you’re underwater–very slowly. Roll up vertebrae by vertebrae and rest in a neutral position.
To further benefit your body, close your yoga interlude with pentacle, the yin version of savasana, corpse pose. Lie down and spread your arms and legs as wide as you would like, palms up. Pad beneath your knees, neck, or spine for added comfort. Feel your entire body supported by the floor and come back to the rhythm of your breath. Rest here for at least six minutes, staying as long as you like. You’ve just touched into the practice of the yoga of insight, intuition, and dreams, awakening your moonlit yin side. How do you feel?