A Mini Yin Practice for the Winter
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) takes a holistic approach in examining a person’s health and looks for patterns of disharmony, identifying where deficiencies and stagnation are. Yin Yoga closely follows TCM and guides the practitioner in discovering the meridians (physical and energetic pathways) that run thru the body and in locating pressure points along these lines where the body can be stimulated to release blockages and increase energy (Qi) and blood flow.
TCM follows a Five Element Theory where each element is identified with a particular season and a Yin/Yang Meridian pair. We are now in the season of Winter which correlates to the element of Water and the Yin Meridian of the Kidney and the Yang Meridian of the Urinary Bladder.
Any pose that affects the inner leg especially in forward bending poses, front of the torso or passive backbends that gently press on the Lumbar spine affects the Kidney Meridian and anything that follows the trajectory of the spine and the back of the leg affects the Urinary Bladder Meridian (UB), especially in forward folds.
Practice this following sequence to stimulate the Kidney/UB meridians, holding the poses for approximately 4 minutes and always adhere to the Principals of a safe Yin practice as identified below:
Enter into these Yin shapes slowly and mindfully
Come to your first edge of resistance then observe what is being felt - mild, dull, achy sensations are to be expected but not sharp, stabbing or burning sensations
Remain relatively still, relax the muscles in the targeted area and soak in the sensations
Hold for a duration of time that honors what's going on with your body then exit with care
* Wide Kneed Child’s Pose to Wandering Child’s Pose
For Wide Kneed Child's Pose, come to all fours on your mat. You may want a flat blanket across your mat to pad your knees if they are sensitive. Widen your knees as much as you can comfortably. Start to send your hips back towards your feet. If this causes pain in your ankles take a small rolled up blanket and support under the ankle joints and if pain is felt in the knees, place a rolled up blanket between the hamstrings and calves (giving the joints space). You may feel a pull in the inner thighs and groin - this is affecting the Kidney Meridian. Your spine can be lengthened as in the above photo or you can flex your spine (round) forward - the flexion affecting the UB Meridian. Relax the inner thigh/groin muscles and muscles alongside the spine. Hold for 4 mins exiting out sooner as needed.
For Wandering Child's Pose, from Wide Kneed Child's Pose, lift the torso slightly and walk the hands over to one side until you come to a stopping point and feel a lengthening along the opposite side. Relax the muscles along the spine. Hold for 4 mins and then "wander" over to the opposite side for 4 mins, taking a break as needed (can come to all fours to release pressure on knees/ankles/inner thighs).
* Crocodile to Sphinx pose (2 min), Seal (2 min) and end w/ Crocodile
For Crocodile Pose come to lay on your belly and lengthen your legs out of the hip joints. Make a pillow with your hands and rest your forehead on the back of your palms. Take several inhales and exhales, feeling the sensation along the spine, hips and legs. Pause for about a minute.
For Sphinx Pose, start to lift the head and torso and lengthen arms out like "Superman" then slowly draw elbows in, being mindful of the sensations in the lower back. Pause when you note a dull, achy pressure in the Lumbar/lower spine. Relax your glutei (butt muscles) and let your hips be heavy on the mat. Hold for 4 mins or after 2 mins try widening the hands and straightening the arms for Seal Pose, increasing the compression of the low spine to a mild, dull, achy edge (nothing sharp or painful!). Remember to give yourself permission to exit out of a pose! Slowly release out of your Sphinx or Seal and pause again in Crocodile for at least a minute. You can also bend at the knees and windshield wiper the feet to increase blood flow to the low back.
* Out-Rigger to Runner’s Dragon to Half Saddle
For Outrigger, from all fours/Table, extend one leg out to the side, toes toward the ceiling and then send hips back towards the opposite leg's heel (here again you can use a folded blanket under ankle or behind the knee as needed to avoid pain). Relax the inner thigh of the extended leg and experiment with the exact position of the toes to affect the inner line of that leg. Pause for 4 mins or exit out sooner as needed. Release slowly out of the pose by lifting the hips and drawing the extended leg slowly in.
For Runner's Dragon, from Outrigger, draw the extended leg out in front, keeping the opposite leg bent, hip more or less over the knee. Tilt the pelvis forward, folding the torso over the extended leg any amount, targeting the back of the extended leg (fascia around the hamstring muscle). Use blocks under the hands for support so you can control how much pull you feel in the back of that extended leg (it should be about a 4 on a scale of 10). Relax the hamstring and foot of the extended leg and hold for approximately 4 mins.
For Half Saddle, from Runner's Dragon, slowly upright the torso and place one block under the extended leg's glute (you may not need it and can always remove it). Place a bolster behind you across your mat to either place your hands on for support OR if the bent knee can tolerate increased flexion, lower the shoulder blades and back of the head onto the bolster (picture below) increasing the pull in the bent leg's quadricep and hip flexor and increasing compression in the Lumbar spine to a tolerable level (play your edge appropriately!). Relax the bent leg's quadricep (thigh), hip flexor and the muscles in the lower back and hold this pose for 4 mins, easing out a bit or all the way as needed.
Note: you can move the bolster off to the side and lower the torso and head all the way down to the mat. It is okay for the bent leg's knee to lift off the mat but do not tolerate any pain in the knee! Be mindful easing out of the shape...moving slowly.
* Repeat these 3 poses on the other side but in between sides pause in Table or perhaps come into Downward Dog or even Crocodile pose....whatever feels best.
* Counter Pose - Table (all fours) to Modified Plank to Child’s Pose
After repeating Outrigger to Runner's Dragon to Half Saddle on the 2nd side, pause in Table (all fours) and then move your hands slightly ahead of the shoulders so that when you bring your hips forward the shoulders line up over the wrists in Modified Plank (picture above) then draw the hips back into Child's Pose (picture below) slowly moving forward and back with the breath (ie inhale to Modified Plank and exhale to Child's Pose) 3 or 4 times. You may even want to linger in Child's Pose for several minutes.
From here you could pause in Savasana on your back and then slowly ease back into your day.
* For a longer Yin practice targeting the Meridians associated with Winter, sign up for either an in-studio (space limited) or virtual Yin class thru Orleans Yoga, Sunday at 11 am via this link:
note: you will receive a link for the recorded class if you cannot make the live class