The most challenging part of yoga is not about touching your toes or balancing on one leg. It can occur in the simplest poses - a child's pose, a deep stretch, even in savasana the final relaxation. It is about surrender.
If COVID has taught us anything, it is that so much of our life is beyond our control. To make ourselves feel safe, to have some ground beneath our feet when all is swirling around us, we tighten, close down and contract. This gives a perception of control and holding onto something...but instead it does the opposite.
The greatest effect of yin is felt after coming out of the pose - the blissful release that follows can become a healthy addiction and why people love practicing yin!
Our modern way of life is very "yang-like" - about action, movement, effort, busy-ness, stress. The constant activities and to-do lists can dominate our mind with external demands and distractions.
It is very important to balance this with a "yin-like" space in your day, a time to turn away from distractions, to gaze inward, to become still, to restore.
FInd out why yin yoga can be a healthy, blissful addiction.
Wouldn’t you love to find the OFF switch sometimes to shut down your busy mind and over stimulated nervous system so that finally, you could rest deeply?
Yoga nidra is a special practice that brings you into a very deep state of rest. “Nidra” means sleep. But this is not any ordinary sleep – the body sleeps as the mind remains lightly aware, taking us into very deep states of relaxation.
So many things we do to relax are not actually resting for the body and mind. Think of the things you might do to relax – perhaps watch a movie, catch up with friends, go for a walk or bike ride, gardening, cooking – all might be enjoyable and worthwhile but they do not switch off our over burdened nervous system. While we are receiving input from the external world, our nervous system is fired up sending data to the brain for processing. In yoga nidra, we shut down the sense organs and turn inward to reduce the nerve impulses to the brain. We activate the parasympathetic nervous system which is our rest and digest mode.
SO many of us are tight in the legs and hips. Often we don't even realise how tight until we are asked to bend over and try and touch our toes. So much of what we do aims to either tighten or weaken the muscles in the legs and hips (think of all that sitting you might do at desks, in cars, on lounges) which then has a huge impact on pulling strongly on our lower back. This sequence will give you more length in your legs and greater freedom and mobility in the hips. It's really important to establish a steady, calm breath rhythm before you begin to use as a foundation for the practice - there are a number of challenging poses - use the breath to stay calm to focus on release rather than resistance. You truly will enjoy the rewards by staying still, and remaining for the duration of the pose.
Exploring the heart practices is all about softening before we can activate and expand. We protect into this space, protecting our vital organs of the heart and lungs and subconsciously protect our vulnerable emotional heart. As we drop tension from the chest, the rib cage, shoulders and upper back and take expanded breaths into this area, we soften, we open. Something wonderful happens when we come into an expansive heart space - we become more loving and compassionate toward ourselves and others. We realise we don't need to armour into this space, but can live from a place of openness.
This sequence focusses on releasing tension from the chest, the ribs, the shoulders and upper back. A yang style pose Camel and a mantra meditation are included to bring more energy into the heart.
See the images for the sequence with more details for each pose given below.
The weather is heating up, but you can still do yoga and cool down at the same time. This restorative sequence showcases my favourite prop - the bolster. The bolster can be used in many ways to support your body in various positions allowing for deep release of the muscles, connective tissue and joints. By sinking your weight completely into the bolster and the floor, use your breath to deepen the relaxation throughout your body and mind. If you don't have a bolster, you can use a stack of blankets.
These poses can be done in the order below or choose just a couple to finish your day to help transition into a peaceful evening and a restful sleep.
Learning the art of efficient relaxation…exploring yoga nidra
We have very busy lives. As a result, we carry a lot of tension in our body and mind. When we do take time to relax, or even sleep, we can find it challenging - our mind not able to switch off, or aches and pains in the body distracting us. Our methods of relaxation may not even be restorative such as lazing on a lounge watching a movie, reading a book, chatting with friends. We are so overwhelmed and bombarded with constant stimulation and the nervous system disturbed by stress, that our first steps should be to drop the stress from our body and mind, and withdraw from any external distraction. Then, only then, can our nervous system recharge and our mind rest.
Our lives are so busy, full of activity, distraction, movement, planning, doing – all very yang-like, leading us away from inner balance. We need to cultivate opposite qualities like calming, stillness and surrender (yin aspects) to settle into equilibrium. Because modern living is so out of balance, yin yoga is the perfect practice to counteract this and return us to harmony.
We carry layers of tension – physical, emotional and mental. Yin is a practice of undoing, dropping tension from the deepest parts of our being. As we sink into the pose, we become still and allow the body and mind to release what needs releasing.
In yin we spend a long time in a pose, to move the stretch deep into the body, targeting joints and connective tissue. As these tissues are strong, the way to massage and release tightness is a gentle tug over time (usually a few minutes). The body responds by lengthening, strengthening the fibres, improving the flow of fluids and energy into that area.
The main connective tissue targeted is fascia, which covers everything in our body, creating a 3D-like matrix. Fascia allows muscles and other tissues to move and slide over one another when well lubricated. As we age, are injured, even when we sleep, fascia can become dry and stuck together, leaving us to feel “shrink-wrapped” in our own body. Yin restores and hydrates fascia enabling improved joint range of motion, flexibility and suppleness.
Staying in a pose for a few minutes can feel challenging, especially if the sensations are strong or the mind is busy. We use mindfulness techniques to rest awareness with the breath and on the sensations arising. We sit with ourselves in the raw experience of the present moment – with no distractions, no need to avoid or change the experience, just sitting with acceptance. We become the observer to the never-ending waves of thoughts, feelings, plans, memories, allowing them to come and go like waves moving onto a beach and returning to the ocean – without grasping, without following, without indulging.
As we free ourselves from our constant mental distractions, we learn to be, we learn to rest in our true nature and experience our own inner bliss and come to accept the impermanent, ever-changing flow of life. We drop the resistance, we release the tension, we undo what needs undoing and surrender into the present.
Suggested Pose (photo above): supported fish – this pose counteracts rounded shoulders often caused from spending long hours at computers or driving; opens the heart and lungs to enhance breathing; releases the neck, shoulders and thoracic spine.
Come into the pose with the knees bent and lower your upper back over a prop (block or book), placing it at the base of the shoulder blades (bra line), allowing the shoulders to hang freely. Depending on the height of the prop, you may need another one to support your head, or rest your head to the floor – only take your neck back into a gentle arch, allowing the throat to open and soften. If your back is comfortable, extend the legs, otherwise keep them bent. If the prop is too high for your spine, use a rolled up towel placed underneath the shoulder blades. Rest here for at least 3 minutes, explore softening the muscles around the ribcage and bringing the breath into the front, side and back ribs. To come out, bend the knees, engage your core, bend the arms and use the forearms to help slowly bring you off the prop, gently roll yourself to the side and lie flat on your back for another couple of minutes.
To explore this practice deeper, come and join the Winter Nourish Yin Yoga workshop, 19th August. Or join the weekly Yin class, Tuesdays at 5.45pm. Contact Rachel for more information.