Add Yin to your Yang for a more balanced practice

Most of us in the West practice yoga to get long and lean, in addition to all of the mental and emotional benefits. This style of yoga–the kind that focuses on our muscles–is Yang Yoga. Yang Yoga is an important part of yoga and helps us get strong and healthy. There is, however, an important counterpart to Yang which has been dropped from most of our practices: Yin Yoga. Yin Yoga works the deeper tissues including our ligaments, joints, and fascia. In order to keep a balanced practice of strength and length, it’s important that we “cross-train” with Yin and Yang Yoga.

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Yin Yoga is all about fewer postures with longer holds (think 5-7 solid minutes in pigeon). In a one hour flow, you might only get through 6 asanas with an opening meditation and closing shavasana. These long static holds combined with Ujjayi breathing (oceanic breath) allow you to slowly work into the deeper tissues of the body that get so tight from our day to day activities. At first the poses can be really intense, and you should listen closely to any messages your body might be sending to ease off, but you’ll be amazed where a steady, Ujjayi breathing pattern can take you. As the Yoga Sutra says, all asanas should be sthira and sukham, or practiced with steadiness and ease. This is certainly the case with Yin yoga. My personal mantras while practicing Yin are “Slow and Steady” or “Easy Goes It.” They help me find that sweet spot many of us yoga teachers refer to as your ‘edge’.

The best part about Yin Yoga is that it is incredibly portable and pragmatic. All you need is space to roll out your mat. No handstand kicks or side crows here. Many Yin asanas can be done while you’re chilling, reading a book or watching TV. Here’s a sample one-hour total body  flow that you can do at home or (if you’re a jetsetter) in a hotel room:

  • (3 min) Meditation: Sit in a comfortable seated position, long spine. Close your eyes and bring your palms to rest lightly on the knees. Breathe deeply in and out through the nose, beginning to cultivate your Ujjayi breath. Try counting to 4 on the inhale, holding for 1 count, breathing out for 4 counts, and holding for 1 on empty before restarting the cycle.
Sphinx Pose

Source: realbeauty.com/health/fitness/sphinx-pose

  • (5 min) Sphinx: Lie on your stomach. Bring hands beside shoulders. Press into your palms, forearms parallel, lifting your chest up off the mat. Look down to make sure your elbows are directly under your shoulders. If this is too intense on the lower back walk your hands slightly forward. Keep your legs firmly planted and neck long.
  • (1 min) Full Swan (right knee forward): Also known as Pigeon in Yang Yoga. From Down Dog or Tabletop bring your right knee to your right wrist. Flex the right foot and move it as close to the left wrist as possible without discomfort. Distribute your weight equally between your hips and sit upright. Your hands can either press lightly into your right knee and ankle, fingertips to floor slightly in front of your hips, or on two blocks.
  • (3 min) Sleeping Swan: From Full Swan, walk your hands forward letting the torso and neck hang heavy. As gravity pulls you toward the floor try coming onto your forearms and eventually resting the chest on your right leg, forehead to mat.
  • (5 min) Shoelace (left knee on top):  From Swan, walk your hands back to your hips and sit up tall. Swing your left leg around, bend the leg, and place it on top of your right leg, knees stacked toes pointing back. Slowly let your torso fold forward with every breath, draping over your legs.

Counter-pose: Lie on your back and windshield wiper your legs (30 sec-1 min), releasing the lower back.

  • (1 min) Full Swan (left knee forward): Also known as Pigeon in Yang Yoga. From Down Dog or Tabletop bring your left knee to your right wrist. Flex the left foot and move it as close to the right wrist as possible without discomfort. Distribute your weight equally between your hips and sit upright. Your hands can either press lightly into your right knee and ankle, fingertips to floor slightly in front of your hips, or on two blocks.
  • (3 min) Sleeping Swan: From Full Swan, walk your hands forward letting the torso and neck hang heavy. As gravity pulls you toward the floor try coming onto your forearms and eventually resting the chest on your left leg, forehead to mat.
  • (5 min) Shoelace (right knee on top): From Swan, walk your hands back to your hips and sit up tall. Swing your right leg around, bend the leg, and place it on top of your left leg, knees stacked toes pointing back. Slowly let your torso fold forward with every breath, draping over your legs.

Counter-pose: Lie on your back and windshield wiper your legs (30 sec-1 min), releasing the lower back.

  • (3 min) Straddle (folding forward, centered): Sit facing the long edge of your mat and spread your legs as wide as they’ll go. Flex your feet strongly and hinge forward from the hips, maintaining a flat back. If you can’t keep a long spine while folding forward  keep your torso upright and breath into your hips, tilting them forward inch by inch with every breath. If you can fold forward no problem, work to bring the forearms and eventually chest to the floor.
  • (3 min) Straddle (folding over right leg):Sit up tall, legs spread wide. Inhale to lengthen the spine then exhale, twisting toward the right leg. Inhale, lengthen. Exhale fold over the right leg, reaching chin to shin and working to center the sternum over the knee cap. Reach for the toes, foot or ankle and use your arm strength to fold deeper.
  • (3 min) Straddle (folding over left leg): Sit up tall, legs spread wide. Inhale to lengthen the spine then exhale, twisting toward the left leg. Inhale, lengthen. Exhale fold over the left leg, reaching chin to shin and working to center the sternum over the knee cap. Reach for the toes, foot or ankle and use your arm strength to fold deeper.
  • (3 min) Bananasana (to the right): Lay flat on your back with legs together. Reach arms overhead and clasp hands or elbows. Ground into the mat with your booty and pull belly button to spine. Inch your feet and upper body to the right, arching like a banana. You should feel a nice side body stretch on the left side. If not, move your feet and clasped arms further to the right until you do.
  • (3 min) Bananasana (to the left): Lay flat on your back with legs together. Reach arms overhead and clasp hands or elbows. Ground into the mat with your booty and pull belly button to spine. Inch your feet and upper body to the left, arching like a banana. You should feel a nice side body stretch on the right side. If not, move your feet and clasped arms further to the left until you do.
  • (2 min) Reclining Twist w/ Eagle Legs (right side): Lay flat on your back and draw your knees in toward your chest. Wrap right leg over left, hooking your right foot inside the left ankle if possible. Open your your arms wide and keeping your shoulders grounded, let your legs sink to the left. Breathe into the right side body, middle back, and right hip. Come back to center and unwind the legs to switch sides.
  • (2 min) Reclining Twist w/ Eagle Legs (left side): Lay flat on your back and draw your knees in toward your chest. Wrap left leg over right, hooking your left foot inside the right ankle if possible. Open your your arms wide and keeping your shoulders grounded, let your legs sink to the right. Breathe into the left side body, middle back, and left hip. Come back to center and unwind the legs to switch sides.
  • (5-10 min) Shavasana: Lay flat on your back, legs straight and slightly apart or in reclining butterfly. Arms are by your side, a few inches separating them from the body. Close your eyes and melt into the floor. Let everything go, including your Ujjayi breath.

(Flow adapted from “The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga” by Bernie Clark)

Yin will change your practice for the better when practiced consistently. I highly recommend doing 30 min to an hour of Yin before you go to bed. It can be tough in the morning because we all wake up pretty stiff and need some time for the “fuzz” to loosen up.