A Yin Yoga Sequence: Cultivating the Space Within
by Michael Hetherington
Yin yoga is a style of yoga that emphasizes long holds (around 3-5 minutes) of ground-based yoga poses that focus on lengthening the deep layers of connective tissues that run throughout the body and around the joints. Connective tissue is a like a plastic wrapper that encapsulates every organ, bone and muscle inside our body.
What’s so important about connective tissue?
A new theory presented by Dr Motoyama, a scientist from Japan, is that the connective tissue of the body is essentially the same as the meridians and nadi channels that are mapped out in great detail throughout Chinese medicine and the yogas. If this is the case, which I feel it is, it means that working directly with the connective tissue of the body in our yoga practice enhances the distribution of life force energy (Qi) and blood throughout our systems. Enhanced Qi and blood flow supports our bodies towards greater self-healing and it can also increase our potential for rapid spiritual growth and insight. This is because in Chinese medicine and the yogas, health is not the primary goal, the primary goal is to become “switched on” and spiritualized by the cosmic forces of the universe via the enhanced functions of Qi and blood. Yin yoga therefore, is one practice that can support and encourage this process of “switching on”.
Yin yoga along with other practices such as meditation, relaxation and spiritual insight are more about yielding than about doing. Because the practitioner is required to sit or hold a pose for an extended period of time, one eventually comes to a space within where they can allow for a softening, a yielding and an opening to take place. This process often takes ongoing practice, persistence and patience to master because in the initial stages, resistance, especially from the mind is there. You cannot force yin yoga, meditation, relaxation or insight to work for you when you want it to work; you can only create the ideal conditions for them to come up of their own accord and you must be willing and patient enough for them to occur.
Holding yoga poses for long periods can be intense both physically and psychologically and this is why it can be such a transformational practice. Sitting in yin yoga postures often creates such intense psychological activity that it can be used as an effective method to break down common mental behaviors. The natural tendency of the mind is to resist and become agitated when we are asked to sit and be still and every meditator and yin yoga practitioner encounters this resistance from the mind, especially during the initial stages. However, through a practice of de-emphasizing your attention on the mental activity and instead focusing your attention on the moment-to-moment experience of your bodily sensations helps to increase one’s sense of observational awareness and decrease and de-energize the mental noise of the mind.
It’s important to state that when we hold the poses we are not aiming to push ourselves over the edge. We simply want to find the place where there is a sense of resistance in the body, a place where it feels kind of uncomfortable but not painful. If you get any strong pain sensation or any sharp sensations then you are going too hard and can easily cause injury, so pull back! Another unique characteristic of yin yoga as to other yoga practices is that you do not activate the muscles. Instead, allow your muscles to be in a relaxed state and let gravity sink you deeper and deeper into each pose.
The following sequence is a yin yoga sequence designed specially for the hips and will take anywhere from 40-60 minutes if you hold each of the poses for around 3-5 minutes. Having a clock near by that you can view easily can help because it’s easy to lose track of time when doing yin yoga. After every 2-3 poses be sure to have a wobble of your legs and hips to release any feelings of stagnation before committing to the next pose. Go easy with it, take your time, keep your breath flowing and pay more attention on your moment-to-moment experience of bodily sensations rather than on what the mind is doing. Enjoy!
2. Square legs (do both sides)
3. Cow Head (do both sides)
4. Half Cow Head (do both sides)
5. Half Butterfly – with one leg extended out diagonally (do both sides)
6. Forward Bend
8. Twist variation (do both sides)
9. Rest and Release