Yin shape: butterfly
To come into the pose position yourself in a sitting position with optional support under your bottom. Once situated, bring the soles of your feet together and move them away from the body allowing the knees to fall open. Begin to fold forward noticing the reaction of your muscles. Once the back is rounded, adjust the placement of your feet until you achieve the muscular reaction you are looking for (look for your whole body to be in agreement with the shape, a clear yes); the further the feet are away from the body, the less you’ll feel it in your groin. Be sure that the feet are not so close that your groin or hamstrings could prevent you from reaching a fully rounded spine. Our goal is to eventually find stillness so that the emphasis can be taken off of the groin and instead be on the rounding of the spine and the stress on the hip joints. Once you have found your edge, the place in a pose where there is some discomfort and intensity but never pain, remain in the pose for three to five minutes. Allow the neck to hang (unless there has been recent trauma or whiplash, in which case it should be supported) and the hands to rest comfortably on the feet, the floor or in this case on my lower back. Keep your focus on your breath, and if the mind wanders simply bring it back to the rhythm of your breath or follow the sensations in the body.
When ready to release, press your hands into the floor and slowly begin to ease back into an upright position. Spend a few moments taking notice of any new sensations in the body and allow the body to give you feedback on how its responding. You may also opt to use your hands to assist the knees back up and then give them a little sway side to side to help release and move the energy.
Yin shape: Dragonfly aka Straddle
Opens the hips, groin, back of thighs, and gives a gentle opening to the inner knees
To come into the pose begin from a sitting position, spread your legs apart until you begin to feel a slight tug through the inner legs and groin. Sitting on a cushion will help tilt your hips. Slowly begin to fold forward, resting your weight into your hands with your arms, or rest your elbows onto a block or bolster. Find a place where you can settle into the sensations and become still. Always allowing ones bones to become heavy and the pull of gravity to deepen your experience. After 3-5 minutes place hands in a position of support, press down through the palms and slowly roll yourself back upright. Remember to move SLOWLY! Spend a few moments lingering in the sensations as they change while gathering input from your body. Then just as slowly as before use your hands to scoop up under the knees to assist them into a bent position. Optional to take a little swish of the legs back and forth to release or counter.
Props and modifications:
- Bolster the hips up higher on a pillow or folded blanket (especially if there is a history of sciatica).
- Small pillows or rolled blanket under knees.
- Use a bolster under the chest, if you are close to the floor.
- If head is too heavy for the neck, support the head in hands or if close enough to floor place a block under forehead.
Yin shape: Seal or sphinx
Opens the front body
Begin by lying on your belly. With arms out in front of you bend the arms to grab the opposite elbow. Begin moving the elbows underneath your shoulders, and then prop yourself up so that you are supported by your forearms with hands out in front of you and palms flat on the floor. This is sphinx. You should feel mild to moderate compression in your lower spine. There should (as always) be no shooting pain, numbness, tingling, burning or pain outside of discomfort. We tend to carry a lot of stress in our shoulders so be conscious of that while in this pose as well as being sure to keep your glutes relaxed. If you feel that your body is ready for it, move into seal turning the hands outward and then straighten the arms. Adjust the distance of the arms according to sensation. Remember to refer back to the three pillars of yin, time (patience), edge (strong sensation), and stillness. Once you are in seal or if you have remained in sphinx be sure to give your body enough time to access the connective tissues, find your body’s edge to get the greatest benefits from the pose, and try to be as still as possible in order to keep the connective tissues engaged. Listen to your body. If seal is getting too intense, slowly but deliberately move back down into sphinx and find stillness. Remain in this pose for three to five minutes and come out of it by simply lowering your chest to the floor and turning your head to one side. You may find that child’s pose is a nice follow up as is lying flat. Be sure to pay attention to any sensations the pose may have created such as lightness in the back or a surge of energy that was once blocked. Enjoy!
Yin shape: Saddle aka Supta Virasana in a yang practice
Opens the sacral-lumbar arch along with the hip flexors, quadriceps, ankles, knees, and shoulders
To come into the pose, start by simply sitting back on your heels with feet flat on floor. Take a moment to notice of how this feels. For some this may be plenty already particularly if you have tight ankles. If your ready to go further place your hands behind you on the floor while leaning back and begin to feel the arch in your lower back. Stay here for a moment noticing a possible pulling sensation in the quadriceps. Breathe into it! If this feels okay, begin to lean back onto your elbows. The arch in your back should be fairly dramatic here but not painful. Be sure to remember that discomfort and pain are two different things. If you are ready to take the full expression of the pose, come into a position where you are comfortable enough to slide your feet apart so the hips are on the floor between the feet. Begin to lower your shoulders towards the floor, stopping to lay on a bolster if the sensation is too intense. If you have made it onto the floor or a bolster allow your mind and body to settle, breathe, relax, and find stillness. Ideally this pose is held for three to five minutes, but if any kind of painful sensation arises while in the pose back out and take Sphinx/Seal.
When you are ready to come out of the pose, do so very very slowly. If you start to come up too quickly, your body will send you a strong signal. Come up just the way you came down; onto the elbows first, then the hands, and finally to rest on your heels. From here, either slide forward onto belly or very very slowly release into Downward Dog. Stay here for a few breaths. Then come into Childs pose allowing everything to recover and neutralize.
Props and modifications:
- A bolster to support the back while maintaining a significant arch.
- A rolled blanket to relieve pressure from the ankles.
- Elevated hips to reduce knee tension
Alternatives: Half Saddle with one knee bent or leg extended. If to intense for the knees, ankles or causes any pain in SI (sacro-iliac joint) simply return to sphinx.
Yin shape: Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Supported Bridge Pose)
Come into the pose by lying on your back with your knees bent. Place your arms by your sides with your palms facing down for support. Lift your hips and torso off the floor and place a block under your sacrum to rest on. Start with the block at the lowest height, adjusting it to a higher position if your low back is free from compression. If your getting a clear signal from your body that this feels good, begin to extend one leg pausing to see how this affects the lower back. If the signal is still clear, extend the other leg. Block may need to move a little lower (towards the lower buttock crease) to accommodate the low back. The relationship with the low back and hips changes once legs are extended. Please listen to the body and adjust accordingly or rebound the knees. From here the final and full expression is to extend the arms overhead allowing the backs of hands to rest on the floor. The elbows may bend to find a comfortable resting place for the shoulders.
When you are ready to come out of the pose, do so very very slowly. If you start to release to quickly, your body will send you a strong signal. Come out the same way you came into the shape. Bend knees, lower arms, then lift hips so very slowly (just high enough to remove block) once block is removed, slowly lower the hips to floor. Stay here with knees bent for a few breaths, and soak in the sensations flowing through. Then bring the knees into the chest allowing everything to recover and neutralize.
Props and modifications:
- A bolster instead of a block may be a softer option
- Keep knees bent, extend arms
Yin shape: Caterpillar aka Paschimottanasana
Deeply meditative, opens the spine, helps digestion
From a seated position with your legs out in front of you simply begin to drape your torso forward over the legs by walking the hands out along side the legs. After adjusting and modifying with props as needed, settle into the pose for 3-5 minutes. If you begin to feel discomfort (not pain) simply breathe into all places you feel the sensation. After the 3-5 minutes, place hands on floor beside legs for support and very slowly begin to roll your upper body up one vertebra at a time. Once you have returned to a seated position, let the legs stay out in front of you and allow time for the body to give a response. Then bend the knees and move your legs from side to side (like a windshield wiper) to release them from the hips. A nice way to counteract and neutralize this pose is to simply lie flat on your stomach for a minute or two. Pay close attention to any kind of shift in energy; a feeling of lightness or decompression or even a pulsing sensation.
Things to Know for your safety:
If you have sciatica, sit on the edge of a cushion or on a rolled blanket. If you are in the midst of a flare or have severe sciatica, this may be a pose you choose to avoid. If you have any sort of lower back disorder that does not allow flexion of the spine, keep the spine very straight (not rounded) or avoid the pose altogether. If the neck begins to feel strained, support the head in the hands by resting the elbows on a bolster placed in your lap or place a block between the legs for the elbows or head to rest on. If you have a lot of flexibility in the hamstrings, you may not feel the spinal release until you separate the legs a little to allow for a deeper release.
Props and modifications:
- A bolster or a rolled up blanket under our knees if hamstrings are sending strong signal
- A bolster on top of thighs
- A bolster, blanket or block to rest your head, especially if you have any neck tension.
Once you you've released from the last pose allow yourself to lie down and let your body rest in savanna for 7-10 minutes or whatever time you have available. Your body will reset and you'll return rested. Slowly ease back into your day or evening.
Allow the shapes to become your friend. Create a healthy relationship with the sensations and emotions that arise and know that it will continually change over the course of time. Breathe, soften, and allow yourself to be fully present to all that is. Open to the new friendship your creating with your joints and tissues. Ahhhh, mmmmm, ommmm or anything that rolls around off your tongue can be used as internal mantra to help anchor the mind. Enjoy the journey!