Winter is the season of introspection, hibernation, and surrender. It is a perfect time of year to practice yin yoga. In my latest blog I describe what is yin yoga; it’s benefits; and I share a 30-minute yin yoga sequence for you to do at home this winter.
Winter is a natural yin time
Winter is the time of year of shorter days and longer nights. It is generally colder and can be wetter and damper (depending on where you live). Our natural inclination will be to slow down, become less active, and spend more time indoors. We find that we need to spend more time resting.
Sadly, the developed world has got out of balance with the seasons. The ‘ON’ button is often permanently switched on. The use of unnatural lighting, to extend our ‘productivity’ means our body’s clock gets confused and does not get to respond to natures call to rest.
Most of us are overworking, if it’s not our jobs we are often spending long hours on devices and social media. We are not giving ourselves enough ‘yin’ – receptive, quiet, passive time.
Adrenal exhaustion is a common and a growing problem in modern life and is largely unrecognised by the medical establishment, despite stress and adrenal exhaustion becoming a ‘21st Century epidemic’.
It is so important for our health and wellbeing to ensure that we head the calling of winter and yin, to bring greater balance to our lives.
What is yin yoga?
Yin yoga was first developed by Paul Grilley, and has at its foundation ancient Yogic and Taoist Meridian and Acupuncture theories. Students of Paul including Sarah Powers and Bernie Clark have continued to develop and spread these teachings.
Yin yoga is a relatively new yoga that is growing exponentially in the world of yoga’. I believe this is because our society has been so out of balance, predominantly operating in overactive, switched on, predominantly ‘yang’ way.
Most forms of yoga, in my view, are more “yang” (e.g. Ashtanga Iyenga etc) with an emphasis on muscular movement and contraction. In contrast, yin yoga targets the deeper connective tissues of the body.
Yin yoga uses long passive holds to work on the deep connective tissues of the body, the tendons, ligaments and cartilage, which can often be difficult to engage and open.
There is increasing evidence that the network of connective tissue corresponds with the meridians and nadis and therefore the opening, strengthening and stretching of the connective tissue of the body may be critical for long-term health (Paul Grilley, 2007)
Connective tissue responds best to gentle engagement over a long period of time, so yin postures are held for longer, usually for 3-5 minutes, so as to stretch the deeper layers of the physical body, and to stimulate the flow of chi through the meridians.
Benefits of yin yoga
Like all yoga, yin yoga can benefit us on all levels: physically, energetically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. As the poses target the meridians, our organs by virtue also benefit, which benefits all levels of our health, wellbeing and vitality.
On the physical level, yin yoga can help increase flexibility. The main target areas of yin yoga are the hips, pelvis and lower spine where many of us can hold deep-seated tensions.
Many of my students find yin to be a wonderful compliment to their more ‘yang’ activities such as running, as it helps increase flexibility and mobility. In addition, as many of the postures work with the hips, yin yoga enables us to be able to sit more comfortably, and for longer, benefiting our meditation practice.
Energetically yin yoga stimulates the flow of chi/prana or life force through the meridians of the body that flow through the connective tissue, enabling the energy system to move towards its own natural equilibrium, balance and harmony. This explains why after a yin yoga practice it can feel like you have just had an acupuncture or shiatsu treatment.
Yin yoga is very empowering, where through our own personal practice we can support and open our energetic body, helping release blockages along the meridians, allowing our organs to function more efficiently. This helps to raise the level of chi, which raises our vitality.
Yin yoga can be very beneficial emotionally as the practice invites us to sit with emotions as they arise and to cultivate mindfulness whilst deepening into the posture. We are invited to remain present with any emotions as they arise allowing the emotions to rise and fall, open and change. Yin yoga can help us release emotions that are stored deep in the body and is a way to develop equanimity.
Yin yoga helps develop our mental faculty and our capacity to concentrate. Through focusing our attention and cultivating an awareness of what is arising yin yoga helps us access our deeper states of consciousness and insight.
Yin yoga is a body-centered meditation. Through deep and still postures we can access a deep meditative state. In the past I struggled with many meditation approaches, particularly ones that attempted to still my active mind or practices that separated me from my emotional body. I have found yin yoga to be a key for helping me develop and deepen my meditation practice.
Yin yoga for winter
The gift that wintertime offers us, with the darkness and stillness surrounding us, is the opportunity to rest, look within, and reflect on our lives. It is a time of year to review where we are physically, mentally, and spiritually and consider where it is that we want to be going when the time for movement comes. Our Truth can be revealed when we allow ourselves to surrender to this natural cycle of finding stillness. Yin yoga is a wonderful practice to help us do this.
In Meridian Theory the season of winter relates to the water element, which governs the Kidney and Bladder meridians. Their function is to store, balance, and distribute our bodies’ fluids and maintain our energy reserves.
The Kidney/Bladder meridians and organs in Chinese medicine, are the foundation of yin and yang balance for all the other organs. They are the storehouse of vital energy and need to remain balanced for all the other organs to function well (Sarah Powers, 2008). When the water element is depleted we may experience exhaustion or feel overwhelmed as we struggle to cope physically and emotionally without healthy energy reserves to fuel us.
30-minute Yin Yoga practice
Enjoy this 30-minute yin yoga practice that is gentle and nourishing for the winter months ahead and will help tonify the Kidney/Bladder meridian. If you enjoy this practice and would like to receive more Seasonal Yoga Practices directly to your inbox, make sure to sign up to my monthly newsletter below.
Tina Nance (2014) Teaching Notes. Sacred Journey into Yoga, 2014
Paul Grilley (2007) Why try yin yoga? http://www.yogajournal.com/yoga-101/yin-yoga-2
Paul Grilley (2002) Yin Yoga: Outline of a quiet practice. White Cloud Press, Ashland Oregon.
Sarah Powers (2008) Insight Yoga. Shambhala, Boston.
© 2021 Jane Mallick. All rights reserved.
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