Of course the image below is of someone in a seated yoga twist but look more closely at the creases in the person's top.
What you see is not dissimilar to what the body is experiencing behind this garment. Yoga twisting is a bit like wringing out a damp cloth.
The muscles and soft tissue contort a little to allow for the positioning. The challenging thing for the body is that it presents the diaphragm and other muscles of respiration with a resticted feeling when breathing and more especially when breathing in. This may feel a little uncomfortable but it can provide us with something useful.
When putting the torso in this contorted position if we pay closer attention to our breathing and breath slowly and evenly it can neutralize the tension but also massage and tone the muscles and tissue in that area to our advantage.
It doesn't stop there. It is really worth exploring a number of postures including those you already use in your practice to check if they too require their own kind of contortion (different to that found in twisting) so asking questions of the diaphragm.
This approach makes for greater awareness and concentration when in posture and if we use our breath in a massaging way can bring added toning and even more strength to those muscles and tissue.
As an example next time you do a Downward Facing Dog notice the breath, one thing you will notice is that you are breathing up hill!
I love taking the yoga foundation workshops because they are an opportunity for participants to dive deeper into their practice and explore more those areas that have been alluding or confusing them on the yoga mat.
The many years a yoga teacher spends taking classes and reading deeply builds a lot of latent understanding of the thinking and ethos behind yoga. While they cannot discuss these topics in depth in a one hour class they probably do try to weave a delivery in their instruction that brings a hidden influence to the proceedings that will benefit their students.
On a foundation course participants can more indulge the depths of yoga so bringing that extra bit of purpose and meaning behind their daily practice.
On this foundation my participants have highlighted those areas they would like including, such as: nidra, breath retention, mudras, prakriti and purusha, their purpose in life, suffering and even samadhi! A strong list but one full of wonderment and worthy consideration.
These will of course all be considered over the next 6 months as we zoom away with two and half hours per fortnight sharing our thoughts and understanding of these valued topics. They will work well around my usual framework of the 8 limbs from the Sutras of Patanjali: yamas and niyamas (the "ten commandments" of yoga or psychological buttresses) Asana (posture), Pranayama (breathing, how to and its value), Pratyahara (starting to get on a better footing with out feelings and emotions and working in the shallows of meditation), and then the inner limbs of dharana, dhyana and samadhi that merging into meditation that strengthens our calm abiding begun in the day to day work with deep asana awareness and breathing.
A good yoga foundation finds you where ever you are in your practice right now and there is no pressure to achieve only an invitation to explore and try some of the myriad of yoga techniques and discover how they can work for you.
Yin Yoga is already a style that lends itself to introspection because the longer held releasing postures of yin allow us to observe our mental and emotional processes and also our physical sensations. On the other hand yin yoga can also have a physical and physiological flavour when we approach it through organ pairing or anatomy specific sequences. But if we apply mindfulness to yin we can experience it either as a deeply relaxing time or plumb the depths of our inner self. So it can be the very essence of self enquiry which to many is the true value of any yoga.
A guided mindfulness yin sequence can provide that experience but can be done in our own space with practice.
It begins in a reclining or sitting pose tuning into our bodily sensations as we release to gravity and watching that process for a while without judgement but more with curiosity. Be curious....After a while (several minutes) open to the breath and let that be the passive breath without any control needed. Stay curious...
We can stay in the reclining/sitting pose and develop the breath by moving gently from passive involuntary breathing to voluntary breathing but paying more attention to the exhalations. Allow these exhalations to slowly melt away and if anything dwelling at the end of the outbreath at that still moment before breathing in again. That is a very special releasing place in yoga thinking and argueably the most relaxed place we cn ever be.
Stay with the breath for a while and then very slowly move the body to an alternative position such as Child Pose even keeping the eyes closed which will allow for a more considered sense of mindfulness. Then immediately reconnect with the breath and tune into the changes brought about by the new posture. This process can exclude outside distractions but remember if that is not possible for example if there is music or other sounds then try and absorb these into your field of mindfulnerss rather than attempting to push them away.
With Child you may wish to direct the energy of your breath into the lower back in the region of the kidneys and adrenals or alternatively feel the soft expansive sensation of the diaphragm pushing into the abdomen as you inhale and then sinking down through the lower back or hips almost like going down in a lift.
After five or more minutes make again a slow transition to another posture such as Makrasana (Crocodile) which is a prone relaxing pose almost like savasana on your front. Repeat the process of connecting with breath and being mndful of the new bodily sensations and stay here for as long as it feels righ before you move again.
All this can be applied to any yin yoga sequence and it has the great power of bringing a deeper sense of release and relaxation which can last well beyond the session to enable better sleep and calmness in the days that follow. The practice can also begin to translate into your day to day living as you somehow can't help but progressively become more and more mindful having experienced it in the relative sheltered calm of a yoga space.
Barry Todd (Yin Yoga Teacher amongst other things!)
What I love about teaching yoga chakra sequences is that they offer a great opportunity to add focused flavour to the experience. I always like t start with students reclining in savasana and take them through a guided chakra awareness. This involves them becoing aware of the geographical locations of the 7 main chakras in turn starting with the base or root chakra at the base of the trunk known as mooladhara. They are imply looking for any sensations in those areas.
It just so hapens that the locations of the chakras happen to be in the same places are there are concentrations of energy and nerve tissue so there is a good chance something will be felt. But it's not guaranteed and some may reveal little or nothing. For a long time I never could feel much in the thrid chakra manipura but yoga helped me to open this chakra over time.
The second chakra is just inches above the root and in front of the sacrum, then the manipura at the solar plexus behind the navel and on the inside of the spine, thn the heart chakra behind the breast bone, the throat chakra behind the hollow in the throat, thrird eye chakra behind the space just above the eyebrow centre and the crown on the top of the head.
The asana sequence that follows gradually works through the chakras adopting those postures that help to stimulate and open those areas in turn. Some are chakra specific but the salutaions to the sun can be included as a general overall routine that helps everything.
I love to use music that relates to the chakras and there is some lovely soothing stuff around and it can be changed discreetly during the sequence to introduce vibrations and even chants that are more appropriate.
This all adds to the value which is vital to student experience which I value also.
I have often thought that a yoga teachers spec is to bring as good an experinec as possible to their students and chakra flows give us that great opportunity.
I really enjoy these absolute beginner yoga sesssions as they do what it says on the tin.
The sessions are for absolute beginners! So week one we do a few warm ups, take in some basic yoga breathing and then work gently through some moderate classic yoga poses enabling the students to grown with these essential asanas that can be seen at most yoga classes.
The instruction is in English! Leaving out the ancient sanskrit (that can come later) and there are alternative or modefied versions of every pose so that no one is left floundering. This makes for greater comfort and allows students to feel confident from the start that yoga meets them at what ever stage they are on the stretchometer.
There is time for relaxation in the closing 5-10 minutes with guidance on being aware of the passive breath. This helps the budding yogis to get on a new and better footing with their breathing.
No one is run ragged and everyone's body is allowed to have their old them still in tact while the new them begins to make its early appearance at that all important steady pace.
Next week will see the simple introduction of the Salutations to the Sun. A neat routine of 12 postures of which only 7 need be learned as 5 are repeated in the closing stages of the flow. This will need to be visited throughout the course (5 weeks) and is a useful well rounded sequence getting to allparts of the body including some toning of the inyternal organs and glands.
A great way to ease our tense and stiff bodies into something approaching open and flexible.
Yin Yoga has to be the most overlooked style of yoga around which is a crying shame as it has so many assets. That being said I know it will not be for everyone even the most convinced yoga practitioners probably because it is a very introspective an meditative type of yoga and there are those of us who will prefer something more dynamic.
Nevertheless, don't be deceived as while Yin Yoga is not necesaarily a restorative cosy practice it should have the same outcome as hatha albeit a differing path.
Yin Yoga could be said to have come out of hatha yoga in that it uses many of the conventional hatha postures with a few of its own thrown in that are growing in number every year along with some familiar but modefied poses too.
There are three practice elements to yin yoga.
One: come to a suitable or appropriate stretch (twist or squeeze)
Two: Relax, connect with the breath and relax into the pose
Three: Stay for time
The first element is of great importance and it is the one that many who are new to yin take a while to adjust to and sometimes they don't. Element One requires a little vigilence. The key is in the words suitable/appropriate. In Yin Yoga we are going to try and stay in the pose for anything from 3 to 6 minutes or longer (element three) and if we attempt to do this applying our selves in the same way that we might in a 30 second pose will be very tiring, stressful and build unwanted tensions.
Yin appeals more to our soft connective tissue which prefers gentle considered movements and stretching and if we cultivate this kind of approach it will help our tissues and skeleton to tone and strengthen over time.
The relaxing element is important as by letting go once we are in a yin pose then we build less tension and are less likely to feel stiff the following day.
We are also able to get into a better relationship with our breath because we are in the poses for longer and this allows us to be more focused and introspective. This latter value makes yin appealing to those interested in developing meditation.
So who might yin yoga benefit besides everyone!
Well, it tends to appeal to an interesting mix. On the one hand it is great for those who wish to conserve energy or who don't have a lot. It is also useful for sports people as it can be a great complement to active exercise. Over the years I have people with M.E. an CFS together with weight trainors, footballers, runners, cyclists an ju jitsu martial artists. But it can be beneficial to those who do other yoga during the week or simply walk for exercise. It is a good idea with yin to be sure to complement it with something more aerobic at least like walking during the week as out and out all stretching can weeken us an we don't want that.
So if you practice yoga already why not give yin a chance sometime or if you are in sport or want to complenment some other kind of daily exercise with a more prolonged stretching style yin is well worth a try. It can really bring on your flexibility.
There has been some interesting research recently in Japan that is showing that the kind of work we do in yin yoga can help heal soft connective tissue that might not respond to other kinds of treatment so yin is evolving.
Get in with the yin crowd!
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