You might have just signed up for yin yoga classes, or not even know what yin yoga is… maybe you’ve booked into a yin retreat with your friends and not sure what to expect! We think yin yoga is something everyone can benefit from both physically and mentally, so read on and find a starting point that you can use to improve your body and mind.
What is yin yoga?
Yin yoga is essentially a slow paced form of exercise which allows your body and mind to recover from more yang activities, such as going to work or strenuous exercise. It is less intense and impacting on your body, and asks you to focus on your breathing rather than a muscle group.
The key difference between yin and yang yoga practices, is that in yin you hold the position for a much longer period of time. Instead of a few breaths, you’ll stay in the asana for 5 minutes, where you’ll concentrate on the sensations you experience, while the exercise itself reaches deep into your body, massaging beyond the skin and muscles and into connective tissues such as fascia and ligaments, and even down to your bones!
For most people it is important to create this physical balance and build healthy tissues and flexibility. Most exercise you’re encouraged to do involves paying money to go weight lifting or marathon training, which encourage muscle growth rather than flexibility. Yin yoga on the other hand can be done for free at home and with improved circulation complements other exercises you do. As well as keeping your joints healthy, there are positive mental and emotional effects too.
Getting started in yin yoga
Beginners in yin yoga will find their stamina for the positions more difficult to endure at first, and it can be difficult reaching mental clarity and self awareness. To help you get started, we’ve put together this sequence of six asanas online to give you a rounded and beneficial yin session which have a range of benefits. All you need is some space at home, and you can have your own personal yin yoga workshop.
At first, you should start with 6 – 10 deep breaths in any position. Try to build your stamina over a few sessions and carry out each asana for 5 minutes at a time. That might sound like an age, but some yoga practitioners carry out each pose in a sequence for 20 minutes!
If you can, use a towel or a yoga mat to sit and stand on, as this will create some nice padding between you and the ground and make the experience a little more comfortable.
The beginning of any sequence should begin with you calming your mind and getting your body ready for the workout. Probably the most recognised position in yin yoga is the half-lotus, and is a natural way of encouraging relaxation. That’s why is most commonly used as a meditation pose.
Sitting upright on the floor, tuck your legs inward so your feet are behind opposite knees and keep your knees as parallel to the ground as possible. Sounds simple; if you are achieving this position easily, you may want to advance to the lotus position which is similar, where you place your foot above the opposite knee in a cross-legged position.
The pressure on the lower spine from this sitting position causes a relaxation in muscular tension, and the redirection of blood flow to the abdomen improves digestion. Of course, sitting still silently will naturally encourage a sense of calm. It’ll strengthen your spine too.
More regular practitioners report feeling more awareness of their body and mind, becoming more emotional, or noticing changes in heart rate. Swirling sensations are common, which are caused by changes in blood pressure as your body relaxes. By removing your mind from the usual distractions in life and focusing on deep breaths – you will have reactions which are unique to you and your body.
In this position, you’ll stretch out the thigh muscles, so is great if you’ve done intensive cardio such as cycling, running, or even squats in the gym. Butterfly will also open the hips and increase groin flexibility for all you budding gymnasts out there.
This asana doesn’t require too much movement from the lotus or half-lotus as it’s also done in an upright seated position. Again, you won’t need a yoga instructor to do this one – start by placing the soles of your feet against each other and bring your feet inwards. You may need to use your hands to do this, but over time this will become easier as your knees and hips become more flexible.
Once you are satisfied with your pose, push your knees down towards the ground with your hands. This might not be the most comfortable thing to do at first, but delivers the best results.
The reason the butterfly asana is named as such, is due to the final action of the position, though the first time you do this you might want to just want to remain holding your knees down. Simply push your knees up and down with your hands, mimicking the beating of a butterfly’s wings with your legs.
This is more stimulating, and will stretch the leg muscles to their maximum. If you lead a busy lifestyle, you might find butterfly to be useful in reducing tiredness and stress.
Similarly to the lotus asana, butterfly also redirects bloodflow to the lower abdomen stimulating your digestive organs. As well this the reproductive organs are targeted, which is particularly helpful to women of all ages, either reducing discomfort during menstruation, and for pregnant women can actually reduce the pain of childbirth if practiced antenatally.
Now for something which doesn’t involve sitting! The cobra position is used to improve strength in the upper body, as well as flexing out those muscles you’ve overworked in your exercise class. Because it specifically targets your back and spine, this pose can be especially useful for those who lead sedentary lives in an office or desk job. Strengthening the spine can ensure you don’t develop back problems later in life.
Unlike actual cobras which adopt this position when about to strike, this is also a very calming position and can improve your mood. To get into the cobra position, start by laying flat on your front with your arms tucked in by your side, and the tops of your feet against the floor. Once you are relaxed, bring your arms forward to lift your upper body off the floor, creating an arch in your back. Note that your elbows should be touching your sides against your lower ribs.
At first, you may not be able to fully straighten your arms, and you should gradually build towards this to avoid over-arching your back. Because of this lifted position, you will stretch out your shoulders, chest and abdomen, while using your own body’s weight to strengthen your arms and shoulders.
This is particularly useful for anyone who regularly lifts heavy objects, as will combat tightness in the upper body, and encourages healthy muscle development. But this really is a great pose for anyone feeling generally fatigued. Once you’re used to the pose, you can also tone your buttocks by pushing forward from your tailbone when in the elevated position.
Because your chest is pressed forward and your upper body is open and not scrunched up, circulation to the heart improves as blood flows through the arteries more easily. It also opens up lungs and breathing passages which can alleviate the symptoms of asthma.
Once you’re good at this, try moving your hands forward slightly and fully straightening your arms for a deeper backbend. Alternatively, the Sphinx pose is a gentler way to start and the crocodile pose is a great way of cooling down and relaxing after this asana.
Warrior II pose
When you imagine doing a yoga class for the first time, you probably imagine a group of people in a park all standing in the warrior II position! This is a fantastic yoga pose for beginners, as it increases stamina, which hopefully will make it easier for you when you do your next session.
This position is named after a warrior incarnation of Shiva, with a thousand heads, a thousand eyes and a thousand feet. Fortunately for you, you’ll only need the heads and limbs you already have!
This is a standing position, so the first thing you’ll need to do is get on your feet. To begin you just need to step so your feet are between 3 and 4 feet apart, and reach your arms out straight so that they are parallel to the ground. Making sure your heels remain aligned, turn your right foot outward slightly, and your left foot at a right angle for stability.
Now bend your right knee until the thigh is parallel to the floor. Keep your back straight and your arms out reaching in the same direction as your legs, and keep your head in a natural position. Once you have this mastered, your right shin should be perpendicular to the floor and your left leg out straight behind you.
As well as the usual benefits from an open and upright posture, the warrior II asana clearly involves a lot of use of the legs and is a more complicated position to get into for beginners, requiring a lot of concentration.
Taking your time to get this one right will ensure you reap the benefits such as strengthening the legs and ankles and toning your abdomen. The warrior II position can also be very therapeutic for back ailments and sufferers of flat feet too. It’s said that masters of the warrior positions are more grounded, and able to deal with daily challenges of life and battles more fiercely.
Shoulder stand pose
There are lots of benefits in the shoulder stand position, as it requires co-ordination and stretching of your whole body. The balance which is created with the shoulder stand pose can create new energy during the day, and improved sleep at night, which is why many people practice only this pose, or do it every single day.
From a cardiovascular perspective, in this position your heart is slightly above your head, so reduces strain on your heart, and the can also help drain old blood from your extremities where it can become trapped, preventing and even curing varicose veins!
In practice, you might want to place a towel under your neck for comfort. To initiate the shoulder stand, get on your back with your legs together and arms outwards slightly for stability. Point your legs legs straight upwards into the air, keeping your back flat against the floor. Placing your hands behind your back, and keeping your elbows on the ground so you are supported, finally raise your legs pointing into the air vertically.
If like us you’re not much looking forward to the approaching winter, you may want to practice this as much as possible, as it is believed the standing shoulder combats the common cold. For those prone to anxiety or nervousness, this asana is known to ease the nervous system and for those of you who find yourself regularly dealing with difficult and draining situations, the shoulder stand can center you on your personal expressiveness and creativity. This can help you turn your negative experiences into positive ones.
There are lots of benefits of shoulder stand, so if you’re looking for a regular go-to position this one is definitely for you. Among others, it can improve function of the thyroid, the entire endocrine system, brain and respiratory system. Because of the increased circulation all around, the body is able to detoxify, which has anti-ageing effects. What’s not to like?
After all that we thought we’d give you a dead easy one to finish with, and what could be easier than simply laying down? You might think that the corpse position looks easy, but can be the hardest part of the session.
Normally the corpse position is the final pose in any yoga session. As with all exercise, it is important to recover properly and to regenerate physically and mentally after a workout. This pose requires the most patience, as the objective is to enter a state of relaxation while remaining in a state of awareness.
The pose itself could not be simpler; lay down on your back with legs straight beneath you – arms out slightly to the side with palms facing upward. The hard part, is remaining totally aware of your surroundings, while letting your thoughts and emotions settle so your mind can more easily process them. By doing this, you can release subconscious mental tension, allowing you to approach your daily life with more clarity and purpose.
Physically, your body will react with reduced heart rate, blood pressure and other metabolic functions, and over time can reduce headaches, insomnia, anxiety, and improved productivity and energy. All this will make you feel generally good about yourself, and if there’s one thing a yoga beginner should feel – that is it.
Get started today!
These 6 asanas will get you started in Yin Yoga. The effects on your health can be immediately positive, especially in reducing stress and easing anxiety.
With work-life balance growing ever more important yet difficult to achieve, yin yoga provides the solution you can take with you wherever you go. If you don’t have the time to join a yoga class, you can learn a handful of poses and have them ready for the opportune moment. If you’re having a bad day at work, you could even use a quiet space at your office during a lunch break – just think of the higher productivity you’ll achieve!
The beauty of yin yoga is that it is accessible to everyone, and you can find your own time and space to enjoy its rewards. Everyone’s mind and body are different, but through yin yoga each of us can discover a solution to our individual physical and spiritual needs.
If these poses start to become routine, try moving on to other positions such as the eagle asana or the warrior III. When you’re ready for it, maybe you want to check out the downward-facing tree or the Lord of the Dance pose. Though I’m not sure we’d try these ourselves!