yin yoga

Your Emotional Self-Care Guide in Yin Yoga

Your Emotional Self-Care Guide in Yin Yoga

Yin yoga is not just a physical practice. Often when practicing Yin yoga, we can traverse deep into our emotional processing that no other styles of yoga can take us to.

Why is that?

First of all, Yin yoga forces us to be still. And for some people, this stillness can be excruciatingly painful. Quite often when we are dealing with unresolved emotions (such as anger and sadness), we tend to pack our schedule with activities, appointments, chores and so on to occupy our minds to avoid confronting our emotional discomforts. Secondly, when holding a posture for a long time (like we do in Yin), we stimulate the energetic channels also known as meridians throughout the body. This consistently held pressure in the meridians act like acupressure and ultimately removes energetic stagnation in the channels upon release of the pose. Energetic stagnation can manifest in physical forms such as body pains, headaches, insomnia, and indigestion; or the stagnation can transform into negative emotions like jealousy, frustration, indecisiveness, paranoia, and depression.

Our well-buried emotions can surface up in different ways. Here are a few examples:

- An unexpected but intense emotional reaction such as anger, sadness, fear, and anxiety.

- A special memory or image from the past flashing before you. This memory/image can be something from childhood, past relationships, or a dream.

- You feel claustrophobic, nauseous, or anxious and feel the need to escape your practice.

- Uncontrollable crying and often the cause is unknown or from unresolved past relationships/events.

- You may feel an insurmountable sense of fear as if your life is threatened.

These are just a few of the many examples that you may experience during a Yin yoga practice. It is important to know that even the smallest hint of unease feeling deserves your attention. It is an opportunity to scope into your internal landscape- a reflection of your emotional wellbeing.

So now, the question is- what should you do when you experience an intense emotional release during practice? Below are a few suggestions that can help with your emotional processing:

 

1. Journaling

Writing down what you felt during the practice helps you remember and reflect later on. Describe in details what sort of feelings came up in practice- was it sadness, terror, frustration, or grief? Did you recall any special memory such as from childhood or a significant moment from your adolescent/adulthood? After a few entries, you may discover a pattern, and you can use the pattern to navigate what is it from the past or the present you are suppressing.

 

2. Acupressure, Qi Gong or Massage Therapy

Often we can clear up energetic stagnation through touch and sound. Acupressure and massage therapy are excellent ways to calm the body and restore mental peace. You should seek a well-trained therapist with whom you feel safe and connected to. As well, Qi Gong is a subtle Chinese energy practice that helps cultivate positive energy, increase blood circulation and sharpen mental focus. Qi Gong also uses sound vibration to release negative emotions.

 

3. Nature Walk

Taking a walk in nature helps bring balance in our body and mind. The fresh air and new perspective help us expand our mental horizon and ease our mind from obsessive thinking. As you take a leisurely stroll in nature, examine in details your surroundings and enjoy the present moment.

 

4. Nourishing food and plenty of sleep

It takes a tremendous amount of energy for emotional processing. Nourish yourself with nutritious food/drinks and get plenty of sleep. Avoid cold food/drinks, spicy food, coffee, and alcohol.

 

5. Solitude

After an intense release, you might feel extremely sensitive to people, light, smell, and sound. As best as you can, spend some time alone in silence. Witness your thoughts, body sensations, and feelings without any disruptions. Practicing silence is a great way to restore energy and gain a new perspective on our state of being.

Although the experience of emotion releases can be uncomfortable, nonetheless, it’s a golden opportunity for us to release any suppressed negativity. In Chinese medicine, diseases come from repressed emotions. Our emotional health is vital for living a long and healthy life. Yin yoga is an excellent gateway in finding balance from the inside out.

30 Minute Sequence- Yin Poses For Better Sleep

30 Minute Sequence- Yin Poses For Better Sleep

Do you have difficulties sleeping?

Based on the holistic approach, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) sees the sleep-wake cycle as a dynamic yet integral flow between the Yin and Yang. The Vital Axis states: “When Yang Qi is at its limit and Yin Qi is abundant, one’s eyes are closed. When Yin Qi is at its limit, and Yang Qi is abundant, one is awake.” Essentially, we naturally sleep at the Yin predominate time (night) while awake during the day when it is predominantly the time of the Yang energy.

Find out more about Yin-Yang here: Yin & Yang- How Balanced Are You?

Although there are many variables, there are two main Chinese meridians that can disturb our sleep:

Heart Meridian

In TCM, the Heart’s function is to circulate the blood and control the blood vessels, as well as to regulate the mind. As well, the sleep-wake cycle is part of Shen (spirit) activities. Shen refers to thought, state of consciousness and mental functions that keep the mind sharp and alert. It is believed that Shen resides in the heart and when it is too excited, for example during an emotional conflict like heartbreak and argument, sleep problems occur.

Liver Meridian

The Liver’s primary functions are to control the amount of blood in circulation and to create a harmonious, unrestricted flow of Qi (energy) throughout the body. A healthy liver facilitates sleeping rhythms, ensures proper vision and allows our emotions to be in appropriate balance.

A great way to ensure proper sleep is to harmonize the Liver and Heart channels through yin yoga. Yin yoga is an accessible form of acupressure and can be practiced by practitioners of all levels, age, and physical conditions. (Read: The Practical Guide to Yin Yoga & Traditional Chinese Medicine).

Here is a 30-minute sequence you can do on your bed before sleep, give it a try tonight!

 

Butterfly (Hold 5 minute and rest 1 minute)

Yin Yoga Butterfly- Annie Au Yoga

From a seated position, place the soles of your feet together. Gently fold forward as you let the spine round and soften. You can rest your hands on your feet or the floor in front of you. Simply relax your head toward your heels or place a block underneath the forehead for more support.

If your feet are closer to the pubic region, you will feel a more intense sensation in the groin area. Or you can also try sliding your feet further away from you and see how the sensation would disperse along the inner thighs. Both are correct, so choose the one that is more suitable for you.

 

Wall-Dragon Fly (Hold 5 minute and rest 1 minute)

Wall Dragonfly- Annie Au Yin Yoga

 

Place your legs on the wall and slowly open them to the side until you feel a mild sensation in the inner thighs. Try your best to wiggle your buttock right up against the wall. Gravity will slowly open your legs, so relax the body and mind as much as possible.

When coming out of the pose, use your hands to help bring the legs back up. You can keep the legs together and rest them against the wall.

 

Wall-Funky Chair (Hold 5 minute and rest 1 minute)

Wall Yin Yoga-Annie Au Yoga

Stay against the wall after Dragonfly. To enter wall Funky Chair, slide your hips slightly away from the wall, bend your knees and place the soles of the feet on the wall. Keep the knees at 90 degrees. As if you’re sitting on a chair, cross the right ankle over the left thigh. You may feel some sensations along the right outer hip and right inner groin.

Practice on both sides for 5 minutes and take a 1-minute rest afterward. To rest, you can come out all the way and lie down on your bed or simply prop the legs up against the wall.

 

Caterpillar (Hold 5 minute and rest 1 minute)

Yin Yoga Caterpillar- Annie Au

Extend your legs in front and slowly fold forward with a relaxed spine. You can place a pillow under the belly or the forehead for extra support. You can also sit on the edge of a cushion to help tilt the pelvis forward.

 

Meditation: Seated or Lying Down (6 minutes)

Annie Au Yoga Meditation

After completing the poses, find an easy seated or lying down posture for meditation. A simple but effective meditation technique is called Anapanasati (Mindfulness of Breathing). Anapanasati is most commonly practiced with attention focused on the breath, without any effort to change the breathing. Start by slowly inhaling and exhaling through the nose. Sustain an even count for both inhale and exhale (for example, inhale for three counts and exhale for three counts.) Try your best to focus only on the breathing and see how the chatters of the mind slowly fade away.

Your practical guide to yin yoga & traditional Chinese medicine

Your practical guide to yin yoga & traditional Chinese medicine

 

The Origin of Traditional Chinese Medicine

A fundamental principle of the Chinese system of medicine is that the human body-mind-spirit spectrum is a holistic one. As humans, we are intrinsically linked to our outside worlds from family, society, environment, and ultimately to the Universe. Based on this view, all manifestation of diseases is viewed as an outcome of an imbalance originating within oneself or in one’s relationship to the external reality.

 

The Dao and Yin- Yang Philosophy

“Writings do not express words clearly, words do not express thoughts clearly”; “ thus the sages created images to express thoughts clearly.” - LaoZi

The terms Dao (or Tao), Yin and Yang are images created by ancient sages to depict their insights into reality. The word Dao is used to embrace the eternal primordial source also called the Void, as well as the potential from which all things arise. There are two sides of the Dao. In its passive state, the Dao is empty and non-doing; while in its active state the Dao is seen to create and propel reality and all its enterprises.

Building upon the concept of Dao, the ancient sages created a dualistic phenomenon called Yin-Yang to describe the natural tendencies arise in nature. The terms Yin and Yang mean the dark and lighter sides of a mountain respectively, gradually extended to refer to the principle of duality inherent in all manifestation. There are four primary principles explain the dynamic interplay between the Yin and Yang in traditional Chinese medicine:

1. All phenomena contain two innate opposing aspects.

2. Yin and Yang are co-dependent. One cannot exist without the other.

3. Yin and Yang nurture each other.

4. Between Yin-Yang there exists a transformative potential.


yinyang Annie Au Yoga.jpg

 

Taiji (The Supreme Ultimate) represents the infinite, ultimate state of transformation. Visualize this symbol in 3-Dimensions. Within the Yin there is always some Yang and vice versa. 


Examples of Yin and Yang using the analogies of water/fire:

Yin-Water

Coldness

Moistness

Dimness

Downward/inward movement

Stillness

Yielding

Inhibition

Slowness

Heaviness

Yang-Fire

Heat

Dryness

Brightness

Upward/expanding movement

Activity

Forceful

Excitation

Rapidity

Lightness

 

The Twelve Regular Meridians

“ The meridians move the Qi (energy) and Blood, regulate the Yin and Yang, moisten the tendons and the Bones, and benefits the joints…”

The meridians are energetic channels that carry Qi or energy. When we die, the energy channels die as well. There are no anatomical structures to these channels and can only be felt through our subtle senses and self-inquiry.

The meridian system has five primary functions:

1. Animates the body

2. Keeps the organs up

3. Warms the body

4. Protects the body from external influences

5. Transforms one substance to another

The twelve regular meridians connect internally to the Organs and externally to the surface of the skin. Each meridian is distributed bilaterally and is named after its respective associated Organ. The meridians are also divided equally into Yin or Yang groups and are associated with different emotions such as anger, fear, anxiety, worry, and excitement.

The regular meridians are often used for physical/emotional healing purposes, as commonly used in acupuncture or acupressure. When practiced correctly, you can stimulate the meridian through thoughts, touch, and movement.


Yin Yoga as Acupressure

In Yin Yoga, the poses act as a pressuriser stimulating different meridians along the body. When practicing Yin, we apply gentle pressure over an extended period (from 3-5 minutes or more). Similar to squeezing a garden hose, the pressure increases inside the tube, and upon releasing the hose, the water pressure pushes through the hose removing any toxins inside. When we hold a yin pose, we dissipate any energetic stagnation by compressing the body tissues where the meridian are located.

You can also stimulate the meridians in other activities such as walking, massage, dynamic yoga, climbing, etc. However, the most significant aspect of yin is that it requires us to still our mind and body. Through stillness, we can observe the nature of the mind and perhaps seek a deeper understanding of our life beyond the physical self.

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Yin Yoga and why we do it?

 

Yoga has become increasingly popular as of late. We can all benefit from slowing our lives down and taking some time for a deeper, slower practice. Here we'll break down the physiological and spiritual aspects of practicing Yin Yoga, and go over some of the do’s and don’ts. 

Yin vs. Yang

According to Chinese background and philosophy:
    •    Yin implies cooling, moon, feminine, soft, shade.
    •    Yang implies hot/heat, sun, masculine, strong, bright.

Yin and Yang are relative terms. We can pretty much find these two elements in all existence of life.

Yin Yoga is More Than Just Stretching

Contrary to widely-held belief, there is very little stretching in a 75–90 minute Yin Yoga class. From The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga by Bernie Clark, Bernie explains the difference between stretching and stressing. Stress occurs when we apply tension to our connective tissues, whereas stretch is the elongation of the tissue that results from stress.

Stress is a vital element in sustaining and promoting good health. For example, an effective way to stimulate bone density is by exercising. Through appropriate amount of weight bearing exercises, like walking up the stairs or lifting weights, bone calcium naturally depletes due to impact. Through homeostasis, the body detects the depletion and increases calcium absorption through our food intake. Same with our tissue, an appropriate amount of stress followed by rest strengthens the tissue, over time it becomes stronger. Rest, this is the key to practicing Yin Yoga.

The rest intervals between poses allow the tissue time to recover, hence less prone to over-fatigue or injury. This is in a way similar to weight lifting in terms of work and rest intervals. So in Yin Yoga we’re not stretching the tissue but rather, stressing it, and then allowing time for rest and repair. Applying just enough pressure in any given area of the body can stimulate change in the long term.

So you might wonder … what tissues are we working with exactly?

Learning which tissues are targeted in Yin Yoga is fundamental to preventing injuries. Our bodies are composed of muscles and connective tissues which may include ligaments, tendons, bones, joints and fascia. Muscles are essentially elastic, heating up when exercised. They respond well to repetitive and rhythmic movements because their elastic qualities allow the muscle fibers to elongate when appropriately stretched.

Conversely, the connective tissues remain generally cool when exercised; it does not elongate much due to its plasticity element. We can think of muscles as Yang tissues and connective tissues as Yin.

In Yin Yoga, we’re focusing on stressing the connective tissues. There is a concept among physiotherapists that stressing the ligament is dangerous. This is absolutely correct, but only if we’re applying repetitive Yang movements to the Ying tissues.

As Clark exemplified in his book, imagine bending your credit card repetitively, it will snap pretty quickly! Our ligaments/tendons are the credit card. We cannot apply forceful movements on them! Rather, we need to hold the poses for a long time and allow gravity to slowly work its way to the deeper Yin tissues. Practitioners should refrain from active muscles engagement, as this will stiffen the area around the joints thus makes it harder to get to the ligaments/tendons.

Moving Beyond the Physical Realm

According to Clark, when practicing Yin, there are only two reasons why a practitioner should move.
1. If he/she is in pain.
2. A space has been created within the Yin tissue and invites the practitioner to move deeper.

Unless you check one of these two options, you should remain still. Therefore, all Yin postures are in fact meditation postures. Whether it's a seated Forward Fold or

Happy Baby, you’re in it for the long haul!

Once the clock starts ticking, 5 minutes of Happy Baby may seem blissful, but if your hips are tight, that baby isn’t so happy anymore. When facing such challenge, a practitioner would find meditation particularly helpful. Rather than dwelling over the painful sensation, you can engage in soft Ujjayi breathing or silently chant "So-Hum," a classic meditation technique.

Discovering the right type of meditation can help the practitioner ease into the posture, find deeper relaxation in the body, and enter a space of spiritual tranquility.

Flexible or Not, Yin Yoga is Not Easy

A gumby-like practitioner might find the physical aspect of Yin relatively unchallenging. However, such yogis would have a harder time focusing in the posture because he/she cannot feel the physical discomfort. The mind might start to wander a million miles away, rather than staying focused on the present. Without meditation, you cannot receive the full blissful benefits of Yin Yoga.

Those who are very active will also find Yin Yoga challenging or even excruciating. Individuals with lots of Yang energy like to move, achieve and conquer. We know them as the "Type A Personality." Funny enough, these are the people who may need Yin Yoga the most.

A well-known Chinese proverb: "Things will develop in the opposite direction when it becomes extreme."

A person who is over-exercised may weaken their immune system and become prone to sickness overtime. If all we did were Power Vinyasa classes, the body would be overrun by too much Prana (or Chi), and we would experience difficulty sleeping and restlessness. Yin Yoga slows the overactive mind and cultivates mindfulness.

When Not to Practice Yin

Yin Yoga is generally safe for all ages when practiced mindfully. It’s also safe to practice if you’re pregnant; however, it's always best to check with your doctor first. During pregnancy, a hormone called relaxin is produced in the expectant mother. This is to increase mobility in the joints and help with the delivery of the baby. I would recommend decreasing the amount of time spent holding a pose in Yin Yoga and put more emphasis on meditation and breathing.
You should also avoid practicing Yin if you’ve been stagnant for a while. If you haven’t gotten off the couch for a week, do something active first!

7 Simple Yin Yoga Rules to Live By

1.  Find a space with very little clutter. Uncluttered space means uncluttered mind.
2.  Quiet. Shhh. Hide your phone, computer, TV, kids, husband, and dog. Put on some meditation music and enjoy tranquility.
3. Wear comfortable clothing. Sometimes I put on socks and a meditation shawl.
4. Fragrance free. Leave the Christian Dior for a night out. Fragrances can disturb the mind (and others around you if you’re in a class).
5. Timer. Yin Yoga is time sensitive so you’ll need to set a timer. I use the meditation app Insight Timer. However, make sure to turn to turn your phone on airplane mode––no text messaging!
6. Start gentle. For beginners, hold the posture for 1–2 minutes. Eventually work up to 5 minutes.
7. Use props! Lots of them. Have pillows, blankets, blocks, and straps ready. Finding a comfortable position is helpful in minimizing movement during the posture.

There is so much more to Yin Yoga than just physical postures. We calm our nervous system, have better concentration and in general, feel more blissful over time. It is good to balance your yin practice with your yang practice. I'd recommend at least one Yin Yoga class per week.