Yin Yoga Asanas
Anahatasana (Melting Heart)
Benefits: • Good stretch for the upper and middle back; • Will also open shoulders; • Softens the heart. Contra-indications: • Be careful: if student has a bad neck, this could strain it. Alternatives & Options: • If shoulder pain prevents the arms going over head, move arms wider apart; • Flexible students can bring chin to floor and look ahead, but this could strain the neck; • If knees are uncomfortable here, place a blanket underneath them; • Toes can be tucked under; • Chest can be rested on a bolster (allowing the body to relax); • Can do this pose with just one arm forward at a time, resting the head upon the other forearm. Meridians & Organs Affected: • Along the spine: Urinary Bladder lines; • The arm meridians, especially the Heart and Lung lines. Joints Affected: • Upper back (which is actually the scapula, not the thoracic spine); • Mildly stresses the lower spine; • Shoulder/Humerus joint. Hold for how long? • Three to five minutes; • If the student is resting chin on floor, the hold may need to be shorter … the student has to carefully watch the sensations in the neck. Counter poses? • Lying on stomach, or go back to Child's Pose. Similar to? • Half Down Dog (aka Puppy Dog). Other Notes: • It is nice to do this pose after a series of lower back bends; • Could be used as a gentle warm up to deeper back bends; • If students feel pinching in the back of the shoulders, they may be reaching a compression point … abducting the arms (moving them farther apart) may release this. If this does happen here, it probably happens in Down Dog and the Wheel too, so they may be well advised to have hands wider in these poses. 1
Benefits: • Opens and strengthens the ankles; • Strong stimulation of four meridians flowing through the feet and ankles; • Great counter pose for squatting or toe exercises. Contra-indications: • Any sharp pain in ankles, back off. Students can try a blanket or towel under the feet, to cushion them; • Knee issues may prevent the student from sitting on heels: placing a rolled up towel, or other cushions, between the thighs and calves may reduce this. Alternatives & Options: • Leaning back on the hands is the first position, and is the least stressful, but beware of collapsing backward … keep the heart forward; • After a few moments, the student can try to bring the hands to the floor beside the legs; • Try not to lean away from the knees … keep the heart open, arching the back forward; • Finally, the very open student can hold the knees and gently pull the knees toward the chest. Meridians & Organs Affected: • Stomach, Spleen, Liver, Gall Bladder lines are strongly stimulated. Joints Affected: • The ankle. Hold for how long? • About one minute. This is relatively yang and shouldn't be held for a long time. Counter poses? • Pushup/Plank/Chaturanga, Crocodile or any posture that straightens the legs and tucks the toes under; • Dangling or Squatting is also nice. Other Notes: • This is a nice counterpose for many poses that stress the feet, such as sitting on heels with toes tucked under, Squats, and sitting meditations.
Benefits: • A nice way to stretch the lower back without requiring loose hamstrings; • If the legs are straighter and the feet are farther away from the groin, the hamstrings will get more of a stretch. If the feet are in closer to the groin, the adductor muscles get stretched more; • Iyengar says this is good for the kidneys and the prostrate gland and highly recommends this pose for people suffering urinary problems; • Iyengar also claims this removes "heaviness in the testicles and is a boon to women … to regulate periods, ovaries function properly and make delivery easier …" Contra-indications: • Seated forward bends are the hard on the pelvis and knees - they can aggravate sciatica. If a student has this condition, elevate the hips so the knees are below the hips. Beware of hips rotating backward while seated - we want the hips to rotate forward; • Ok for pregnant women, as the legs are abducted, providing space for the belly; • Avoid if the neck has suffered whiplash or has reverse curvature. Alternatives & Options: • Elevate the hips with a bolster or cushion; • If neck is tired, support the head in the hands, resting elbows on knees or thighs; • Could rest chest on a bolster; • Various hand/arm positions are possible: hold feet, hands on floor in front of student, or arms relaxed behind the body; • Can do this lying down, keeping legs in butterfly. Meridians & Organs Affected: • The Gall Bladder lines on the outside of the legs as well as the Urinary Bladder lines running along the spine in the lower back; • If the feet are in close to the groin and a stretch is felt in the inner thighs, the Kidney and Liver lines are being stimulated. Joints Affected: • Hips and lower spine; Hold for how long? • Three to five minutes; • Can hold much longer, if desired … or you may do this while reading, or talking on phone… Counter poses? • Sitting up, or a gentle sitting back bend; • Lying on stomach is also a gentle back bend; • Could do a spinal lift flow on the back or flow into Tabletop (aka Hammock). • A seated twist. Similar to? • Baddha Konasana, but without the emphasis on a straight spine or the feet in tight to 3
groin. In the Butterfly we want the back to round, allowing the head to drop to the heels. Other Notes: • Can be done after meals, as long as head does not touch the floor (which would place too much pressure in the abdomen); • If the feet are closer in, tight adductors or lower back tightness may prevent student from folding forward. Move the feet farther away; • Many students will automatically go into a tight butterfly, because of their yang training … encourage them to move the feet away, forming a diamond shape with the legs.
Benefits: • A nice way to stretch lower back, without requiring loose hamstrings; • The ligaments along the back of the spine are specifically targeted; • Iyengar claims this stimulates the liver and kidneys and aids digestion (when folding over the straight leg). Contra-indications: • Can aggravate sciatica - if the student has sciatica, elevate hips until the knees are below the hips, or avoid this pose entirely. Beware of hips rotating backward while seated: we want the hips to rotate forward; • Beware of any sharp pain in knees … if knees issues are present, tighten the top of the thigh (quadriceps), which will close the joint, or reduce the angle between the legs; • If the bent knee complains, place support under it, or move that foot away from groin; • If the hamstrings protest, bend the straight knee and support the thigh with a blanket or block under it; • Okay for pregnant women, because the legs are abducted, providing space for the belly. Alternatives & Options: • Can fold over the straight leg, which may stretch the hamstrings much more; • Reach opposite arm to extended foot and/or lower that shoulder to emphasize the side of the spine; • Add a twist to the spine by resting the elbow on the thigh and the head in that hand (or for more flexible students placing arm along side the straight leg) and the other arm behind the back, or over the head, and rotate the chest toward the sky. This deepens the emphasis along the side of the ribs and spine; • Place the bent knee foot in Virasana (folded backward behind the buttock), but only if knee doesn't complain. Meridians & Organs Affected: • Urinary Bladder; 4
If there is a lot of sensation in the groin and inner legs, the Liver and Kidneys are stimulated. Joints Affected : • Spine, especially the back and sides; • Knees, knees, although this is not as deep of a stretch for the inner knees as the Dragonfly. Hold for how long? • This can be held a long time about five minutes, with the variations added after about three minutes. •
Counter poses? • Sitting up or a gentle sitting back bend; • Flow into Tabletop (aka Hammock); • Windshield Wipers. Similar to? • Janusirsasana, but here we aren't trying to bring the head to the foot; rather, we are bringing the head to the knee. Allow the back to round; • Paul Grilley calls the variation with the foot in Virasana, the Half Frog.
Benefits: • Like Saddle pose, the Camel deeply arches the sacral/lumbar spine and opens the top of the thighs. There is less opening in the ankles than the Saddle, but there is still some opening there; • Stretches the hips' flexors and opens the shoulders - Iyengar says this is excellent for people with drooping shoulders or hunched backs. Contra-indications: • Iyengar claims that the elderly, or people with spinal injuries, can do this pose. However, to be sure this is safe, seek medical advice if you fit either category; • Without support, the back can spasm, so people with weak backs may want to do only the gentle versions (see below); • If you have any neck issues, do not drop head back - keep the chin to the chest. Alternatives & Options: • There are two ways to go into this pose - by holding hands on the hips and keeping the hips forward as you arch back, or by having the hands on the floor behind you and walking the hands forward (as shown), until you have reached an edge;
Dropping back may be unsuitable for people with back problems, because there is little support from the hands in this version. Do the hands on the floor version instead; • Walking the hands on the floor toward the feet may be unsuitable for people with knee problems because there is more pressure in the knees in the early stages of this variation; • Very flexible students may wish to bring their hands to the floor between the feet, or move the hands toward the knees; • For less flexible students, the toes can be tucked under and the hands rested on the heels, or on a block between the feet. Meridians & Organs Affected: • Urinary Bladder, Kidney and Stomach meridians; • Sometimes the upper arms and shoulders are stressed, which stimulates the Heart and Lung meridians; • Thyroid is stimulated, if the neck is dropped back. Joints Affected: • The spine, shoulders and ankles. Hold for how long? • One to two minutes at most. Counter poses? • Child's Pose … Coming out slowly, lift chest forward, allowing the head to remain dropped back until the shoulders are over the hips, then bring the head forward and sit back into Child's Pose. Similar to? • Ustrasana (ustra means camel). •
Cat Pulling Its Tail
Benefits: • This back-bending twist is useful as a nice counterpose to strong forward bends (such as the Snail); • Decompresses the lower back; • Opens the quadriceps and upper thighs. Contra-indications: • If student has lower back issues, this can still be performed, but go gently. Most students, in this case, will not be able to pull the foot away at all. Alternatives & Options: • Easiest version is to be propped up on one arm, as shown; • The more challenging version is to recline, and look over shoulder to the bottom foot. This version becomes a reclining twist with a back bend. Emphasize pulling the foot away from 6
the buttock (most students will not be able to do this). Meridians & Organs Affected: • Stimulates the Stomach and Spleen meridians (if the top of the thigh is activated) and the Urinary Bladder and Kidney lines (when the back is arched and twisted); Joints Affected: • Mostly opens the lumbar/sacrum. Hold for how long? • One minute, if doing as a counterpose to a forward bend; • Can hold longer as a reclining twist: three to five minutes. Counter poses? • Hug the knees to the chest to release lower back in a gentle forward fold. Do this either while lying on the back or in Child's Pose. Similar to? • Jatharaparivartanasana, with a back bend. Other Notes: • If the student is actively pulling the foot away, the pose becomes yang-like in nature: in this case, she may shorten the time, or perhaps release the pressure after one minute.
Benefits: • Stresses the ligaments along the back of the spine; • Compresses the stomach organs, which helps strengthen the organs of digestion; • Stimulates the kidneys; • Since the heart is below the spine, the heart is massaged; • Iyengar claims this pose helps to cure impotency and leads to sex control. Contra-indications: • forward bends are the hard on the pelvis and knees - they can aggravate sciatica. If a student has this condition, elevate the hips so the knees are below the hips. Beware of hips rotating backward while seated - we want the hips to rotate forward; • If the hamstrings are very tight, the knees should be bent and supported by a bolster, allowing the spine to round. Alternatives & Options: • Bend knees, and support them with a bolster, to allow the back to round fully; • If neck feels strained by the weight of the head, students can support their heads in their hands, resting their elbows on the legs or a bolster; • The student can rest the chest on a bolster, to help relax into the pose; • Can also rest the legs up the wall (bend the knees and allow the feet to be flat against the wall); • If knees are strained or weak, activate the quadriceps (but not all the time!). Meridians & Organs Affected: • The Urinary Bladder. Joints Affected: • The spine. Hold for how long? 7
Three to five minutes or more. Counter poses? • Sitting up or a gentle sitting back bend; • Lying on the stomach is a gentle back bend, as is doing a spinal lift flow on the back, or flow into Tabletop (aka Hammock); • A seated twist. Similar to? • Paschimottanasana, but here we are not trying to lengthen the spine, or stretch the back muscles. Don't try to bring the head to the feet, but rather round the spine so the head comes to the knees. Other Notes: • Paul Grilley claims this pose is excellent for balancing Chi flow, and preparing the body for meditation; • Keep muscles relaxed especially in the legs; • Make sure the tops of the student's hips are tilted forward … if the student's hips are rotating backward, have her sit on higher cushions and bend the knees more. •
Benefits: • A healing, restful pose - useful any time a break is needed; • Gently stretches the spine - this is always a nice counterpose for back bends; • Gentle compression of the stomach and chest is beneficial for the organs of digestion; • Psychologically soothing when feeling cold, anxious, or vulnerable; • Can relieve back and neck pain when the head is supported; • Rocking gently side to side can help stimulate the flow of blood and lymph fluids in the upper chest and breast tissues. Contra-indications: • Diarrhea or pregnancy; • This can be uncomfortable just after eating; • If knee issues exist, the student may need to place towel or blanket between thighs and calves, or avoid the pose altogether; • While this is a gentle opener of the ankles, the student may need a blanket or other padding under her ankles to reduce discomfort on the top of the feet. Alternatives & Options: • Could be done with arms stretched forward; • Some students cannot get their buttocks to their heels, which means the head will have a lot of weight on it. They can support the neck by placing the forehead on hands or on a bolster; • Allow knees to be as wide apart as is comfortable; • Can do this as preparation for the Frog by spreading the knees farther apart halfway through the pose, but remain sitting on heels. Meridians & Organs Affected: • The Spleen, Stomach, Kidneys, and Urinary Bladder. Joints Affected: • The spine and ankle. Hold for how long? 8
As long as the student wants; Used as a counter pose, hold for up to one minute; Used as a yin pose on its own, hold for three to five minutes. However, if student cannot get her head to the floor, five minutes may be too long. Counter poses? • A counter pose not normally needed after this pose. Students could go directly to any other poses. Similar to? • Balasana or Garbhasana Other Notes: • In Yin Yoga, this pose could be used as a preparation for Dragonfly pose, or for deeper forward bends like Snail. • • •
Benefits: • Gentle stretch for the lower spine; • Warms up the hamstrings and leg muscles; • Compresses the stomach and internal organs; • Diaphragmatic breathing is harder while in this posture - this pose builds strength in the diaphragm, while providing a massage for the abdominal organs; • Cures stomach pain during menstruation; • Heart rate is slowed and spinal nerves rejuvenated. Contra-indications: • Avoid if student has high blood pressure; • If student has low blood pressure, to come out of the pose she should roll up to standing slowly, or go into squat, to avoid seeing the Yoga Faeries (feeling dizzy); • If someone has a bad back, she must bend her knees a lot! She can also rest her elbows on her thighs. Alternatives & Options: • Bend knees more … this will strengthen the legs and release the back; • Rest elbows against a table, a chair or on the thighs if the back feels strained; • Caterpillar is an easier alternative; • Really flexible students can hold wrists behind the legs, but we still want back rounded in this yin posture. Meridians & Organs Affected: • Due to the intense stretch along the back of the legs and spine, the Urinary Bladder meridian is highly stimulated; • Iyengar says this is great for the liver, spleen and kidneys. Joints Affected: • The Spine. Hold for how long? • Three minutes can be pretty intense: sometimes this pose is done in two or more 9
sessions of two minutes each, separated by two minutes of the Squat. Counter poses? • Squat, or a gentle back bends. Similar to? • Uttanasana - the emphasis here is not to stretch the hamstrings a lot, but rather to release the lower back. If the legs are straight, it is a nice stretch for the hamstrings, but there is little muscular effort needed. If the knees are bent, it is a great strengthener for the leg muscles and allows the back to release more fully. Other Notes: • Ensure the arches of the feet are lifting; • Balance the weight between toes and heels … can gently sway or wobble, but no bouncing; • Straight legs will stretch hamstrings; • Bent knees will strengthen thigh muscles; • Better to bend knees and receive a stomach massage too; • Can intermix this and Squat - eventually hold both for four minutes, or more, in total.
Benefits: • A nice counter pose to hip openers or any external rotation of the hips; • A balanced way to rotate hips, both externally (front leg) and internally (back leg); • Improves digestion and relieves gas; • Helps to relieve the symptoms of menopause; • Reduces swelling of the legs during pregnancy (until the end of the second trimester); • Therapeutic for high blood pressure and asthma. Contra-indications: • If any knee issues exist, be careful of externally rotating the hip (front knee); keep that foot in closer to the groin. Could support the front knee with a bolster, or a folded blanket, placing it under the knee. Alternatives & Options: • The tendency here is to tilt away from the internally rotating hip of the back leg; make sure both sitting bones are firmly on the floor. This may require moving the feet more toward the core of the body; • Very flexible students can begin to move their feet away from their hips. • A nice stretch to the side body and the back thigh is to twist around towards the back foot by rotating to the opposite side. You may rest on your elbow here and try to bring your head to the floor. Meridians & Organs Affected: • If the front leg is firmly on the floor or if you are twisting, the Gall Bladder line is activated. Any inner groin sensations indicate that the Liver and Kidneys are benefiting. If the thigh is stretched, the Stomach and Spleen are activated. Joints Affected: 10
Hips. Hold for how long? • Most students can't do this pose well enough to get a lot of benefit from it, so it is useful mostly as a counterpose. As a counterpose, just hold for up to one minute. Counter poses? • Since this pose is both an external and internal hip rotation, the best counter pose is to do the other side; • Windshield Wipers are nice: they can be done lying down, sitting up, or reclining on elbows. Similar to? • This is a combination of Virasana (hero pose) and Padmasana (lotus) pose. Other Notes: • Useful after long-held, external hip rotations such as Shoelace, Swan, or Dragonfly, where both legs were wide apart; • Most students won't easily understand what the pose is about … they won't move their feet far enough away from the groin or hips, or they will tilt too much, allowing the internally rotated hip to rise off the floor. The teacher will have to inspect their efforts and offer guidance. •
Benefits: • Deep hip and groin opener … gets right into the joint; • Also stretches the back leg's hip flexors and quadriceps; • Many variations to help work deeply into hip socket; • Can help with sciatica. Contra-indications: • Can be uncomfortable for the kneecap or the ankle. If the student is stiff, the back thigh will be at ninety-degree angle to the front thigh, putting a lot of weight on the kneecap. Support the back knee with blanket under it, or place a bolster under shin, allowing the back knee to be off the floor. Options: • If back knee is uncomfortable, place a blanket under it, rest the shin on a bolster, or tuck the toes under and lift the leg off the floor; • If ankle is uncomfortable, place blanket underneath it, or raise knee by putting bolster under the shin; • Press top of foot down firmly, emphasizing the little toe. Alternative Dragons: • The first option is a simple low lunge, called the "Baby Dragon" • The next option is to rest the arms or hands on the front thigh, and lift the chest - this increases the weight over hips. This is the "Dragon Flying High"; • A deeper option, Dragon Flying Low, is to place both hands inside front foot (ensuring the foot doesn't slide inward toward a Pigeon position) and walk hands forward, lowering the hips. For more depth the student could come down on elbows, or rest elbows on a bolster or block; 11
"Twisted Dragon" - one hand pushes front knee to the side while the chest rotates to the sky; • "Winged Dragon" - with hands on floor, wing out the knee a few times, rolling onto the outside edge of that foot, and then stay there with the knee low. Could come down on elbows or rest elbows on a block or bolster; • "Overstepping Dragon" - exercises the ankle. From Baby Dragon, allow the front knee to come far forward and/or slide the heel backward, until the heel is just about to lift off the ground; • "Dragon Splits" - the deepest stretch for hip flexors. Straighten both legs into the splits. Student can support the front hip with a bolster under the buttock, for balance and to release weight; this relaxes the muscles. Student can sit up tall or fold forward for different sensations; • "Fire-breathing Dragon" - in any of the above variations, tuck the back toe under and lift the knee up, lengthening the leg. This puts more weight into the hips, increasing the stretch. Meridians & Organs Affected: • Stomach, Spleen, Liver, Gall Bladder, and Kidneys (and even the Urinary Bladder in the Dragon Flying High or the Dragon Splits High). Joints Affected: • Hips and ankles; • Lower back in the backbend options. Hold for how long? • Could hold each variation for one minute and cycle through all of them or, • Hold just one variation for three to five minutes. Counter poses? • A short Down Dog is delicious - take your puppy for a walk by bending one knee, lifting that heel and pushing the opposite heel down, and then switch sides repeatedly; • Child's Pose feels really good after Down Dog and before switching to the other side of the Dragon. Similar to? • Low lunge (Ajayanasana). Other Notes: • Some people will not feel anything in the outer hip joint. If they are very tight in the hip flexor or quadriceps, that area will take all the stress. This is still a good pose for them, but to work their hips, other poses will be needed. •
Dragonfly (aka Straddle)
Benefits: • Opens the hips, groin, and the back of thighs; • Also provides a gentle opening to inner knees; • Stimulates the ovaries. Contra-indications: • Seated forward bends are the hard on the pelvis and knees - they can aggravate sciatica. If a student has this condition, elevate the hips so the knees are below the hips. Beware of hips rotating backward while seated - we want the hips to rotate forward; • If the student has any inner knee trauma or issues, she should bring the legs closer together or tighten the top of the legs (the quadriceps) to engage the kneecaps.
Alternatives & Options: • Use bolster to raise hips; • Could keep hands behind the back, or rest elbows on a bolster; • Folding over one leg increases spinal and hamstring stretch. If knees feel bothered, tighten quadriceps to close knee joint, or bring legs closer together; • If hamstrings feel too tight, bend the knee and place a bolster under the thigh; • Legs can be ninety degrees apart to one hundred and twenty degrees for advanced students. The full split of one hundred and eighty degrees is not necessary; • Advanced students can lie right down on stomach and rest arms to the sides; • 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; • For stiff students, bend the knees a lot! It is also okay to place the feet flat on the floor; • Can come into a twist (like revolved Janusirsasana) by folding over one leg and rotating chest skyward (advanced students may hold the foot with both hands); • Can also do a sitting up twist (helps to stimulate the upper body meridians under the scapula). Meridians & Organs Affected: • Urinary Bladder on back of legs and on the back, and the Liver and Kidney lines through the groin and the Spleen through the inner knees; • The twisting version will stimulate the Gall Bladder along the side of the torso. Joints Affected : • Hips, lower back, and knees. Hold for how long? • Three to five minutes; • Often it is nice to spend half of the time in one variation, and then add the twist (bottom picture) for the last half of the pose. Counter poses? • Lean back on the hands to release the hips, and slowly bring legs together. Groaning is allowed. Groans coming out of Yin Yoga poses sound like "ommmm." Windshield Wipers are nice, or do a cross-legged, seated back bend; • Tabletop (aka Hammock). Similar to? • Upavistakonasana. Other Notes: • Very frustrating for beginners: the adductor muscles tug on sitting bones, just like the hamstrings do, which causes the top of hips to tilt backward. Persistence is required! Sitting on a bolster helps; • Keep weight forward on sitting bones - even tug the flesh away from the buttocks before folding forward.
Benefits: • Deep groin opener (especially the adductors); • Provides a slight back bend, which compresses the lower back; • Aids digestion and relieves cramps. Contra-indications: • Bad back; • Knees can be uncomfortable, so use padding under the knees; • If the neck is stiff, rest the forehead, not the chin, on the floor or on a bolster. Alternatives & Options: • Tadpole: From Child's Pose, separate knees, but remain sitting on heels; • Half Frog: Lift the hips higher, until hips are in line with knees, keeping feet together; • Full Frog: separate feet as wide as the knees. • Could extend just one arm at a time: this is safer. The other arm can be bent with the head resting on the forearm. Flexies (aka flexible students) can do both arms out at the same time; • Allow the hips to come further forward if the pressure in groin or hips is too severe; • Alternately, keep toes together and allow hips to go backwards; • May rest the chest on bolster, to relax upper body; • If the shoulders are uncomfortable, spread the hands wider apart. Meridians & Organs Affected: • Inner leg pressure works the Spleen, Liver and Kidney meridians; • When the arms are stretched forward, the upper body meridians are massaged, affecting the lines of Heart, Lungs, and Small and Large Intestines. Joints Affected : • Hips, lower back and shoulders. Hold for how long? • Three to five minutes; • Could do first half of pose in tadpole, and then move to the full frog. Counter poses? 15
Child's Pose; Lying on the back, hug knees to chest, and rock side to side, or move knees in circles. Similar to? • Mandukasana or Bhekasana. Other Notes: • When the hips are in line with knees, gravity has maximum effect. Often students will move hips forward to avoid painful compression in the hips - that is okay; • Can do this right after eating by resting on elbows … don't let the stomach rest on the floor though - allow it to hang - nice for digestion; • A nice pose to do to begin a class, or if short of time; • Flexies don't need to go deeper, just stay longer! • •
Benefits: • A deep hip opener that requires arm strength, rather than letting gravity do the work. One of the few poses working with arm flexion (strengthening the biceps). A good yang pose for upper body strength, while being a good yin pose for the lower body; • Releases the sacrum; • Deep compression of stomach organs. Contra-indications: • This can become a mild inversion: a student may want to avoid this posture if she is in her moon cycle, or if she has very high blood pressure. Alternatives & Options: • Half Happy Baby (like an upside down low lunge) holding one foot at a time; • Very tight students may use a belt to hold the feet, or do this against a wall. It is like a lying down Squat, but with the feet pushing into the wall; Could hold the back of the thighs; Toes together - first stage, leave them near groin - later stage, bring toes to the nose; • Eventually, feet go behind the head! Meridians & Organs Affected: • Urinary Bladder; • Inner groin stimulation works the Spleen, Liver and Kidneys. Joints Affected : • Hips and sacrum/lumbar. Hold for how long? • Three to five minutes. • •
Counter poses? • Back bends (lying on stomach) or, while on the back, a mild spinal lift, coming up only halfway. Similar to? • Beginner's version of Yoga Nidra. Also called "window" or, in Los Angeles, "dead bug"; • Unlike in the yang style poses listed above, you may allow your tailbone to curl up to release, or decompress, the lower back. Other Notes: • It is easy for the student to get tired here and stop pulling. That is okay - by then the weight of the legs will add enough juice to make the pose work; • There are two options to try here: 1) Allow the tailbone to curve up in the air. Unlike the yang version we do want to release the sacrum; 2) Keep tailbone low to the ground. Notice the differences. • This posture is the single, most important reason that video recording equipment and cameras are not allowed in yoga studios.
Reclining Twist Benefits: • Twisting at the end of the practice helps to restore equilibrium in the nervous system and release tension in the spine; • Sarah Powers notes that bringing the bent knee more to the chest can relieve sciatica; • Tones the stomach and cures gastritis. Contra-indications: • If the student has shoulder issues (such as rotator cuff injuries), she may not want to raise arm to beside the ear or let it float. Arm can be bent or supported by a bolster. Alternatives & Options: • Directing the knees lower, or higher, will affect where in the spine the stretch is felt. Knees high moves the twist to upper back, knees low moves twist more to lumbar/sacrum; • If shoulder is off the floor, place a bolster under the bent knee to balance the body; • Student can experiment with the head turning to either side - notice how the sensations change; • If the student has raised her hand alongside the ear, it could be resting on the floor or on a bolster; • Twisted Roots - knees can also be crossed as in eagle pose (Garudasana); • Top leg straight out to the side applies the most leverage, which helps to keep the hips fully turned. Meridians & Organs Affected: • Twisting the spine stimulates the Urinary Bladder lines along the spine (the ida and pingala nadis); • If arm is overhead, three meridians in the arms are stimulated - the Heart, Lung, and Small Intestines; • Twists always compress the stomach. Also twisting through the rib cage stimulates the Gall Bladder meridians; • Iyengar says this pose helps the liver, spleen and pancreas. Joints Affected: • The shoulder joint, as well as all the tissues in the upper chest, breast, and shoulder are nurtured; 17
The lower spine, especially the sacrum, if knee is at ninety degrees to the torso, or lower. Hold for how long? • Three to five minutes. Counter poses? • Hug the knees and rock on back from side to side. Similar to? • Jatharaparivartanasana. Other Notes: • An excellent final pose of the practice, because it removes any kinks and knots; • Student may want to slide right from this pose into shavasana; • If tingling occurs in the arms or hands, move them lower until the blood flows again. • Don't push into the twist: relax. Let gravity do the work. •
Benefits: • A deep opening in the sacral-lumbar arch; • Also stretches hips flexors and quadriceps - Iyengar says this is excellent for athletes and people who have to do a lot of standing or walking; 18
If the foot is, or the feet are, beside the hips, this becomes a good internal rotation of the hip. Contra-indications: • Bad back, tight sacrum; • Knees can be tested too much here; • Ankles can protest as well; • Any sharp or burning pain here, you must come out! Alternatives & Options: • If this is too deep for the lower back, do the Seal or Sphinx, or; • Straighten one leg - this is also called "Half Saddle." Could bend the straight leg and place the foot on the floor (note pictures); • Optionally, don't go back so far - just lean back on the hands, or on the elbows; • Resting top of head on floor opens the neck; • Arms overhead can open shoulders too; • There are various places you may use bolsters - stack two crossways under the shoulders, or use just one, or place one lengthways under spine; • A blanket or rolled up towel under the ankles can relieve pressure there; • Flexies may want to lift hips even higher by placing a block between the feet and under the buttocks; • If the thighs protest too much, bend one knee and place that foot on the floor. Very flexible students may want to hug the bent knee to the chest; • Sarah Powers often adds a twist in the Saddle by bringing a hand behind the back and grabbing the inner thigh, which stimulates the shoulder lines. In this version, you won't lean back onto the head or the elbows - just arch back and remember to do both sides! • Play with sitting on heels and between heels; the first emphasizes the lumbar more, and the second works the quads and hip flexors more. Meridians & Organs Affected: • Affects Stomach, Spleen, Urinary Bladder, and Kidney lines. Joints Affected : • Lower spine, knees, ankles. Hold for how long? • One to five minutes; • Iyengar says up to fifteen minutes! Counter poses? • Coming out there are two choices: first, roll to one side and straighten the top leg, then the lower leg, and stay there for a while before rolling onto your back; or, second, push the elbows into floor, contract the stomach muscles, and sit up; • After coming out, lie quietly for a few breaths with the legs straight, tighten kneecaps to release the knees. Finally, hug the knees in a gentle forward bend to release the lower back; • Child's Pose: move into it slowly. Some folks may need to rest the head on the palms before coming into a full Child's Pose, to give the back a chance to release. Similar to? •
Supta Vajrasana or Supta Virasana; Unlike the yang poses, don't tuck the tail bone (no "Cat tilt"), as we would do normally in back bends. Other Notes: • This is not a deep back bend for experienced yogis who are already very open in the lower back: the Seal may be more challenging for them. However, this pose does work three areas at once: thighs, ankles, and lower back; • For beginners, this may be the deepest backbend so it can follow the Seal; • Can be done right after eating; • If done at night before bed, legs feel rested in the morning. • •
Time to relax - time to rest the body so that the body becomes stronger and healthier. Time for the little death of Shavasana. Shavasana symbolizes the end of your practice - a natural completion to the journey you have been on. If you are practicing on your own, you may want to set a timer for your Shavasana. It is not uncommon for students to fall asleep. Falling asleep is okay, but most teachers prefer that you remain alert and aware while the body is relaxed. A timer will help rouse you at the end of the Shavasana. Decide how much time you need to relax. For an active yang practice, a good rule of thumb is to allow yourself about ten percent of your practice time. For the yin style, since the muscles were not used, a shorter period is okay maybe five percent or eight percent will suffice. However, check in with your inner guide and see how much time would be right today. Shavasana is not just a time to relax the body; in this quiet time the mind should remain alert, yet relaxed and aware of the body relaxing. Pay attention to the energies flowing. This is an ideal time to develop your ability to feel your energies. It is difficult to do this when you are in the postures. Practicing watching the energies during your Shavasana will assist you to feel energy flowing at other times. As you actively relax, watch the flow of Chi or prana into and out of the areas you worked in the asana practice. At first you may have to pretend, or imagine, you can feel these energies. Pretending will help you look closely at these areas. In time, you will notice the energy flow more easily.There are many ways to perform Shavasana, and many teachers have their own unique and favorite methods. Collect several ways of relaxing by taking classes with several teachers. With a larger repertoire, you can choose which way is best for any given day. The following suggestion is just one of the many possible options.
Benefits: • A great hip opener, as well as decompression for the lower spine when folding forward. Contra-indications: • Seated forward bends are the hard on the pelvis and knees - they can aggravate sciatica. If a student has this condition, elevate the hips so the knees are below the hips. Beware of hips rotating backward while seated - we want the hips to rotate forward; • Pregnant women should not fold forward after the first trimester. Alternatives & Options: • If hips are tight, sit on a bolster to tilt the hips forward; • If knees complain at all, the student can do the pose with the bottom leg straight. If that is still too hard, sit cross-legged and fold forward; • Could support chest with bolster; • Hands can be to the side or in front of the body, or stretch the arms back behind the body; • Can rest elbows on a bolster; • If sensations are too intense in the hips or the knees, remain upright, or take more weight into the hands and arms; • Side bends or twists can be added here, which work the Gall Bladder meridian along sides of the torso; • Other alternatives include Eye-of-the-Needle Pose, Square Pose, or Swan. Meridians & Organs Affected: • Liver and Kidney because these lines come through the inner groin, plus the Gall Bladder on outer legs. If folding forward, the Urinary Bladder line is stimulated and the stomach compressed. Joints Affected : • Hips and lower spine. Hold for how long? • Three to five minutes per side; • Could do the first half of the time in a variation like side bend, or twist, and then fold forward for the remaining time. Counter poses? • Windshield Wipers lying down or sitting (to provide an internal rotation of the leg); • Deer pose; • Tabletop (aka Hammock). Similar to? • Cowface (Gomukasana). Other Notes: • It is nice to follow this with Sleeping Swan, before doing other side; • Could also do a sitting twist afterwards; 21
• • •
Start with most open hip first - whichever hip is more open, place that knee on top. This allows the energy to flow more easily, and aids in opening the tighter side; Keep weight back into sitting bones when you come forward - don't let the weight move into the knees; Keep hips even. There is a tendency for the top hip to be pulled forward.
Benefits: • One of the deepest releases of the whole spine; • Compresses the internal organs, giving them a great massage Contra-indications: • This pose puts a lot of pressure on the neck; be cautious! Avoid if you have any neck problems; • Because this is an inverted posture, this is not recommended for anyone with high blood pressure, upper body infection, vertigo, glaucoma, or suffering from a cold, or for women during their moon cycle; • Do not do this posture if you have recently eaten or are pregnant. Alternatives & Options: • There are many intermediate stages to this pose. For beginners, or those not wishing to invert, replace this pose with a seated, straight leg, forward fold (such as the Caterpillar); • There are three stages to the posture: 1) Support the back with the palms; 2) More challenging (but not shown) is to place palms under the feet, lowering feet to the floor, or rest the feet on a bolster; 3) Most challenging is to have the knees bent toward the floor (deepest rounding for the spine); • Very challenging option: with the knees bent toward the floor, twist until both knees are on one side of the head - remember to do both sides; • If legs are straight and the feet are touching the floor, the hands can come to the floor behind the back. Hands can be apart (easier) or together (if there are no shoulder problems), but be careful here; bringing the hands together could aggravate rotator cuff problems. Meridians & Organs Affected: 22
All internal organs are massaged and compressed. Each breath adds to the massage; Urinary Bladder lines are deeply stretched. Joints Affected : • The full spine. Hold for how long? • Three to five minutes. Counter poses? • After coming out lie down for a few breaths; • Windshield Wipers, then a gentle back bend, such as lying on the stomach, or a mild spinal lift, coming up halfway only; • A gentle fish, to release the neck (if the neck feels weak or tweaked, do an upward facing Cat); • Child's Pose. Similar to? • Halasana (Plough) or Karnapidasana (Resting Pose or Ear Pressure Pose). Other Notes: • Because this is a deep forward bend, prepare the neck first by doing gentle forward neck bends; • A nice alternative is Happy Baby; • Unlike in the yang postures, we allow the spine to fully round. Do not try to keep the spine straight and the hips high; • When coming out, you may hold hips with hands and roll out; • You may let the chin stay on the chest, and let the head lift up as you roll out, and then support your head with the hands, and slowly lower the head down to the floor. • •
Sphinx & Seal
Benefits: • This can be a very deep compression and stimulation of the sacral-lumbar arch; • The spine is toned; • If the neck is dropped back, the thyroid is also stimulated. Contra-indications: • Bad back, tight sacrum; • Any sharp pain here, you must come out! • Avoid pressing the belly into the floor if the student is pregnant (just do the Seal, not the Spinx); • Avoid if the student has a headache. Alternatives & Options: • For a gentle Sphinx, rest on the ribs, sliding the elbows away to reduce compression in lower back; • Could use bolsters under elbows, helping to elevate the chest and deepen the posture; • Seal with straight, locked arms is the 23
deepest pose; let the hands rotate outward a little. Student can slide hands away to lessen the intensity; • Some students may feel the highest amount of compression in the lower back occurs if hands are not right under the shoulders, but slightly forward. This provides some pressure backward, into the lower back; • Rather than have the arms in front, Paulie Zink likes to have the hands and arms straight out to the side, which makes this look more like a seal; • Bend the knees for more compression in the sacrum; • Some students like to spread legs apart, to deepen the sensations in the lower back; • Other students prefer the legs together, to release the sacrum or make the sensations more evenly along the spine; • Can place a bolster or blanket under pubic bone, to soften the pressure; • Tightening the butt is okay! Sagging the shoulders is also okay; • To arch the neck and stimulate the cervical spine, lengthen the neck, drop the head back, lift the chin, and open the throat; • Flexies can try these postures with the legs in lotus. Meridians & Organs Affected: • Affects the Urinary Bladder and Kidney lines as they run through the lower back and sacrum; • Affects the Stomach and Spleen meridians along top of legs; • Iyengar notes that this stimulates the kidneys and adrenals through compression. Joints Affected : • Lower spine and the neck (if dropped back). Hold for how long? • One minute, then lower down, rest, and repeat several times or; • Up to five minutes; • Eventually up for twenty minutes! Counter poses? • Coming out, out, just lie on the stomach, which is still a gentle back bend. Students could slide one bent knee up beside the chest to ease residual sensations; • Cat's Breath: flow from the Upward Facing Cat to the Downward Facing Cat (aka Cat/Cow) but flow gently, in time with the breath. Don't make these your deepest Cats ever; • Child's Pose: move into it slowly. Some folks may need to rest their head on their palms. Similar to? • Sphinx and/or Cobra. Other Notes: • Imagine the spine like a row of Christmas tree lights draping to the floor; • If arms are straight, this pose is a deeper back bend than the Saddle; thus, this could be done after Saddle. If the arms are bent (as in Sphinx), this is not as deep as Saddle, so it may be done first; • The Seal is nice and safe for pregnant students; • Great pose for watching television!
Benefits: • Nice preparation for Lotus pose; • Deep opening of the hips, through strong external rotation; • Decompresses the lower back, when folding forward. Contra-indications: • Watch the pressure on the knees; if the hips are too tight, the pressure will go there. Alternatives & Options: • Folding forward stretches the lower back and can intensify the stress in the hips. If the lower back rounds a lot, sit on cushion; • A deeper option is to place one ankle over the opposite knee, and the other ankle under its opposite knee. But, if first knee is very high in the air, bring that foot to the floor in front of its opposite knee; • More flexible students can try to slide knees closer together, allowing the feet go farther apart; • Tight students, or anyone who experiences discomfort in the knees and if the knees are high off the floor, can place blankets or support under the knees; • Other alternatives include Eye-of-the-Needle Pose, Shoelace, or Swan. Meridians & Organs Affected: • Liver and Kidneys, because these lines come through the inner groin; Gall Bladder line on outer leg; Urinary Bladder line if folding forward. Joints Affected : • Hips and spine. Hold for how long? • Three to five minutes per side. Counter poses? • Deer, Windshield Wipers, Spinal Lifts. Similar to? • Double Pigeon. Other Notes: • Beginners tend to bring feet too close to groin: make sure this isn't simply a cross-legged sitting posture - we want to feel this in the hips. 25
Benefits: • Opens the hips and strengthens the ankles; • Releases the lower back; • Iyengar claims women suffering severe lower back pain, due to their moon cycle, will obtain relief. Contra-indications: • If hips are too tight, this can torque the knees. Students with knee trauma should avoid this pose. Alternatives & Options: • If heels are raised, use a folded blanket or bolster under them - we want the body to relax; • Can also widen the distance between the feet; • Watch where the knees are pointing compared to where the feet are pointing - the knees should point in same direction as the feet. If not, spread the feet wider, or rest the heels on a folded blanket or on a bolster; • A deep variation is to keep feet together with the knees wide apart and lean forward, wrapping arms behind the back, clasping the hands together; • Another option is to place hands behind the head, and gently draw the chin to chest: this will add a stretch to the back of the neck. Meridians & Organs Affected: • The Liver and Kidney lines as they run through the groin and the Urinary Bladder lines on the back. Joints Affected : • Hips, knees and ankles. Hold for how long? • Two to three minutes at one time. However, you can revisit this pose a couple of times during the practice. Counter poses? • Dangling to release the knees and back; • Ankle stretch or Vajrasana. In Vajrasana, keep the knees together and sit on the heels. Similar to? • Malasana. Other Notes: • Elbows in front of knees can be used as levers to pull the chest forward, allowing tailbone to drop lower.
Benefits: • A vigorous way to open the hips, allowing gravity to do the work. This is a strong external rotation of front hip (especially in the image shown). Will also provide a quadricep and hip flexor stretch for the side that has the leg back; • A moderate to strong back bend, compressing the lower back; • Iyengar claims this posture can control sexual desires due to lots of blood flowing through the pubic region. Contra-indications: • If you have bad knees (especially any problems with the inner meniscus), watch the pressure there; if hips are too tight, that is where the pressure will be. If this happens, bring the front foot back, more towards or under that hip. Alternatives & Options: • To protect the front knee, keep foot flexed; • Try to move the hands closer to the hips, to increase the weight over the front hip; • Students leaning to one side can place a support, like a folded blanket, under the bent knee's hip to center themselves; • Really flexible students may try to bring front foot forward parallel to the front of their mat and slide the bent knee more to the side: bring the foot beneath the sternum if possible; • Other alternatives include Eye-of-the-Needle Pose, Shoelace, or Sleeping Swan. Could also do the Eye-of-the-Needle against a wall with the foot and buttocks touching the wall. Meridians & Organs Affected: • Liver and Kidney lines because these lines come through the inner groin; the Stomach and Spleen meridians (from the line on the top of the back leg); the Gall Bladder line on outer leg and the Urinary Bladder line through lumbar arch. Joints Affected : • Hips and lower back … make sure that the knees are NOT complaining! Hold for how long? • This is a moderately yang posture, when chest is raised - hold one to three minutes. Counter poses? • Windshield Wipers (sitting or lying); • Child's Pose; • Short Down Dog. Similar to? • Proud Pigeon (Rajakapotasana). Other Notes: • Come into the full Swan from the Sleeping Swan by walking hands back towards the hips; • This is a deeper hip opener than the Sleeping Swan, due to more weight placed right above the front hip; • A gentle back bend, but it can be deepened for really flexible students by raising arms overhead, or clasping hands behind the lower back and pulling them toward the floor; • Classically, this is followed in the yang style by Down Dog, and this could be done 27
here too if Down Dog is not held too long; The "Screaming Pigeon" is really a yang pose, but it can be tried at the end because those muscles won't interfere with the joints being targeted. Reach the hand of the same side as the back leg to that heel, and pull the heel to the buttocks. Or until the screaming starts ☺
Benefits: • A relaxing way to gently open the hips. Contra-indications: • If you have bad knees (especially any problems with the inner meniscus), watch the pressure there; if hips are too tight, that is where the pressure will be. If this happens, bring the front foot back, more towards or under that hip. Alternatives & Options: • To protect the front knee, keep foot flexed before coming forward; • Keep the weight back into the hips as you come lower; • Stay on the hands with arms straight, or come on to the elbows; • Could lie on a bolster placed lengthwise under the chest; • Students leaning to one side can place a support, like a folded blanket, under the bent knee's hip to center themselves; • To increase the effect of gravity, you could tuck the back toes under and lift the knee off the floor, pulling the heel backward; • Really flexible students may try to bring front foot forward, pull bent knee more to the side and lay chest on top of shin; • An alternative is Eye-of-the-Needle Pose. Meridians & Organs Affected: • Liver and Kidney lines because these lines come through the inner groin; the Stomach and Spleen meridians (from the line on the top of the back leg); the Gall Bladder line on outer leg. Joints Affected : • Hips … make sure the knees are NOT complaining! Hold for how long? • Three to five minutes per side. Counter poses? • Reclining Windshield Wipers; • Mild Spinal Lift or Supported Bridge pose. Similar to? • Sleeping Pigeon. Other Notes: • Nice to do between sides of Shoelace; • Can combine with full Swan, which adds a backbend as well; • Another option is to skip this pose and do Eye-of-the-Needle while lying on back. This reduces gravity's effect and requires more upper body strength, but isn't so deep; • The full Swan creates a lot of tension in the hip joint: the Sleeping Swan has less. The 28
student can find a tolerable compromise position somewhere between the two extremes by remaining on her elbows or hands. Lying straight down is not the deepest version of this pose, but it is the most relaxing for most students; Sometimes a subtle adjustment of the legs can increase the sensation in the front hip, and reduce the stretch in the quadriceps of the back leg.
Benefits: • Open toes and feet and strengthens ankles; • The six lower body meridians begin or end in the toes: this pose stimulates all six lines. Contra-indications: • Sitting on the heels may strain the knees; • If ankles or toe joints are very tight, don't stay here long. Alternatives & Options: • Make sure toes are tucked under (including the little toes), and ensure that you are not resting on the tips of the toes: be on the balls of the feet; • If the pose becomes too challenging, come up onto the knees, relieving most of the pressure on the toe joints; • Don't stay if in pain; • Can combine this posture with shoulder exercises, like Eagle arms or Cow Face arms; • If the knees are uncomfortable, place a blanket under them, or place a cushion between the hips and the heels. Some students enjoy a rolled up towel behind the knees, which helps to release the knee joint. Meridians & Organs Affected: • All the meridians of the lower body get stimulated through the compression in the toes; • The front of the ankle also becomes compressed helping to open the Spleen, Liver, Stomach, and Gall Bladder lines. Joints Affected : • Toes and ankles. Hold for how long? • Two to three minutes. Counter poses? • Ankle Stretch or Child's Pose, or any pose that opens the ankles, such as Saddle. Similar to? • Seiza or Vajrasana, but with the toes tucked under. Other Notes: • This pose can become quite intense for most people fairly quickly - monitor the level of intensity. It is better not to stay in the pose if you are in pain; • If doing shoulder work while holding the pose, take a break between sides. Do an Ankle Stretch, and then come back into the Toe Stretch and resume the shoulder work on the other side. 29