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In yoga, as in life, there are times when we are drawn to exertion and, conversely, moments when we find ourselves needing to pause. These opposing actions are a natural part of life and create a harmonious flow—physically, mentally, and emotionally. An awareness of what we need in the moment is behind a balanced approach to anything.
Yet it’s all too easy to rush through everything. When we take a slower approach to our yoga practice, in which we learn to be still for longer periods of time, we not only release physical tension but restore emotional balance. While more intense yoga practices help us develop strength, flexibility, and will power, less-intense approaches teach us to observe, to adapt, to soften. We go beyond the initial reaction that urges us to get out of the pose and instead choose to surrender to experiencing the sensations of tension which we unconsciously hold throughout the day. We find physical flexibility, mental agility, and emotional equilibrium.
This slow yoga practice helps to…
Release physical tension
There are two types of poses in the following sequence: Yin Yoga and Restorative Yoga. In both, we create the space to focus on our breath and mind while being in an asana with very little or no physical effort.
The Yin Yoga poses ask us to settle into a stretch of just the right intensity, stay still, and linger for time. This targets the connective tissue, which requires more time to release than muscles. It’s important to note that while sensations of discomfort through tension release can be experienced in Yin-style stretches, pain should never be present. In case you feel pain at any time, modify with a prop or skip the pose.
The Restorative Yoga poses rely on the use of props to support the body while concentrating on softening the breath and calming the mind. The reliance on support teaches us to be open to receiving help and that sometimes we can learn to allow external resources to hold us.
Release mental tension
When we take the time to linger, we find that the tension dissipates with less effort and that we experience therapeutic benefits beyond relief from the physical, including mental calmness as well as self-awareness, self-inquiry, even self-understanding.
Release emotional tension
This slow and gentle practice focuses primarily on opening the hips, shoulders, and chest. These are areas of the sacral chakra (svadisthana) and heart chakra (anahata). Through opening the hips, we can release emotional resistance and stagnant energy and once again feel a sense of freedom. The sacral chakra is represented by the water element and brings a sense of feeling free to flow with all that life may bring. When the hips are open, we are more flexible in our mind, accepting and trusting the rhythm of life.
The heart chakra is our center of acceptance and unconditional love and trust, so through time, we can open our heart to embody these qualities that are naturally a part of us. The shoulders hold a lot of tension, as they are the junction between the mind and the heart space. By softening here we can let go of burdens we carry in our daily life, and feel a sense of lightness to accept and be present in every experience with a sense of trust.
A gentle yoga practice to help you release tension
For this gentle practice, little warm up is required. However it is always good to begin with stretching the neck, shoulders, and back.
Thread the Needle
Benefits: Shoulder and chest opening; gentle spinal twist; calmly energizes the mind
How to: Start in a Tabletop position. Inhale and raise your left arm, gently opening the body to the left side of the mat; as you exhale, thread your left arm under your right to come onto your left shoulder. Extend your right arm straight toward the front of the mat or walk your hand toward the left. Remain here for 2 minutes.
Come back to Tabletop and switch sides.
Watch for: Keep your hips in line as they were in Tabletop rather than shift toward one side.
Utthan Pristhasana (Lizard Pose)
Benefits: Hip opening (hip flexors on the straight leg, hip extensors on the bent leg); promotes a sense of calm and steadiness of the mind
How to: From Tabletop, bring your right foot outside of your right hand with your knee bent and directly above the ankle. Straighten your left leg as far back on the mat as feels ok for you. Rest your hands on the mat beneath your shoulders or come onto your forearms. Draw your right knee into your upper right arm. Remain here for 4 minutes.
Come back to Tabletop and switch sides.
Watch for: Try not to slouch your shoulders. Keep your bent knee drawing toward your body rather than letting it splay out to the side.
Supported Frog Pose
Benefits: Opens the hips (particularly the adductors and inner thigh muscles); helps release stagnant emotions
How to: From Tabletop, turn to face the long side of the mat. Slide your knees away from one another, with your feet pointed outward and your ankles in line with your knees, to the extent that it feels like a stretch but not uncomfortable on the inner thighs. Be gentle. Rest your upper body on the bolster and keep your forearms on the ground, pressing them forward to help you keep your hips from sliding forward back. Stay here for 3 minutes.
Watch for: Keep your hips stacked directly over your knees.
Supported Supta Virasana (Reclined Hero Pose)
Benefits: Releases low back tension; opens the chest; stretches the quadriceps; brings deep sense of tranquility in the mind
How to: Come into Virasana (Hero Pose) with your seat on the mat. Place the bolster behind you so its closest edge is just above the lumbar spine. Place your hands on either side of your hips and then slowly lower yourself onto your elbows and finally rest your back on the bolster. Rest your hands on your heels, allow your arms to fall alongside your body with your palms facing up, or you can extend your arms alongside your ears, whether straight or with elbows bent. Stay here for 2 minutes.
Watch for: Keep your knees in line with your hips rather than letting them splay outward. If you experience pain in one knee, straighten that leg. If you experience pain in both knees, come onto your elbows or your hands; if the pain persists, come out of the pose and move to the next.
Benefits: Stretches the hip extensors; opens the shoulders and chest. Brings a sense a joy and freedom in the mind and activates sacral and heart chakras
How to: From a kneeling position, shift your hips slightly to the left and place the side of the left buttock on the mat. Keeping both knees bent, bring your right knee on top of your left knee and shift your weight so its equally distributed across your buttocks. Open your arms straight out from the shoulders. Bring your right arm straight above your head. Bend your right elbow to bring your right hand toward your right shoulder blade. Turn your left palm to face behind you, bend your left elbow, and bring the top of your left hand to your mid back. Try to bind your hands or touch your fingertips. Stay here for 2 minutes.
Slowly release and switch sides.
Watch for: Ensure both sitting bones are firmly on the mat. If this is not accessible for you, place a block under your buttocks to elevate your hips. Avoid straining your shoulders if your hands don’t come together with ease. Instead use a strap.
Supported Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)
Benefits: Relieves lower back tension; gently stretches the hip flexors; calms the mind and helps release fear or stagnant emotions through activating the sacral and root chakras
How to: Lie down on your back with your knees bent and feet on the mat. Lift your hips slightly and place a block under your sacrum. If it’s comfortable for you, straighten your legs, one at a time, and relax your arms alongside your body.
Watch for: Avoid placing the block under the lumbar vertebrae of your low back as this will cause too much extension and create pressure on the lower back. You want to situate the block at the base of your spine beneath the flat bone of the sacrum.
Supta Matsyendrasana (Spinal Twist), Variation
Benefits: Spinal flexibility; stretches the spinal muscles; stimulates the digestive organs. Calmly energizes the mind by clearing mental chatter
How to: Lie down on your right side. Wrap your left leg around the right and gently come onto your forearms, shifting the upper body to the center of the mat. Stay here for 3 minutes.
Slowly release and switch sides.
Watch for: If wrapping your legs feels too intense, simply keep your left knee stacked on top of your right one before you roll onto your forearms.
Supported Matsyasana (Fish Pose)
Benefits: Spinal flexibility; stimulates the digestive organs; calmly energizes the mind by clearing mental chatter
How to: Lie down in a prone position with the arms on either side of the body. Place a block at medium height under your shoulder blades and another block on whatever height is comfortable beneath your shoulder blades to support your head lower height.
Watch for: Ensure your neck does not feel any pressure. Adjust the block if needed until you’re comfortable.
Supported Balasana (Child’s Pose)
Benefits: Relieves the lower back; inspires introspection as it takes us inward to observe our body, breath, and mind; calms the mind; stretches the back muscles, especially after a backbend
How to: From lying on your back, gently roll to one side and then slowly make your way onto your belly. Bend your knees and shift your hips back until the buttocks reach the heels and the hamstrings rest on the calves. Bring your hands alongside your feet, palms facing up, or keep your arms extended and your shoulders relaxed. Stay here for 2 minutes.
Watch for: If resting the buttocks on your heels does not feel comfortable, place a folded blanket or a bolster in between them. Or you can also use a bolster between your body and the mat.
Benefits: Opens the hips (primarily the adductors/inner thighs) and chest. Although a backbend, this pose provides very little spinal extension and allows us to release into a state of openness and relaxation. It focuses on feeling held and secure so you can be free to open up the heart space and calm the mind. It’s a beautiful and restorative way to end a practice.
How to: Lie down in a prone position with the arms on either side of the body resting your back on a bolster. Bend your knees and bring the bottoms of your feet together. Slide your heels as close or as far from the pelvis as is comfortable for you. Stay here for 5 to 10 minutes.
Watch for: If you experience a strain on your knees or inner thighs, place a block, folded blanket, or pillow under each knee.
About our contributor
Miriam Indries is a 500-hour-plus yoga teacher and YTT trainer. With a vast experience of teaching asana and meditation as well as yoga teacher trainings, she is devoted to her mission and service of sharing yoga philosophy around the world through her teachings. She spent time in India studying yoga philosophy and advanced asana practice. Miriam is also an Ayurveda Practitioner, Pilates instructor and fitness enthusiast. Additionally, she has academic qualifications in Psychology (B.A) and NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) with an emphasis on behavior, effective goal setting, and strategies for self-development. Her love for learning also led her to studies in Traditional Chinese Medicine, body language, and reflexology and she continues to remain a student of life. She currently teaches at Aegialis School of Yoga in Greece as the creator and lead teacher of the YTTs.