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Life isn’t always pretty or predictable. There are ups and downs, twists and turns, and the occasional feeling that we are taking one step forward and a hundred steps backward.
When we look at nature, we see this reflected in its series of spirals. This is more like our actual experience of life and entirely unlike our linear thinking of how we should navigate straight from point A to B. Seeing things through that lens can help us navigate this journey we call life with a greater sense of grace.
However, when life gets challenging and I start to feel like things are spiraling out of control, I need help in surrendering to total acceptance. This is the primary objective of Yin yoga. Yet as soon as I let myself be overwhelmed, I also tend to let my yoga practice slip. I find that this three-step process can help:
1. Remember to turn to yoga
The first step to getting out of a funk is reminding myself to come back to yoga and utilize it as a tool box.
2. Select which approach to yoga can help
When I’m unable to focus or feeling frustrated at a difficult situation, my go-to physical practice is Yin. It literally brings me back to an awareness of my body and the ground beneath me. If I’m really struggling, I’ll layer on a positive affirmation to give my scattered mind something to do and remind me of all that is good in my life.
3. Actually practice yoga
It’s not enough to know that Yin yoga can help or do it only when I get around to it. I have to make the time, get on my mat, and actually do the practice.
The following Yin yoga practice can help you slow your thoughts and come back to the truth of the moment.
A Yin yoga sequence for difficult times
Find a quiet place for your practice where you won’t be disturbed. Remove devices or other distractions from the room and set the intention to gift yourself this time to focus on you. Slowing down and drawing your attention to the moment in your Yin yoga practice can help you you approach life in the same manner.
In each pose, allow yourself to find a place where you begin to feel sensation or resistance in your body but not to the point where it feels unsustainable. If you experience pain, particularly around your joints, back off a little or come out of the pose completely. Remain still in each pose for 3 to 5 minutes.
Additionally, this Yin yoga practice offers affirmations for each pose that can help you regain your focus. Once you’re in a pose, if you’d like, begin to repeat the affirmation, either out loud or silently. Observe any thoughts, feelings, or emotions that arise. If you would like to use a different affirmation, please go with it and make it your own. If English isn’t your first language, feel free to translate it into your native tongue. You may wish to have a journal nearby to write down insights between poses or at the end of the practice.
How to: Come onto your hands and knees and take your knees wider than your hips. Move your big toes toward one another—they may or may not touch. Send your hips back toward your heels and reach your arms in front of you, palms down, or allow your arms to drape alongside your shins, palms up, in Child’s Pose. Rest your forehead on the mat.
Variations: If your bum doesn’t quite reach your heels, you can place a bolster, a couple pillows, or a rolled blanket between your hips and heels. If your head doesn’t reach the floor, place a block or pillow under your forehead for support. If Child’s Pose doesn’t feel right in your body, you may prefer to come onto your back and hug your knees to your chest—it’s the same exact shape, just a different orientation to gravity.
Affirmation: I am connected to my body.
Come out of the pose: Walk your hands beneath your shoulders and press yourself to an upright position, either sitting on your heels or in hands and knees. You can stay still or take a gentle movement such as Cat and Cow.
How to: From Child’s Pose, come to a seat and bring the soles of your feet together and let your knees fall out to the sides. Make sure that you have a generous gap in between your hips and heels. As you take a breath in, sit up and lengthen through your spine, and as you exhale, begin to fold forward until you reach the place you naturally stop. Rest your hands wherever they fall and relax your fingers.
Variations: If you experience tightness in your hips or low back, you can sit on a block or folded blanket or place blocks beneath your upper thighs. You can also use a bolster in front of you to support your upper body while you fold forward. Feel free to do this pose without the fold, either remaining upright or reclining.
Affirmation: I welcome pleasure and abundance into my life.
Come out of the pose: Press your hands into the floor and slowly rise. Bring your hands a little behind you, lean back, and release your legs. You may want to stay still and allow for what is known in Yin yoga as “the rebound,” or you can take a counter pose by wiggling your legs or taking a windshield-wiper motion with your knees.
How to: Start on hands and knees and step your right foot to the outside of your right hand. Wiggle your left knee back so your knee is behind your hip. After 1-2 minutes, if you feel like you have the space, you can lower onto your forearms for the remaining time.
Variations: You can lift the ground to you by placing blocks beneath your hands or forearms. A block under your front foot will change the angle of your hip and the resulting stretch. You can use a bolster beneath your back thigh for support. If placing weight on your back knee is an issue, come onto your back and hug your right knee to your chest and allow your left leg to stretch out along the mat. If you are more flexible or hypermobile, draw your inner thighs toward one another to prevent sinking too deeply and overstretching the hip flexors.
Affirmation: I am confident in who I am.
Come out of the pose: If you had lowered yourself onto your forearms, come onto your hands. Shift your hips back to release your front leg and return to all fours. Take stillness or some gentle movement before moving to the other side.
How to: From hands and knees, come onto your back with your legs extended straight. Inch your feet and legs toward the left side of the mat and, keeping your hips still, shimmy your head and shoulders over to the left, creating a banana shape with your body. If it’s comfortable, bring your arms alongside your ears and rest them there or bend your arms and gently hold your elbows.
Variations: You can support your arms with a bolster or pillows. If both upper and lower body together feels too much, move only your legs or your upper body. If you’d like to intensify the stretch, cross one ankle over the other. (If you’re not sure which to place on top, try it both ways and go with your preference.) Remember, in Yin, you want to feel the stretch but you do not want to be in severe discomfort or pain.
Affirmation: I am proud of my achievements.
Come out of the pose: First bring your legs and torso back to the center of the mat, followed by your upper body. Hug your knees to your chest. Repeat on the other side.
How to: From lying on your back, bring the soles of your feet onto the mat, hip-distance apart. Bring your ankles under your knees, lift your hips, and slide a bolster, block on the lowest or medium level, or a couple pillows underneath your lower back. Slowly lower yourself down so your sacrum is supported. Rest your arms alongside your body, palms up. Release your weight onto the support.
Variations: Feel free to adjust the height of your props to find comfort. If your chin draws close to your chest, press the back of the head into the mat to keep your throat open. You can also choose to keep your hips on the floor, knees bent in consecutive rest.
Affirmation: I love and accept myself.
To come out of the pose: Slide the props from under your hips and lower to the ground. Hug your knees to your chest.
How to: Place a block parallel with the short edge of the mat on either its lowest or medium level. The higher position will create a greater chest opening, so please be mindful if it feels too intense. Placed a second block about a hand width behind the first on either its medium or highest level. Sit about 2 hands width in front of the first block, gather your shoulder blades onto your back, and lower the mid to lower shoulder blades onto the first block and rest your head on the second block. Stretch your legs out long and bring your arms alongside your body, palms up.
Variation: If practicing this pose on blocks doesn’t feel comfortable for you, remember, Yin yoga shouldn’t be painful. Roll up a blanket and use it in place of the first block. Rest your head on the mat.
Affirmation: I am open to possibilities.
To come out of the pose: Bend your knees and use the strength of your core to rise, supporting your head with your hand if needed. Or you can roll off to one side, slide your props off the mat, and slowly come back to a reclined position on the mat. Hug your knees to your chest.
How to: From lying on your back, bend your knees and bring the soles of the feet on the floor. Reach your arms out into a T position with your wrists at shoulder height. Stay here or bend your elbows and cactus your arms. Bump your hips a couple of inches to the right and bring your knees into your chest. Let your knees drop all the way to the left. Keep your chin in line with your chest or turn your gaze opposite your knees.
Variations: You can place a bolster, a couple of pillows, or a rolled blanket beneath or in between your knees. If your right shoulder lifts away from the mat, you can slide a pillow or blanket beneath it for support. If extending your right arm causes any pain in the shoulder, place that hand on top of your hip.
Affirmation: I am grateful for [please choose something that you are grateful for today].
To come out of the pose: Bring your knees back to center and align your hips in the middle of the mat. Hug your knees to your chest. Repeat on the other side. Send yourself some love for getting this far in the practice.
How to: Still lying on your back, extend your legs straight and release your arms at your sides.
Variations: You may wish to place a bolster beneath your knees for support. You can also cover yourself with a blanket for warmth. Repeat the affirmation to yourself a few times and then let go and relax for at least 5 minutes.
Affirmation: I am at peace.
About our contributor
Michelle Finlay is a yoga teacher based in Plymouth, England. Her teachings are anatomy-informed and creatively themed, sprinkled with fun and humor. Michelle has a passion for helping new yoga teachers find their feet through her offering of mentorship. She also practices sound therapy with tuning forks and often brings these healing frequencies into her Yin classes. You can find out more about Michelle and what she’s currently up to on IG @michellefinlayyoga or michellefinlayyoga.com.