I live in the United States, in the state of Texas, in a Black woman’s body. At a time when there is much happening in my home state that could elicit a reaction in me, I find myself needing to find the pause in between hearing and reacting. At a time when there are countless reasons to be anxious, overwhelmed, and outraged, I find myself needing to be still.
Being in reactive rage is exhausting. It ticks away at life, one piece of information at a time, until it’s hard to be in peace and equanimity. More than ever before, I find myself using my tools of breath and radical presence to come back to myself and to gain more clarity around how I choose to show up to the difficult moments. I take the opportunity to locate myself on my yoga mat, and to find grounding in my breath, my body, and my reality in this moment.
It is the stillness and discomfort of the Yin Yoga practice that reminds me to pause, and then look past the corner of difficulty to what’s on the other side. What I usually find is I can reclaim a sense of freedom.
A Yin Yoga sequence for when you need to reclaim your freedom
In this Yin practice, I invite you to let go of all of the places in your body where you tend to hold tension and turn your attention even further inward. Find your edge in every pose, come to stillness, and stay for time.
Begin by coming to a seat on your mat and cross your legs in Easy Pose, with your right leg in front of your left. If you prefer a more intense stretch, you can stack your right shin on top of your left in Square Pose and adjust your shins to be parallel to the front of your mat.
Take a moment to connect. Notice when the yoga begins for you.
Close or lower your eyes. Get present with everything that is happening in your body. If you need, work from the outside in and acknowledge what’s on your mind, and then acknowledge that your thoughts are just a layer of veil.
Observe your breath. Let your exhales wash away anything beyond this moment, in your body, in your practice space. Notice the natural rhythm of your breath. Let your inhales and exhales be even. Sama Vritti Pranayama.
Draw in a full inhale, then slowly exhale and twist over your right thigh. Bring your right hand to the mat behind your right hip and rest your left hand on your right thigh. Notice the depth of your twist from your low back, middle back, upper back, and neck. Use a block under one of your hands if you notice any struggle in your twist. Each inhalation is an opportunity to explore. Every exhalation is an opportunity to soften. Release your shoulders. Stay here for 2 minutes.
Untwist. Draw in a breath as you elongate your spine, then fold forward over your stacked shins. If you need, bring blocks or stacks of books beneath your forearms to allow your shoulders to relax. Stay here for 1 minute.
Uncross your legs and extend them long. Feel free to add any movement you want here. Take in a full inhalation and an exhalation before you come back to Seated Twist.
From Staff Pose, come to seated on the other side, crossing or stacking your left shin over your right. Notice how the pose resonates with this side of your body. Stay here for several breaths. Let your inhales and exhales be even. Sama Vritti Pranayama. Give your inhale a count—perhaps 4, 3, 2, 1—and then exhale for the same amount of time.
After settling in, twist over your left thigh and bring your left hand behind you and your right hand to your left thigh. Bring the same awareness up the spine to note the depth of your twist on this side, from the lowest part of your spine all the way up to your neck. Stay here for 2 minutes.
Release back to center. Exhale and fold forward over your shins and stay here for 1 minute. Soften your elbows. Let your head be heavy. Untwist and extend your legs long for Staff Pose. Take in a full inhalation and an exhalation.
Face the long side of your mat and widen your legs out like a V. Sit tall and lengthen along your spine, then fold forward by hinging at your hips as much or as little as is comfortable. You can bring your forearms to the mat or blocks. It can feel especially supportive to place your forehead on stacked blocks. Stay here for 5 minutes.
Release as you start to lift your chest and bring your hands under your knees to hug them toward your body. Keep your knees bent as you bring your back down to the mat.
Bring the soles of your feet together and let your knees bow out and fall away from one another. Your feet do not need to be hugged tightly toward your groin. Notice if there are any tugging sensations or holding around the hips. If so, bring rolled blankets or blocks under your thighs so you feel supported and your legs can relax. Bring awareness back to your breath. Stay here for 5 minutes.
If you like, take a deep inhale into your body. Feel for the expansion of your abdomen. Exhale.
Inhale and feel first your low belly expand, and then your ribs. Exhale.
Inhale, low belly expands, ribs expand, collarbones expand. Exhale.
Now that you have accessed the feeling of fullness, take a full inhale filling up from your root to the crown of your head, slowly exhale.
Now let go of any structured breathing for the rest of the pose.
From Reclined Butterfly, slowly come out by bringing your hands beneath your thighs to help close them like a book. Take a moment here in constructive rest, with the bottoms of your feet and your back on the mat. Stay here for several breaths.
Press into your feet to lift your bum away from the mat. Bring 2 yoga blocks next to one another on their lowest height underneath your sacrum or glutes. You want to position the blocks so that you full supported and comfortable. Extend one leg straight and a little out to the side. Release your arms down along your side or you can bend your elbows and bring your arms alongside your ears. Stay here for 2 minutes.
Bend your straight leg and bring that foot to the mat. Repeat on the other side. Stay here for 2 minutes.
From Half Pontoon on the second side, extend both your legs straight. If this isn’t comfortable on your low back, bend your knees and bring your feet back to the mat. Your arms can rest wherever is comfortable. Stay here for 3 minutes.
From Pontoon, bend your knees, draw your feet back toward your body, and place the soles of your feet on the mat. Press into your feet to lift your hips and then slide the blocks out from beneath you. Slowly lower your back to the mat. Take a moment in Constructive Rest to notice any sensations in your body.
Side Opener Over a Block
From Constructive Rest, roll to your side of choice and then use your arms to lift yourself to seated. Come to your left hip. Place a block under your ribs on the lowest or second-to-lowest height. Slowly lower your body to the mat and drape yourself over the block. Drape a folded blanket over the block if desired. Extend both arms alongside your ears. Your right arm will rest on your head. Resist the urge to keep tension in the arms, neck, and side body. This is a great opportunity to practice staying in mild discomfort and observing how it can be transmuted into softening with a calming breath. Stay here for 3 minutes.
Come to hands and knees and pause. Notice any difference in how you feel. Repeat on your right hip. Extend your right side over the block. Extend both arms again as you unfurl yourself over the block. Notice where you can soften. Stay here for 3 minutes.
Release to hands and knees. Notice the feeling or quality of balance between your left and right sides.
From hands and knees, roll over onto your right side and hug your knees into your body. Keep your knees to the right and simply roll your shoulders onto the mat with your left arm extended straight out from that shoulder. Your head can fall wherever is comfortable for you. Stay here for 3 minutes.
To switch sides, hug your knees into your body, then roll completely onto your left side. Unwrap your shoulders into the mat while your knees remain over to the right. Stay here for 3 minutes.
Come to your favorite Savasana. (An option is Half Legs up the Wall, which allows you to bring your legs onto a sofa, pouf, or chair.) Before settling in and staying here for 5 minutes or longer, bring into your mind’s eye your intention of peace and let it drop from a thought into your heart’s intention. Savasana.
Practice with Tamika: A Yin Yoga Class to Slow the Body and the Mind
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About our contributor
Tamika Caston-Miller is an E-RYT 500 with a special interest in yoga for renewal, transformation, and social justice. Her yoga journey began in 2001 with a home practice. She now holds certifications from YogaOne Studios, Yogaworks, Kripalu School of Yoga, Judith Hansen Lasater, and Paul Grilley. Tamika’s teaching and practice have been informed by chronic pain and injuries, the very human battle between shame and compassion, the quest for ancestral healing, and love for the practice and philosophy of yoga.