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We all know what it’s like to lie wide-eyed, wishing we could fall asleep. Pretty awful. And the more we try to coax ourselves to doze off, the more restless we become. Blame an imbalance between yin (cooling) energy and yang (heating) energy, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine. The solution is balancing those energies. And Yin Yoga is a great way to do it.
This slow, joint-stimulating style of yoga is built on yin and yang theory—a core theory of Chinese medicine that’s depicted by the Taiji symbol, that beautifully balanced sphere of white and black, and describes the relationship dynamics and the process of change in the universe. The theory says that everything in the universe has yin and yang qualities and is always in a yin or yang relationship to something else. Generally speaking, things that are yin tend to be dark, hidden, quiet, cool, and still. Yin manifests as the water element. Things that are yang tend to be bright, superficial, loud, hot, and active. Yang manifests as the fire element. When yin and yang are balanced, we’re healthy. When they’re imbalanced, we can become unhealthy. One very common symptom of imbalance between yin and yang is insomnia or poor sleep—something you might experience when you have too much yang energy or too little yin energy.
Yin Yoga helps by stimulating the body’s Meridians, or energy lines, in a generalized way that brings you into balance. Your energy, or Qi in Chinese medicine, flows through your Meridians, which are thought to be in your connective tissue. Yin Yoga postures stimulate the connective tissue to balance the body’s energy by tonifying or unblocking your Qi. (Chinese medicine’s acupuncture practice does the same by selecting specific points on Meridians to balance energy excesses or deficiencies.)
Try this simple sequence designed to nourish your yin energy and cool your inner fire, to promote a restful night of soothing sleep that will recharge you. Breathe in any way that feels comfortable while you’re in the poses.
Melting Heart (Anahatasana)
Come to your hands and knees then walk your hands forward, fully extending your arms, and allow your head and chest to drop toward the floor. If you prefer, you can prop your head with a blanket or block. If it’s more comfortable, glide your hips back slightly toward your heels. Stay 3-5 minutes.
This pose targets the yin Meridians of the arms (Pericardium, Lung, and Heart Meridians). The Heart Meridian, especially, is involved with calming the mind. Difficulty sleeping is connected to a heart imbalance in Chinese medicine. That’s because the heart is seen as the “house” of the mind, or spirit. If the heart is weak or agitated, it disturbs the mind, causing sleep problems. Aim to feel sensation in the underside of the arms into the armpits in order to optimally influence the Heart Meridian.
Dragonfly (Upavistha Konasana)
Sit and widen your legs just enough to feel mild sensation along the inner legs. Place your hands in front of you and fold forward, gently rounding the spine. Sitting on a folded blanket can help tilt the pelvis forward, and resting your arms and/or head on a bolster or cushion may provide additional calm. Stay 3-5 minutes or longer.
This pose targets the Liver Meridian, which runs through the inner legs, and helps promote a free-flow of energy through the body so that all organs function better, helping you rest well. And it affects the Bladder Meridian, which runs down the back body, along the sides of the spine, and the down the back of the legs. The Bladder Meridian influences the water element of the body, thereby cooling excess heat and calming the mind. Additionally, every major organ has a corresponding acupuncture point along the spine on the Bladder Meridian. That means gently stimulating the Bladder Meridian harmonizes all organs of the body.
Lie on your back, draw your knees into your chest, and softly roll to your right side as though you were going to sleep. Slowly lift your left arm and take it to your left side, allowing the upper left shoulder to rest toward the ground. You can keep your left hand on your left waist for a while, and then gradually reach your left arm farther to the left to increase the twist. Stay 3-5 minutes then switch sides.
This pose targets all the main Meridians that enter and pass through the torso. By gently twisting the spine in this reclining twist, all Meridians are gently stimulated, thereby encouraging a homeostatic balance and greater harmonization between yin and yang energy.