Wintertime is a wonderful time to practice yin yoga. The darker, colder days make for wonderful opportunities to turn inward—physically, mentally, and emotionally. Yin yoga is a slow, grounding practice that helps to calm the nervous system and bring awareness to the body-mind connection. With origins in Chinese Medicine, Buddhism, and yoga, yin yoga is an introverted and often stationary practice, compared to the active, yang practices of Vinyasa and Ashtanga Yoga. According to Sarah Powers, author of Insight Yoga, yin yoga, “teaches us how to heal and fully inhabit ourselves, developing an attitude of attentiveness and kindness within us” and helps to “accelerate our ability to help, heal, and naturally love others.”
To prepare for your yin yoga practice, set up the conditions for calm. Conditions for calm include warmth, comfort, dark, and quiet. Ensure that you are warm enough by turning on a heater, putting a blanket over your yoga mat, and wearing cozy layers (especially socks and a wool hat). Make sure you are comfortable by wearing loose-fitting clothes, cleaning off face makeup, and letting your hair down. Light some candles and turn off the bright lights to create a dark and inviting environment. Put on some soothing music, set your phone to silent (or turn it off completely!), and put a "do not disturb" sign on the door so you have a better chance to maintain a quiet atmosphere.
You may want some or all of these supplies:
- Yoga mat
- Three blankets
- Yoga bolster
- Two yoga blocks
- Comfortable clothes
- Eye pillow
- A timer
Try the following yin poses as a sequence or individually at your own pace. Set your timer to hold each pose for three to five minutes.
Begin by setting an intention to cultivate peace in your body, peace in your mind, and peace in your heart. Sit for a few minutes focusing on your steady breath. When you feel ready to move on, come down onto your belly.
Prone Passive Neck Stretch
This first pose, Prone Passive Neck Stretch, brings you down close to the earth. Starting on your belly helps to establish a connection to your breath because you will be able to feel your whole body rise and fall as you breathe in and out. Turning your head to the side stretches your neck and creates an opportunity for a change of perspective.
- From a prone position, extend your legs long behind you. If your pelvis is sensitive, place a blanket under your hips for cushioning.
- Turn one cheek to the yoga mat or rest your head on a folded blanket.
- Relax your arms down by your sides with your palms facing up and allow your shoulders to round forward naturally.
- Bring your big toes closer together and allow your heels to drop out to the sides.
- Close your eyes and breathe deeply. Hold for three to five minutes.
- Turn your head the other direction.
The benefits of this pose include stretching the neck, relaxing the jaw, and grounding into the support of the earth and the present-moment awareness of the breath.
Child’s Pose (Balasana )
Child’s Pose keeps you connected to the earth. Allow the bowing forward shape of this pose to bring to mind a sense of introspection. Honor yourself for carving out the time to slow down and breathe deeply.
- Push back into Child’s Pose with your forehead resting on a block.
- Bring your hands under your shoulders and push up to hands and knees. (Option: move through some Cow and Cat stretches before you come to stillness.)
- Bring your big toes to touch and widen your knees. Pad under your knees with a blanket.
- Send your hips back toward your heels and reach your arms forward. Hold for five minutes.
The benefits of this pose include relaxing the lower back, stretching the knees, nourishing the abdominal organs, and stimulating the pineal gland at the forehead to cultivate deeper relaxation.
Prone Passive Abdominal Stretch
The next pose in the sequence, Prone Passive Abdominal Stretch, is one of those poses that may start out not feeling comfortable but after a few minutes, you won’t ever want to get up. Everyone carries emotional and physical “stuff” in your abdominal region and this pose can bring to the surface anything that needs to come up. This one is worth it so give it some time.
- When you’re ready to move on, place the pillow/bolster under your abdomen. Take the time to situate the bolster so that it is not too uncomfortable. Some yogis like the bolster more under their pelvis while others like it more under their ribs.
- Extend your legs behind you and create a pillow with your hands.
- Place a blanket under your feet if the tops of your feet are sensitive.
- Rest your forehead on your hands or turn your head to one side. Hold for five minutes.
The benefits of this pose include stimulation of the digestive organs and mid-back relief.
Supported Fish Pose
Supported Fish Pose is a lovely counterpose to the downward-facing poses in the beginning of the sequence. This pose is a heart opener and creates a sense of space in the heart, both physically and emotionally.
- Roll over onto your back and adjust so that the bolster ends up under your back.
- Rest the back of your head on a blanket or block or let it tip back.
- Extend your arms out to the sides or up overhead.
- Allow your shoulders to drape over the pillow and your low back to come towards the ground.
- Place a blanket under your sacrum for extra cushioning.
- Relax your legs out in front of you and/or place a rolled blanket under your knees. (Option: place the eye pillow over your eyes.) Hold for five minutes.
The benefits of this pose include stretching open the chest, shoulders, throat, and entire back.
Reclining Butterfly Pose continues the theme of opening created in the previous pose. Allow yourself to breathe through any discomfort that may arise in the hips. Call to mind a characteristic you’d like to cultivate more of in your life, such as compassion, peace, or courage, and invite that in as you hold this pose.
- Remove the bolster and come flat onto your back. (Option: bend your knees into your chest and roll around a little bit.)
- Then bend your knees and bring the soles of your feet together. Allow your knees to open out to the sides.
- Bring your yoga blocks or rolled blankets under your knees or thighs for support.
- Rest your hands on your torso or out to the sides with your palms facing up. (Option: place the eye pillow over your eyes.) Hold for five minutes.
The benefits of this pose include opening the hips and inner thighs and relaxing the low back.
Corpse Pose (Savasana)
Savasana is the final resting pose of the yin yoga for winter sequence. Make sure to leave enough time for this one. In fact, if you have time for none of the other poses, at least do this one!
- Extend your legs and come down onto your back for your final resting pose. Set up a comfortable Savasana with a bolster or rolled blanket under your knees.
- Place a folded blanket under your head.
- Relax your arms down by your sides with your palms facing upwards. Close your eyes and breathe naturally. (Option: place the eye pillow over your eyes.) Hold for five to ten minutes.
The benefits of this pose include integration of all of the benefits of the previous poses and an opportunity to relax fully.
After Your Practice
Complete your practice by rolling to your side and sitting up slowly. Remember the intention that you set at the beginning of your practice for peace in your body, mind, and heart. Carry all of the insights and inspiration from the yin yoga practice with you as you move forward into the rest of your day.
Winter is the world’s gentle reminder to slow down and take it easy. The animals go into hibernation and you may find it more challenging to get off the cozy couch. It is the time of year most aligned with resetting and preparing the body and spirit for what is to come. Consider incorporating some healing yin yoga postures into your weekly routines for self-care and notice how you feel.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
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