It’s fall, and gradually getting cooler and darker. According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), we’re moving away the buoyant, extroverted Yang energy of summer toward a deeper, more internally-focused Yin time of year.
What better time to revisit your Yin Yoga practice in a way that reflects and embodies this time of introversion, and to adapt yourself to the influx of Yin energy?
TCM views humans as microcosmic expressions of universal energies. The ancient scholars took stock of their environment and noticed that the elements around us are also reflected in us. They further realized that each element is associated with its own particular season, emotion, and organ system.
The organs related to autumn are Lungs and Large Intestine – the former tasked with taking in of breath and the latter with letting go of what we no longer need (the same way trees let go of their leaves).
This Yin practice includes poses to gently open the chest and lungs as well as support digestion and promote elimination.
Fall is also related to the element of metal. Its key characteristic is malleability – metal is so strong that it can be transformed into different forms and still maintain its integrity. Metal has a precise, methodical and definitive quality that, when balanced, is also adaptable and accepting. When not in balance, metal energy can become dogmatic, rigid and even prejudiced.
As you practice this Yin sequence, notice where you are perhaps a bit self-critical or rigid. See if you can let go of judgement and cultivate acceptance for yourself on every level – body, mind, heart, spirit – in alignment with the transformative malleability of Metal.
On an emotional level, fall is also a time to let go of what we no longer need in our lives. The emotion associated with Metal is grief and autumn can be a time to go inward and explore long-held feelings of grief, sadness, and loss. But just as our lungs take in new breath, the season also encourages us to notice, take in and “harvest” all our gifts – some of which may be hidden deep within us.
Let this Yin practice create space in your body, mind and heart to unearth, contemplate and enjoy these hidden treasures!
Please remember to check with your health care provider before practicing this or any other yoga sequence, especially if you have any injuries or health conditions. And if you have never practiced yoga before, it’s best to begin your practice under the care of a qualified teacher.
Twisting Child’s pose
Twisting Child’s pose activates the Lung and Large Intestine meridians that run through the chest, shoulders, neck and arms. It also opens and nourishes the lungs themselves.
- Slide your left arm under your chest and toward the right, bringing your right shoulder toward the ground with arm outstretched. Allow the shoulder and head to rest comfortably either on the floor, or by padding with a block or blanket. Your left hand can rest on the floor beside you or on your lower back.
- Hold for 3 minutes.
- To come out, slowly release the left hand back to the floor if it is not already there.
- Slide your right hand back to centre.
- Rest in Child’s pose for a few breaths, then repeat on the other side.
Sphinx pose opens and stimulates the Lung and Large Intestine organs as well as related meridians. It also nourishes the Spleen (in Chinese medicine, the Spleen supports the Lungs) and stimulates the intestines by massaging the abdomen.
- From Child’s pose, bring yourself forward and down onto your belly.
- Bring your elbows underneath your shoulders so that they are shoulder-width apart.
- Either rest the palms on the floor, sphinx-like, interlace the fingers, or bring the opposite hand to the opposite elbow.
- Allow the buttocks and lower back muscles to relax so that there is gentle compression in your lower back. If pressure is too much, come out of the pose.
- Stay for 3-5 minutes, being mindful of a common tendency to slump into the shoulders. Instead, lift up and out of the shoulders.
- To come out, slowly release your elbows out from under you, bringing your forehead to the floor, arms released down alongside you.
- Stay for at least several breaths, then bring your hands beneath your shoulders and press slowly back into Child’s pose.
- When you’re ready, press your hands into the floor and bring yourself slowly up from Child’s pose into a kneeling position.
- Release to your back, ready for the next pose.
Lying spinal twist
Lying spinal twist gently plies apart the tight tissue across the front of the chest, opening up space for your breath. It stretches and stimulates the Lung and Large Intestine meridians (especially if you extend your arms overhead) and gently massages the abdominal organs, including the intestines, via the action of respiration as the diaphragm moves with the breath.
- Lie on your back and bend your knees, feet flat on the floor about hips-width apart.
- Bring your arms out to your sides, about 45-90 degrees away from your trunk.
- On an exhale, allow your knees to drop to the right, stacking one knee on top of the other.
- If your knees don’t reach the floor, use a block or blanket to support them. You can also choose to place your right hand on your stacked knees for a little extra support.
- You can turn your head toward the left or right, which intensifies sensations through the shoulder and neck. If this is feels too strong, keep your head centred.
- You can also bring your right arm up, cactus-like, along-side your head – this stimulates the Lung and Large Intestine meridians a little more.
- Stay for 3-5 minutes.
- To release, engage your abdominal muscles slightly to bring your knees back toward centre.
- Set your feet on the floor and take a few breaths. Either stay with bent knees, gently extend the legs out along your mat, or bring the knees toward the chest.
- Repeat the pose on the other side.
Savasana integrates all of the other poses, allowing your body to digest and assimilate their benefits.
- Bring your legs out along your mat. If your lower back feels sensitive, you can keep your knees bent, feet flat on the floor.
- Close your eyes. If you have a towel or other covering, place it over your eyes.
- Rock your head side to side a few times, allowing the sides of the neck to gently stretch. Eventually allow the head to come to rest, feeling the weight of the head sink into the ground beneath you.
- Bring your hands palms-down onto your belly or allow them to extend out along-side you, palms facing up.
- Bring your awareness to your breath, allowing your belly to rise and fall evenly. See if you can sense the warmth and flow of the breath not just in your belly and chest, but throughout your entire body. This is the healing flow of qi, or vital energy, that you have cultivated with your Yin practice.
- Stay for at least 5 minutes or as long as you wish.
- Slowly release from your pose by bringing knees to chest, and rocking gently over to one side.
- Come back up to a seated position, eyes still closed.
- Bring your palms together at your heart.