Ah, the HOLIDAYS! That magical time of year filled with joy and love and giving. And, let’s be honest, stress, anxiety and even loneliness. This time of year is filled with SO MUCH busy. We go and go and go, and before we know it the holidays are over and we didn’t stop long enough to actually enjoy them. Anyone else feel like you have forgotten how to actually have fun, to laugh, to play, and to just simply enjoy? Seriously, when is the last time you really truly laughed? Or allowed yourself to be present with yourself and your family? Not just in the room but actually present? Anyone else hear their child or spouse talking but you don’t actually know what they said? Or find yourself snapping over little things? Sadly, I know I’m not alone. And a big reason for all of that is because we need a break. We are too busy. We wear too many hats. Just like our devices, we’re always on, especially this time of year. The time of year where magic is real and when we deserve, more than ever, to be present. And not just in meaningless words, but actually present. So let’s do it. Let’s start by saying this to ourselves right now, and then saying it again and again and again – “You have permission to stop, and just be.”
With all the yang of the Holiday Season, now is the perfect time to quiet down and just be. Practicing yin yoga is my favorite way to do that. It offers so many physical and mental benefits, and is a great compliment to your busy life, your regular exercise routine, or just because you need some peace and quiet. Yin yoga is an ancient practice that lets you find stillness in your body, mind and breath. In yin, we hold passive poses for several minutes, which allows our energy to “stress” our deeper connective tissues, which mobilizes and strengthens our joints and ligaments. The following yin yoga sequence will hopefully help you feel grounded and calm and provide the pause you need, or at least a step in that direction, to find true presence. It includes poses to help open your heart, find release in your hips (where we tend to hold not so great emotions) and feel relief in your back. It ends with twists to balance your body and an extended savasana to rest and absorb your practice. And mostly, it provides an opportunity to connect with your breath, tune into your body and the sensations and emotions that arise, and to find you. Quieting your mind can be the most difficult part of your yin practice. It is not in our nature to be still, to go internal. Just do your best. And when you fidget or your thoughts start to get the best of you, go back to your breath. Every time. It will keep you present.
Our goal in yin is time rather than intensity. Each pose includes a recommended hold time. Rather than immediately going to your full version of any of the poses, pace yourself, experience each level of sensation and if it feels right, add depth to the pose (fold deeper, remove a prop). It’s all part of the practice and there’s plenty of time to get there. Observe the sensations, notice tension, and release and soften. Close your eyes and really see yourself. Find stillness. Let yourself get uncomfortable. Breathe. (If you ever feel pain, back out of the pose.)
Yin is my favorite type of yoga to practice and to teach. The quiet reflection, the stillness, the breath, the time. It’s so uniquely amazing in every way. Yoga has enriched my life in ways I could have never imagined. But it is my yin practice that has gifted me with the ability to be most present, on and off the mat. So hide your lists, turn your ringer off, and grab your mat and just be.
Happiest of Holidays Friends!
Recommended Props: Mat, timer, yoga blocks, blankets, pillows, bolster – really anything that can help you feel supported. And grab anything that helps you relax – essential oils, warm fuzzy socks, your favorite chill music, a glass of wine.
Use the first pose to really arrive and come into your breath. Once you find the pose, let yourself start to feel heavy. Notice the parts of your body touching the earth. Recognize your thoughts as distractions and bring your attention to your breath. Take deep, unrushed inhales and exhales through your nose, inhaling to fill your belly, expand your ribs and fill your chest, and exhaling chest, ribs, belly. Continue this until you find a comfortable rhythm that you can continue throughout the practice. Take a moment here to also set an intention for your practice. Something for you. A feeling, a word, a prayer. Something to give the time a purpose. Maybe it’s to just quiet down and breathe, or to be rather than to do. Go back to your breath anytime your thoughts start to wander. You are human, it’s going to happen. Acknowledge it and find your breath. You can also reconnect with your intention. Remind yourself why you are there.
Supported Fish (4 minutes)
Roll up a blanket to a comfortable height (start with less, remember the goal is time, not intensity) and place it where your shoulder blades end (think bra strap) and slowly lower down, adding support under your head to support your neck if needed, or use a bolster or firm pillow vertically starting a little lower. Arms can stay by your side or extend overhead. Legs can butterfly (use blocks under your knees) or stay long. And breathe. To come out, remove the prop(s) and take a few breaths on your back before slowly sitting up.
Butterfly (4 minutes)
Seated, bring the soles of your feet together away from your pelvis area and let your knees open wide, finding a diamond shape. Allow your back to round, and breath into the fold – taking your time. Let your head hang towards your heals, resting in your hands or on a prop to support your neck. Your hands can rest on your feet or on the floor in front of you. You can elevate your hips with a blanket or cushion (which helps your pelvis tilt forward) and use support under your knees. To come out, push the floor away and slowly come up, stay for a few breaths and then draw your knees in for a seated child’s pose. Stay here for as long as you want.
Swan (4 minutes on each side, counter stretch after each side)
Bring your left knee towards your left wrist and the heel of your left foot towards your right groin area, then carefully send your right leg back. Use a blanket under your back shin and/or knee if you have sensitive knees and place a block or blanket under the front sitting bone. Stay upright for several breaths, and when you’re ready, begin to fold forward, maybe staying on your forearms for several breaths or resting on blocks or a bolster before finding your way all the way down. Really take your time in this pose. Let your body experience the different depths and really soften and release. As you release, notice where you tense in response, and soften there, too. To come out, push yourself up slowly on an inhale, stay lifted for a full breath and then tuck your back toes, and move towards table top. Then bring your right knee towards your right wrist and carefully send your left leg back for a counter stretch. Find the ball of the back foot and push through the heel. Stay on your hands or come to your forearms. Take 6-8 full breaths and then move to swan on the other side.
Melting Heart (3 minutes)
Start in table top with your wrists, elbows and shoulders in-line and your knees in-line with your hips, hips distance apart. If you have sensitive knees, place a blanket underneath. Start to walk your hands forward and let your chest melt towards the earth, using a block or bolster under your chest for support. Try to keep your hips in-line with your knees and your hands shoulder width apart (if you feel any pinching in your shoulders, widen your hands). Maybe remove the block for the last few breaths, depending on your flexibility. To come out, slowly move towards your belly, resting on your right ear, arms can cactus or rest alongside you, and take 8-10 breaths before moving to Sphinx.
Sphinx (3 minutes)
From your belly, begin to prop yourself up on your forearms. Bring your elbows in line your shoulders. For less sensation, move your elbows further ahead. Your head can stay lifted or let it rest on a block or hang. Use a rolled up blanket or bolster under pubic bones or thighs to soften the pressure, or to deepen, place a blanket under your elbows. To come out, lower your chest to the floor, resting on your left ear, arms can cactus or rest alongside of you, and take 8-10 breaths before moving to table top.
Cat/Cow (8-10 rounds)
From Sphinx, slowly push the floor away and find table top. Check your alignment (wrists, elbows, shoulders in-line and knees underneath your hips). Place a blanket under your knees if they are sensitive. On an exhale, gently press your hands into the mat, tuck your chin and your tailbone and gently round your back, breathing into the space between your shoulder blades (cat). Hold here for a few rounds of unrushed breaths to counter the backbends you just did. On an inhale, slowly lift your gaze and your tailbone and drop your stomach, breathing into your front body (cow). Move gently between the two with your breath. Take a few rounds and move towards child’s pose.
Child’s Pose (3 minutes)
Begin by sitting on your heels and slowly fold forward, chest to thighs, forehead to the mat. If your hips don’t reach your heels place a rolled up blanket or bolster on your calves and support your head with a prop. You can place a rolled blanket under the tops of your feet to support your ankles. Your arms can stretch long or come alongside your body. Relax your shoulders.
Supported Bridge (4 minutes)
Slowly make your way to your back. Bend your knees, keeping your knees and feet hips distance apart. Inhale and press into your feet to lift your hips, and place a block or rolled up blanket under your very lower back (hip bone/sacrum area) and rest your weight on the prop. Arms can stay along your side or go overhead. Increase the height of the prop to move deeper into the pose. To come out, inhale to lift your hips to remove the prop and slowly come down, one vertebrae at a time. Take a full breath once you land and then hug your knees into your chest.
Reclining Twist (4 minutes on each side)
On your back with your knees bent, open your arms wide and on an exhale, let your knees fall towards either side, bumping your hip under you slightly. Send your gaze over the opposite shoulder if it feels okay on your neck. Both shoulders should remain grounded on the mat. If the opposite shoulder is off the mat, place a prop under your upper knee and/or the raised shoulder. You can also place props under and/or between your legs and remove them as you deepen into the pose. Breath into the twist. Hug both knees after each side.
Savasana (No less than 7 minutes)
Savasana is your ultimate relaxing pose. It gives your body a chance to absorb your practice. There are several ways you can rest in savasana. You can take a traditional corpse pose, bringing your legs long, feet mats distance apart. Maybe add a prop under your knees. Or maybe a modified legs up the wall. You could use a chair or stack a couple blankets on top of two blocks and let the back of your knees rest there. In any version, slightly tuck your shoulders, let your arms can come alongside you or overhead, palms facing up and get out any last wiggles. Find complete ease in this pose. Scan your body head to toe and If you feel effort or tension, release it. Take a cleansing breath (open your mouth and sigh out the exhale) and then let your breath return to its normal rhythm. Then just soften and rest. When you are ready to come out, deepen your breath and bring small movements to your fingers and toes. Take a gentle full body stretch and move to a fetal pose by rolling to either side. Stay here for as long as you want. Pausing. Absorbing. Cultivating gratitude.
Whenever you are ready, slowly sit yourself up and take a few more unrushed breaths. Go into the rest of your day with heightened awareness and mindfulness. Smile often, laugh fully and be present.
Supported Fish (4)
Swan (4 each side)
Melting Heart (3)
Cat Cow (8-10 rounds)
Childs Pose (3)
Supported Bridge (4)
Reclining Twists (4 each side)
Savasana (no less than 7)