Day 2 – Summer Solstice Yin Yoga Practice

The height of summer strikes me as the perfect time to begin a new routine, to draw into your life fresh energy and resolve. The sun alone makes me want to try new thing, be more active, fulfil my goals. More inspiring I feel than the depths of mid-winter when resolutions are traditionally made.

So today’s offering is the gift of yoga. I love yoga and have been practising it since I was 16. When I commit to my practice my life runs more smoothly, my body is healthier and I tend not to have as many melt-downs. (I owe my Bachelor’s Degree to a free yoga class offered in my college once a week by a professor!) These last few months though I have been neglecting it and the difference in my life is glaringly obvious.

Enter Jessica Powers who offered to create a simple routine for us try and woke me up to what was missing in my everyday. I hope you enjoy this routine as much as I do!

I’m sorry there are no photos to accompany this article (didn’t want to nick any and break copyright…Jesse took the beautiful flower pics included). Instead the heading for each pose is a live link to a yoga website tutorial on the pose which includes photos. That way you can get a visual prompt as to how to approach it, as well as Jesse’s really through directions. Often the pose Jesse is describing is a variation or modification on the pose in the link, so be sure to read the notes as well as use the photos.

Above all please protect your precious self from harm or injury while doing this yoga routine. Practised correctly and with an awareness of your own personal limits, this sequence will be a joy to your body, mind and heart!

Keep your eyes peeled next week for more from Jesse. Right, I’m off to have a go at some yoga in the sun…

Summer Solstice Yin Yoga Practice

A major benefit of this sequence is that it allows us to tap into the power of intention and motivation Summer embodies.  It gently works with the internal cleansing fire of the energy body to clear out the old and make space for the new.

Extension, compression, and twisting are three foundations of detoxification Yoga routines and while this practice is slow and earth based the presence of poses that lead you through that physiological sequence activate the cleansing purpose.

Think of this routine as a version for your body of the process that separates out the golden liquid of ghee from butter.  Low heat for a prolonged period with no stirring of the spoon, these are the instructions for clarifying butter into the famed Ayurvedic wonder food and medicine.  Approach the Yin practice as if you were the butter and uncover your own rich, golden essence.

Some Information About Practicing Yin Yoga:

The three tenets of Yin Yoga are as follows:

  1. Find a comfortable edge.
  2. Relax into the position.
  3. Remain for a length of time.

Unlike many forms of Yoga taught today which are Yang in nature and focus on the muscles, Yin Yoga instead directs its attention to the connective tissues, primarily fascia and the joints.  Yang tissues respond to repetitive motion whereas Yin tissues respond to slow, sustained, appropriate stress.

As much as you are able, release your muscles as you practice: they do not need to be engaged the whole time.  Find the place of safe softness: use some muscle energy if it is needed, but allow yourself time to really explore and learn if it is actually needed or it is your conditioned mind that believes that the tension is serving you.  If the tension of active muscles is not truly required: let it go.

More information can be found by utilizing the resources listed at the end of this article.

A note on the sequence:

I enjoy practicing several poses on one side before switching.  If this sounds intriguing to you practice as written; if not, or if it becomes uncomfortable, simply change sides and practice both sides of one pose before moving on to the next posture.  Also, 5 minutes is my default time for practicing a pose, that doesn’t mean it will be your perfect default time.  If you are new to Yoga, or even to just this style of Yoga, remaining in the poses 1-3 minutes may provide plenty of challenge and benefit to you.

Listen to your body – nobody else is in it 24/7.  You are your own best expert about what does and what does not work for you. That being said, it is always of great use to check with your healthcare provider before beginning any new exercise regime.

Use this practice when you want to stretch out after fun sun activities such as hiking, or to motivate you to go out and indulge in them.  With consistent practice over time, 2-3 times a week, you’ll find your hamstrings lengthening, your quads unclenching, and your mind expanding.

Viparita Karani | Legs up the Wall (10 minutes)

Place a large blanket down on the floor, one edge at the wall.  Sit in the middle of this with your left side right up against the wall, knees bent and feet on floor.  As you drop your torso back and to the right, rolling onto your back, allow the legs to straighten and swing to the left, up the wall.  It is not necessary to have the legs totally straight, so alter you buttocks proximity to the wall to find what is most comfortable for you.  Place hands on the belly and breathe full and slow into your solar plexus energy center, the Manipura Chakra.  The name of this center translates as ‘City of the Shining Jewel’ and your breath and attention here will polish that gem so that it glitters and glows as bright as the midday sun.  When you are ready to exit the posture, bend the knees and roll to one side, resting for a moment to become aware of the effects on your body and mind.  Use the arms to push up and away from the floor.

Contraindications: pregnancy; glaucoma, un-medicated high blood pressure.

Sukhasana variation | Cross Legged Forward Bend (5 minutes each side)

Sitting upright, bend your legs comfortably, right in front of left.  If one or both of your knees hover up in the air use blankets or pillows close into the hip to support them.  Inhale and lengthen your spine up into the sky, make space along the vertebrae.  Exhale and allow your body to melt forward and down, rounding the spine into a forward bend.  Depending on your body you may feel this pose in the back – low, mid or upper – or in the hips.  Make sure that your breath is still calm and even and adjust to insure it remains so.  You may choose to drop your head and complete the forward bend, however if this causes the pose to cease being restful, rest your head in your hands, propping the elbows on your feet or pile of pillows and blankets as needed.

Before coming out of the pose use an exhale to reactivate the core muscles in your abdomen. Enjoy coming up through several breath cycles; feel how each inhale builds your spine upright once more, supported by the core stability you engage on each exhale.

Janu Sirsasana | Head to Knee Pose (5 minutes each side)

Extend the left leg in front of you, keeping the right leg bent.  Your right foot does not need to make contact with you left leg, in fact, if you are pregnant or have eaten recently it will be more comfortable to leave some distance between them.  Take a breath in and lift the spine skyward, exhale and gently turn the torso towards the left leg.  Inhale and lengthen the spine again, exhale and pour your body forward towards the extended leg.  Along with this slight twist of the torso you may become aware of a lengthening of the right low back, down in to the hip.  While this is good for many of us, if you have sacroiliac issues or are at the later stages of pregnancy a better position for the torso leaves out the twist, the body instead folding forward easily between the legs.

Many people will simply be attentive to the sensations in the extended hamstring in this pose – allow that leg to bend, softening the knee, if it is too difficult to be with the stretch.  Remember that Yin Yoga focuses on the connective tissue and that time will show the benefit, be kind with the tight spaces and make room so that you can breathe your boundaries out further, slowly and with longer lasting effect.  One method of doing this is to work with two of the philosophical tenets of Yoga: ahimsa, or non-harming, and santosha, contentment.  While you are in the pose, being with the present moment of tenderness and difficulty in the lengthening hamstring, place your hands under the left knee and hold the leg with kindness.  Another way to work with the extended leg is to cushion it with a corner of your blanket.  Do not push yourself beyond your current ability.  Accept where you are in this moment, limitations and all.

Again, the head may drop or not, and supporting it is a wonderful option.

To work energetically, allow your breath to circulate from an inhale at the third eye center that moves down the back body and through to the navel and exhale that focusing on the front body moving towards the back body and travelling upwards to the third eye.  This may feel like the back of your body is filling up like a sail on inhale and that you are lengthening the front body along the leg on exhale.  Keep with a calm breath pattern and see where you land – close your eyes and let the final position be a surprise you only find out about when preparing to leave the posture.

When you are ready to come up, exhale and engage the core muscles.  Allow the inhalations to be long and slow, come up unrushed over several breaths, feeling the body’s response to the pose as you move out of it.  Use your hands on either side of the extended leg to assist lifting the torso upright.

Ardha Supta Virasana | Reclining Half Hero (5 minutes each side)

Bend the left leg, placing the foot on the floor, do the same with the right.  Tilt your body to the left and allow the right knee to come to the floor as the foot slides back alongside the right hip.  Settle the right sitting bone towards the earth, using a blanket to support you if you need it.  Begin easing your body down to the floor.  Your left leg may stay bent, or lengthen some or fully, allow it to adjust as you move – it works as a counter balance and it’s end position will be explored later in the pose.

Move slowly and listen carefully to your quadriceps, knee, and back as you lower down.  If the quadriceps muscles are extremely tight or you are new to Yoga, have your pile of pillows nearby and move them behind your torso to support it in reclining.  It is not necessary for the right knee to stay on the ground, so if that leg pops up, don’t worry.  Only if you feel sharp, searing, electrical pain should you worry and consciously move out of the posture.

Once your torso is supported, either by elbows, pillows or bolster, or the floor, take several long, deep breaths into your body.  Imagine each exhalation you are blowing on a dandelion to send the seed wands flying through the air.  The breath out is full but soft, tender yet dedicated.  Think of the flying seeds as the basis of your tightness and stress, floating further away from you every second.  Feel how on inhaling the whole right side of the body is opening up in response to this releasing.

Using your breath and body awareness to guide you, decide the best position for your left leg: extended along the floor in total relaxation, bent with the foot on the floor, or, for those who are very flexible, bent and drawn towards the torso with the hands clasped behind the thigh.  Remember that your left leg is not the focus and use its position to find the greatest ease and interest in the right side’s glorious opening.

Before coming out of the pose, extend the left leg fully down on the earth.  Inhale and imagine a sun in your upper abdomen blazing brightly.  As you exhale, roll to the left, drawing the bent right leg across the right and into the following twist.

Contraindications: current knee injuries – this is a good one to have an experienced instructor help you work with initially.

Jathara Parivrtti | Supine Twist (5 minutes each side)

From Reclining Half Hero Pose you have twisted and moved naturally into the Supine Twist.  This can serve to highlight the relationship between side opening and back bending.  In twisting to the left the right side moves into a backbend, moving into the twist from a backbend you can feel how gently the spine is altered but how majorly it changes the area being stretched.

Once you’ve moved the right leg over the torso towards the floor on your left, melt the shoulders and head back to the earth.  Ideally the right shoulder will rest on the floor, but be mindful and assist your body to the most comfortable positioning even if that means the upper back is not entirely rested on the earth.  Move the hands out from the body to a place of ease and comfort.

With the upper body feeling safely grounded, let your legs move into a comfortable position for the twist.  General guidance for their position being, from least twist intensity to greatest (generally speaking, individual body and results apply): 1) both legs bent, right on top of left; 2) left leg extended on ground, right leg bent across it, knee moving towards the floor; 3) right leg bent and left leg to a lesser degree so that the right foot can loop behind the inside of the upper calf/knee area of the left leg to the outside; 4) right leg extended and held at the foot by left hand, left leg extended along the floor.  Whatever option you choose remember the main tenet of Yin Yoga is to release all extra effort.  So once you arrive in your twist’s outer form and have an easy, steady breath established: let go and feel the rotation from the inside out.  Explore the sensations of breath moving through the looped track of your body.  Yin Yoga doesn’t look to find the most extreme edge of a posture, it works to allow time to develop the pose fully – length of stay is what provides an edge here.

Don’t worry about where you arms are supposed to be, or which direction to turn your head, or if you should turn it: let everything unwind, sink into a deep well of restfulness.  Imagine the heat of the sun is melting your stagnant energy, as if it were an ice cube, and know the twist is wringing you out.  With each exhalation you can offer up more of whatever you no longer need to Mother Earth; your ice cube melting down into Her.  Exhale your muscle tension; your mental grasping; emotional holding patterns; attachment to identity; the societal belief that you are not perfect just as you are.  Breathe out all the memorized prayers, and feel the inhalation fill you with spontaneous blessings and dreams.

After floating in this spacious realm of new possibility, let your exhalations increase in intention.  Tuning into the core muscles and bringing the body to neutral: knees bent and feet off the ground, your entire torso melded into the ground below you.  Roll over entirely onto one side, and wait until you are ready to push up and begin the three poses on the second side.

Contraindications: low back pain and sacroiliac issues; keep the arms low if you have shoulder rotator cuff issues; late term pregnancy will require support of the bent top leg and the torso does not need to turn away from the floor.

Supta Baddha Konasana | Reclining Goddess Pose (5-10 minutes)

Now that you’ve made space (Ardha Supta Virasana), compressed (Janu Sirsasana), and released (Jathara Parivrtti) – you can call into your body what you need and yearn for.  To take Reclining Goddess Pose, lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the earth.  Place the soles of the feet together, a comfortable distance from your groin and open the legs to the side like a book, stopping when the inner groin stretch appears in your awareness.  The distance the inner leg opening is dependent on your bone structure and movement patterns.  If you find this a difficult stretch, to best support the opening in your body it is helpful to place pillows or rolled blankets between the outer hip and the floor.  Adding just a little support in this way, up by the hip crease, with space for the legs to drop open further, is a more effective assist to the stretch than propping underneath the knees.  It is entirely possible that only one leg may require the props, don’t be surprised to find obvious asymmetry here!  To see your progress note the distance of each knee to the floor when you begin and again before you come out.

Litha, the common term Neo-Pagans use for this Solstice, is a time to celebrate the strength of the Divine Masculine and the fertility of the Divine Feminine.  Whether we are male or female, putting our body in this form enables connection to the creativity that resides within us.  Whether your work is focused towards creating a new life, a piece of art, a loaf of bread; uses two needles, one hook, or a needle and thread; involves writing words, composing music, choreographing a dance, staging a play, or starting a business; harvesting organic foods, reducing excess consumption, increasing loving-kindness, or furthering global shifts towards peace: the ability of your creative spirit to manifest in this world is fully supported at this time of year.  So enjoy the Reclining Goddess Posture, and feel yourself swelling with magic and potential.

To end your practice, take 10 long breaths in Reclining Goddess Pose – each exhale pressing the feet together and drawing the knees fractionally closer to one another.  By the 10th breath aim to have your feet flat on the floor and the knees bent toward the sky once more.  Take a long breath in and as you breathe out hug the knees to your chest.  Close your eyes and allow your body to naturally move in anyway that it wants.  Stretch like a cat waking up from a long nap in the sun and enjoy the feeling of your bones and muscles working together.  Once you feel content and ready to move into the next part of you day or night, roll over to one side and rest a final breath or two on the ground.  Let go on exhale of what you no longer need.  Bring in the vitality of the Midsummer sun on inhale.  Press up to sitting and bring your hands together at the heart in Anjali Mudra, or the Prayer Gesture.  Aloud, or in silence, offer a prayer to Spirit in whatever way or words you are drawn to.

Resources:

  • www.yinyoga.com
  • www.yogajournal.com
  • www.paulgrilley.com
  • www.sarahpowers.com
  • Clark, Bernie.  YinSights: A Journey into the Philosophy & Practice of Yin Yoga.  Canada: YinSights Publishing, 2007.
  • Grilley, Paul.  Yin Yoga: Outline of a Queit Practice.  Ashland OR: White Cloud Press, 2002.
  • Judith, Anodea.  Wheels of Life, 2nd edition. Woodbury MN: Llewellyn, 2002.
  • Powers, Sarah.  Insight Yoga.  Boston MA: Shambhala, 2008.

Yoga instructor and Aromatherapist, Jessica Powers is a native of the Pacific Northwest currently training to jump through hoops and join her partner in New Zealand.  Keeping her sane in during this endeavour are her cats, Yoga practice, scented potions, and copious amounts of yarn.  While sometimes there are only cat photos, she does blogs regularly at www.knottyknickers.typepad.com.  Jessica can be reached at 3gracesyoga@gmail.com for questions related to the practice and recipes provided here.

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