Last week, I offered an active clearing ritual to usher in a new year— one that was particularly welcome after a bewilderingly unsettling 2020. The practice involved movement and plenty of props and objects: It was decidedly meant to shift external energy. On this Silent Sunday, I suggest a practice at the opposite end of the spectrum. Today’s offering turns fully inward; the experience of doing so can bring surprising realizations.
As 2020 forced most of us to contend with discomfort—be it mental, physical or spiritual—lessons in endurance ensued. Sometimes, the best recourse seemed to be distraction: Pick up a new hobby; tech your way into Zoom calls and parties; begin a workout regime, etc. On the other hand, some moments paralyzed any effort to put on a happy face; those times called for complete retreat.
Today, I suggest a way to abide the dis-ease, to dwell in short-term discomfort. With no objects or sounds to distract, yin yoga requires one to enter a complete, minimalist inhabitation of posture. Time spent in each pose can seem an eternity… until the inevitable shift of muscle, mind, and breath occurs. At that moment, discomfort yields to allowance; a deeply satisfying peace descends, made all the more profound by the challenge involved in achieving it.
There are only three positions in the following practice. Before you begin, understand that yin yoga carries an inherent degree of “hardness,” despite its name: The mind rises up to rebel at the duration of each pose; the muscles resist release; and emotions can be stirred unexpectedly. Yet, the result is one of infinite reward: calm, vibrant energy, in a revitalized body.
Each of the three postures has a short warm-up movement to prepare for the task to come. For the first yin pose, come onto all fours for traditional Cat/Cow spinal flexes. Spend about a minute with the inhales leading into deeply extended arch (like a back bend); and the exhales rounding the spine into exaggerated flexion (full rounding of the spine, like a “scaredy cat”). Then, when the back muscles feel warm and loosened, lower down onto the belly for Sphinx Pose: propped on the forearms, shoulder blades drawn down, outer shoulders rolled back. Legs may be extended straight behind; during the time in the pose, lift the lower legs (bend the knees) for a deeper stretch. Remain here, eyes closed, breathing normally, yet consciously, for 3-5 minutes.
When you are ready to transition to the next pose, ever-so-slowly press back into Baby Pose for up to 1 minute. You may be surprised to feel a deep stiffness as you leave yin Sphinx: This is normal; with the time spent in deep yin, the muscles need equal time to rebound into their natural state of contract/release.
From Baby Pose, roll up, and then help yourself to lie on your back. Extend the legs into the air: Begin to flex and point the feet as you bend and straighten the knees, respectively. This inversion will aid circulation, while the warm-up movements will help the legs ease into the next yin posture.
Now, using your hands to help “hoist,” if necessary, bring both legs back over the head for Plow Pose. If the feel do not touch down on the floor behind you, that is okay: Slide a pillow under your hips to help support the backward roll of the spine; then, allow the legs to hang, knees bent if needed. During the time in the posture, you may well note the release that allows the feet to come all the way to the floor over your head, behind you. Work your way into this pose for another 3-5 minutes.
Finally, roll gently down from Plow: Let both knees fall in toward the chest, easing your way out of the pose. Extend the legs straight up into the air again, and give them brief shake or rub. Then, bend the knees, bringing the feet to the floor. From here, tip both knees to the right, and then to the left: inhale in the upright center position, exhale as the legs “windshield wiper” to each side. Let the lower spine acclimate to this moving twist for 1 minute. Then, slowly extend the legs straight out onto the floor.
Now you are ready for Spinal Twist. Bring the right knee in toward you; guide it to the left side of the body, using your left hand to help. The right arm may rest by your side, or out to the side at shoulder level; allow the head to turn or stay centered, as feels right to you. Remain in this gentle twist for 3-5 minutes. When you are ready to switch sides, do so with care: If you need to rest briefly on your back with both legs straight for a few breaths, feel free. Then, bend the left knee in toward you, and guide it over to the right to move into the twist. Again, spend another 3-5 minutes breathing deeply, noting any discomfort, and allowing time and gravity to ease your way into peace.
When you have completed the twist on both sides, lie on your back, covered with a blanket, for a consolidating Svasana. Rest here for as long as you like.