Winter Wellness: Tap into the energy of the season with Yin Yoga
By Jaime Roche
According to Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the season of winter is the most Yin time of year. Yin energy is slow, dark, cold and inward. It is the opposite of summer’s energy, considered yang, and is hot, expansive and quick. Winter, with its short, quiet, cold days, provides a space for us to mentally and physically slow down and turn our energy inward so we can replenish before the more energetic season of spring arrives.
TCM helps guide us toward optimal health and wellness by teaching us how to live harmoniously with each season. Each season, with its own energetic focus, invites us to shift our diets, activities and overall habits in order to create more balance between our bodies and the external environment.
The most essential activities of winter are those that encourage self-reflection. After this past year, we can all agree that we have a lot to reflect upon. The pandemic and its accompanied isolation created major lifestyle shifts and led to many of us to rethink our busy pre-pandemic lives. Some of us may be questioning whether we want to return to life exactly as it was before the pandemic. The pandemic may have allowed us to see the value of slowing down, simplifying our schedules and finding space away from busyness and distraction.
One of the most helpful practices of self-reflection I have found is the TCM-based practice of Yin Yoga. Yin Yoga, as its name would dictate, is a quiet, still and inward practice. The practice helps us live more harmoniously by balancing our Chi, or energy. Each Yin pose focuses on specific meridians, or energy channels, with each meridian associated with a specific organ. In winter our focus is on the kidney/bladder meridians.
Below you will find several winter-specific Yin poses to help you dive a bit deeper into the season. It’s important to remember that Yin is a very individualized practice. Due to the differences in our musculoskeletal systems, each student’s pose will look different. Our main focus is the “feeling” of the pose rather than the appearance and therefore modifications are always appropriate.
Yin Yoga guidelines:
- Move into each pose slowly and mindfully
- Hold each pose 3-10 minutes
- While in the pose, remain still. Resist the urge to bounce or to move suddenly
- In each pose you will experience certain areas of the body opening. This should not be a painful feeling but may be uncomfortable while the connective tissues are releasing.
- During each “hold,” attempt to shift your focus toward the physical sensation you are experiencing. If the mind wanders, gently bring it back toward your focal point.
- Move out of the pose slowly
- After each pose, lay on your back or belly to “rebound” and allow the bones to reorganize.
Started seated at the edge of a thin, firm cushion or folded blanket. Bring the soles of the feet together and the heels towards the groin so your legs form what looks like wings of a butterfly. Slowly begin to hinge forward from the hip and reach your heart towards the floor. Once you feel moderate tension on your inner thighs stop and use some stacked pillows, a bolster or yoga blocks to support your head as you gently fold forward into to the pose. Stay in this position for 3-10 minutes mindfully breathing into any area of tension.
Begin seated on the edge of a folded blanket or thin cushion. Straddle your legs as wide as you can and then hinging from the hip crease begin to move your heart forward towards the floor. Once you reach a point where you feel a slight tension in your inner thighs stop and using bolster, pillows or blocks support your forehead. Allow you your spine to round slightly and release into the forward fold. Hold 3-10 minutes here.
Lie on your back and slowly draw one knee toward your chest. Grasp either the outside of the foot of the bent leg or the ankle, flex the foot to the sky and gently start to draw the knee outside the body and down to the floor. Keep the hips level and the straightened leg well grounded. Hold here for 3-5 minutes and then repeat on the other side.
Photos courtesy of Jaime Roche