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Yin yoga sequence for self-love

Yin yoga sequence for self-love

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Cultivate positivity and show yourself some love.

Cultivate positivity and show yourself some love.

Yin yoga sequence for self-love
It’s been a rough year. I don’t know about you, but the change in routine doesn’t always have me feeling my best. Sure, it’s great not to wear a bra and to hang out in my “daytime pyjamas” and work from the sofa. But I’ve started to forget that I used to wear cute outfits and do my makeup and teach yoga to people and take selfies and have brunch with my friends. And I don’t always feel so good about my much-less-active WFH body. So, if you share any of those feelings with me, or if you just want to generate a feeling of self-love, this is for you.

It should go without saying, but I’ll say it, because please don’t sue me: not all yoga poses are suitable for everyone. Please check with your doctor before you do anything new. If you feel pain, please do not continue with the yoga sequence and chat to your doctor.

What is Yin yoga?

When most people attend yoga classes in a studio, they practice active or “yang” styles of yoga, like Ashtanga or Vinyasa. These styles of yoga are popular for a good reason. The movements and holds work your muscles while also focusing your mind and connecting your body with your breath.

Yin is different. If you want to do more research about the origins of this style of yoga, please do a Google search – it’s a fascinating field filled with Eastern wisdom that is just beginning to be understood by Western science.

Yin yoga aims not to work the muscles, but rather the deep connective tissues. For that to happen, the muscles need to be relaxed. The postures in yin yoga place gentle stress on your fascia, ligaments, joints and bones for a period of three to 20 minutes. And if that sounds like a long time – it is. That’s why before you start, you need to set up your space.

Getting started

Set up your space as best you can for quiet and comfort. You might want to close your curtains, light a few candles or turn on your oil diffuser and set up your music. If you have a yoga mat, lay it out on the floor, leaving space around you as you’ll occasionally need to stretch your limbs off the mat. If you don’t have a mat, use a rug, towel or blanket to create some cushioning between you and the floor.

I like to use a playlist like this:

Give yourself props

The positions you will be holding might feel comfortable or unchallenging as you move into them, but the intensity comes from the length of the hold. As time progresses, you may feel an increase in intensity. Yin teachers (I’m a trained RYS 250 teacher with two yin modules in my studies, in case you were wondering) usually tell students to go to two-thirds of their flexibility rather than pushing themselves to the edge of their range of movement. Yin postures might feel uncomfortable but never, ever painful. Please give yourself permission to pause and re-adjust your position if you need to. Yinjuries are real, and we want love, not hospital visits from this practice.

As I mentioned earlier, your muscles need to relax. So, you’ll need to use props to support various body parts and allow that to happen. Gather any yoga props you might own, like blocks and bolsters, or just grab all the pillows and cushions you can find, as well as a rolled-up towel or blanket. Place these in easy reach of your mat and get ready to start your sequence.

Active rest for 3 – 5 minutes

Lie down on your back, place your feet on the mat hip-distance apart, or a little wider than that, and allow your knees to knock in until they touch. Bring your left hand to your heart and your right hand to your belly. Close your eyes.

For now, just breathe. Feel all the places your body touches the earth. Feel the earth supporting you and let go of any sense of responsibility and to-do lists in your mind. Observe your physical sensations. As you inhale, feel your lungs expand and your belly rise. As you exhale, allow yourself to sink heavy into the ground.

When your timer goes off or your song ends or you think it’s been three to five minutes, prepare to move slowly and gently into the next posture.

Gentle supine twist to the right for 3 minutes

Hug your knees into your chest for a few moments, at least three slow, full inhales and exhales. Then allow your knees to drop over to the right and stretch your arms out wide like a capital letter T. This twist may feel good as it is, or you may want to prop. It’s often helpful to place a pillow between your knees and the ground, and maybe another between your thighs. If your legs feel comfy but your left shoulder has lifted up off the mat, you can place a pillow or folded blanket underneath it for support.

While you’re lying in this twist, you should be able to feel tension releasing from your spine. As those tensions leave your body, think about other things you could let go of that don’t serve you. Maybe it’s something small like the pressure you put on yourself to keep your house perfectly clean or that silly thing you said when you were 15. Maybe it’s something bigger like feelings of self-doubt or forgiving yourself for a mistake you made. Whatever you don’t need, let go of.

Gentle supine twist to the left for 3 minutes

After three minutes, slowly draw your knees back into your chest. Hold them there for three nice long breaths and then allow then to drop over to the ground on your left. Prop yourself until you feel like you’ve found a level of intensity you can sustain for three minutes.

You might need to prop differently on this side. Our bodies aren’t symmetrical, so you’re not looking for the identical position, but rather a similar feeling of depth. Remember to breathe. This time, focus your thoughts on letting go of the expectations that have been placed on you by society, your family or yourself. Your need to be productive? Let it go. You are valuable just by existing. You don’t have to do anything to be worthy of love, understanding and empathy. You already deserve all of those things. Let go of any ideas of what you think you should have achieved by now. Anything you judge yourself for not having done today, this year, or in your whole life. Let that go. You’re worthy. You’re already worthy.

Fetal position for about a minute

Remove your props and roll all the way onto your side for a short rest in a fetal position, perhaps using your left arm as a pillow – whatever is comfortable for you. Take eight rounds of nice, full, slow breath.

Table top position with optional cat and cow

Gently move to a table top position, with your wrists under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Draw your belly towards your spine and feel how that straightens your spine out into a long line from neck to tailbone. If you feel like keeping it slow and still, hold this posture for a few moments.

If you need a bit of movement at this point, take a cow pose on your inhale – dropping your belly and broadening the space between your collarbones. On your exhale, move back through a neutral spine and then round your back, feeling the space between your shoulder blades draw up towards the ceiling and your tailbone tucking. Repeat cow and cat two more times, on every inhale focusing on opening your heart, and on every exhale feeling the back of your body expand.

Puppy pose for 3 minutes

Come back to a table top position and begin to crawl your hands forward, dropping your chest down towards the mat, keeping your arms straight. Keep your knees and hips as they are and rest your forehead on the ground. You’re going back into a long hold here, and this posture can feel quite uncomfortable, so find your posture and then prop yourself. Place a folded blanket under your knees and one or more pillows under your chest. If this is too much pressure on your lower back, try hugging in your lower ribs and see if that helps.

This posture can be tricky to hold for the full three minutes, so if you feel more uncomfortable than you were expecting to at minute two, feel free to gently move onto the next posture.

Physically, this posture opens your shoulders and heart space. While you’re here, see if you can gently sink your chest into your cushion or the earth, imagining your capacity for love growing bigger and more open. With a big, open heart, think of some things about yourself that you love. The gap between your teeth. Your birthmark. The fact that you chose to do this practice today. Your sense of humour. Your ability to make the world’s best chocolate muffins. The muscles holding you in this posture. How loyal you are to your friends. Don’t panic if they don’t come to mind immediately. There is so much to love about you, and you have the rest of your life to discover it all.

When you’re ready to move on, savour your last big inhale in this position, your last big exhale, and then start to move.

Wide-legged child’s pose for 5 minutes

Make your way into child’s pose by drawing your hips back and down towards your heels. Take your knees out as wide as your mat – or wider (I need space for my belly to feel free) – and begin to organise your props.

Nice props to add here include a blanket or pillow between your bum and your heels, a blanket under your knees, and a pillow or two or three under your chest. You can turn your head to face one side if that helps you breathe more easily. Just make sure to spend half your time there and then turn to look at the other side to even it out.

In a more active yoga class, this would be considered a resting posture, but bear in mind that five minutes is a long time, so you may feel sensations you’re not used to in a non-yin child’s pose.

Once you’re settled in, breathing deeply and slowly, start to think about how you talk to yourself. Are you using gentle words and kindness? Would you talk to your best friend that way? Would you talk to your five-year-old-self that way? If not, think of ways you can be kinder with your internal monologue. You’re just one complex, tired, beautiful human who is doing their best.

When five minutes is up, you’ll start moving to your next pose by sitting up and finding a seated position on your mat.

Caterpillar pose for 5 minutes

Stretch your legs out in front of you. Roll up a blanket or towel and place it under your knees. Depending on your hamstring situation, you may also want a pillow on top of your legs to support your body.

Take a deep breath in as your reach your arms up high and then on your exhale, fold forward. Take care to land with your palms up. Arms and legs are relaxed. Tuck in your chin and let your upper back curve a little – a tiny cat (kitten?) pose feeling. Then let go and make sure none of your muscles are tense. Move your props around until they feel right. The sensation you may notice is a release in the lower back. If you’re feeling it in the hammies, you may want to prop more to give your back a chance for this beautiful release.

At this point, you’ve said a lot of nice things to yourself. Go you! While you’re settled into caterpillar pose, let your brain have a rest. Bring your mind back to your breath, feeling the back of your heart space expand and contract with each inhale and exhale. Let your thoughts float by as if they’re clouds in the sky.

Reclined butterfly pose for 10 minutes

Slowly and gently roll up to a seat from caterpillar and prepare to move into reclined butterfly pose – your last one before your final savasana. Sitting up, bring the soles of your feet to touch. Place a pillow under each knee for support and place another couple behind you to support your back. When your pillows are in position, gently lie back onto the ground with your arms out wide, palms up. As usual, you might need to spend a moment getting the props into the right places.

Now lie back, and once again let your body hang heavy. The earth will support you. Relax the space in between your eyebrows. Unclench your jaw. Let your limbs feel heavy. This yoga posture is one where you can really release. The pose is doing the work for you. You don’t have to “do yoga”, let gravity do it for you.

Having your palms up is a sign that you’re willing to receive. Think about the things you want more of in your life, and on every inhale, imagine those things flowing into your lungs and hands, filling you up. You can ask for whatever you need, big or small. Physical or emotional.  More compassion. Forgiveness. To feel supported. Or you know, a fiddle-leaf fig tree or a cookbook. Whatever you want more of in your life. No judgies. Just ask.

Savasana for 15 minutes

When your 10 minutes in reclined butterfly have ended, and you’re well and truly filled with all the things you need, remove all of your props (or keep some, it’s your practice) and move into savasana pose – lying flat on the earth with your arms and legs out wide. Let your feet flop open. Take a deep inhale and then exhale loudly with a big sigh. Maybe two more of those.

Then settle in for your 15 minutes of rest. You’ve done the work. There’s nothing left for you to do but enjoy the delicious feeling of rest. You have nothing to do. Nowhere to be. Just inhale and exhale.

What now?

Well done! You spent a lot of time nurturing yourself and watering your little seedling of self-love. What you do next is up to you. Get up slowly, giving yourself some time to get back into the bright and bustle of the world. You might want to write in your journal or make a cup of tea. The world is your oyster, and you deserve all the good things in it.

It’s been a rough year. I don’t know about you, but the change in routine doesn’t always have me feeling my best. Sure, it’s great not to wear a bra and to hang out in my “daytime pyjamas” and work from the sofa. But I’ve started to forget that I used to wear cute outfits and do my makeup and teach yoga to people and take selfies and have brunch with my friends. And I don’t always feel so good about my much-less-active WFH body. So, if you share any of those feelings with me, or if you just want to generate a feeling of self-love, this is for you.

It should go without saying, but I’ll say it, because please don’t sue me: not all yoga poses are suitable for everyone. Please check with your doctor before you do anything new. If you feel pain, please do not continue with the yoga sequence and chat to your doctor.

What is Yin yoga?

When most people attend yoga classes in a studio, they practice active or “yang” styles of yoga, like Ashtanga or Vinyasa. These styles of yoga are popular for a good reason. The movements and holds work your muscles while also focusing your mind and connecting your body with your breath.

Yin is different. If you want to do more research about the origins of this style of yoga, please do a Google search – it’s a fascinating field filled with Eastern wisdom that is just beginning to be understood by Western science.

Yin yoga aims not to work the muscles, but rather the deep connective tissues. For that to happen, the muscles need to be relaxed. The postures in yin yoga place gentle stress on your fascia, ligaments, joints and bones for a period of three to 20 minutes. And if that sounds like a long time – it is. That’s why before you start, you need to set up your space.

Getting started

Set up your space as best you can for quiet and comfort. You might want to close your curtains, light a few candles or turn on your oil diffuser and set up your music. If you have a yoga mat, lay it out on the floor, leaving space around you as you’ll occasionally need to stretch your limbs off the mat. If you don’t have a mat, use a rug, towel or blanket to create some cushioning between you and the floor.

I like to use a playlist like this:

Give yourself props

The positions you will be holding might feel comfortable or unchallenging as you move into them, but the intensity comes from the length of the hold. As time progresses, you may feel an increase in intensity. Yin teachers (I’m a trained RYS 250 teacher with two yin modules in my studies, in case you were wondering) usually tell students to go to two-thirds of their flexibility rather than pushing themselves to the edge of their range of movement. Yin postures might feel uncomfortable but never, ever painful. Please give yourself permission to pause and re-adjust your position if you need to. Yinjuries are real, and we want love, not hospital visits from this practice.

As I mentioned earlier, your muscles need to relax. So, you’ll need to use props to support various body parts and allow that to happen. Gather any yoga props you might own, like blocks and bolsters, or just grab all the pillows and cushions you can find, as well as a rolled-up towel or blanket. Place these in easy reach of your mat and get ready to start your sequence.

Active rest for 3 – 5 minutes

Lie down on your back, place your feet on the mat hip-distance apart, or a little wider than that, and allow your knees to knock in until they touch. Bring your left hand to your heart and your right hand to your belly. Close your eyes.

For now, just breathe. Feel all the places your body touches the earth. Feel the earth supporting you and let go of any sense of responsibility and to-do lists in your mind. Observe your physical sensations. As you inhale, feel your lungs expand and your belly rise. As you exhale, allow yourself to sink heavy into the ground.

When your timer goes off or your song ends or you think it’s been three to five minutes, prepare to move slowly and gently into the next posture.

Gentle supine twist to the right for 3 minutes

Hug your knees into your chest for a few moments, at least three slow, full inhales and exhales. Then allow your knees to drop over to the right and stretch your arms out wide like a capital letter T. This twist may feel good as it is, or you may want to prop. It’s often helpful to place a pillow between your knees and the ground, and maybe another between your thighs. If your legs feel comfy but your left shoulder has lifted up off the mat, you can place a pillow or folded blanket underneath it for support.

While you’re lying in this twist, you should be able to feel tension releasing from your spine. As those tensions leave your body, think about other things you could let go of that don’t serve you. Maybe it’s something small like the pressure you put on yourself to keep your house perfectly clean or that silly thing you said when you were 15. Maybe it’s something bigger like feelings of self-doubt or forgiving yourself for a mistake you made. Whatever you don’t need, let go of.

Gentle supine twist to the left for 3 minutes

After three minutes, slowly draw your knees back into your chest. Hold them there for three nice long breaths and then allow then to drop over to the ground on your left. Prop yourself until you feel like you’ve found a level of intensity you can sustain for three minutes.

You might need to prop differently on this side. Our bodies aren’t symmetrical, so you’re not looking for the identical position, but rather a similar feeling of depth. Remember to breathe. This time, focus your thoughts on letting go of the expectations that have been placed on you by society, your family or yourself. Your need to be productive? Let it go. You are valuable just by existing. You don’t have to do anything to be worthy of love, understanding and empathy. You already deserve all of those things. Let go of any ideas of what you think you should have achieved by now. Anything you judge yourself for not having done today, this year, or in your whole life. Let that go. You’re worthy. You’re already worthy.

Fetal position for about a minute

Remove your props and roll all the way onto your side for a short rest in a fetal position, perhaps using your left arm as a pillow – whatever is comfortable for you. Take eight rounds of nice, full, slow breath.

Table top position with optional cat and cow

Gently move to a table top position, with your wrists under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Draw your belly towards your spine and feel how that straightens your spine out into a long line from neck to tailbone. If you feel like keeping it slow and still, hold this posture for a few moments.

If you need a bit of movement at this point, take a cow pose on your inhale – dropping your belly and broadening the space between your collarbones. On your exhale, move back through a neutral spine and then round your back, feeling the space between your shoulder blades draw up towards the ceiling and your tailbone tucking. Repeat cow and cat two more times, on every inhale focusing on opening your heart, and on every exhale feeling the back of your body expand.

Puppy pose for 3 minutes

Come back to a table top position and begin to crawl your hands forward, dropping your chest down towards the mat, keeping your arms straight. Keep your knees and hips as they are and rest your forehead on the ground. You’re going back into a long hold here, and this posture can feel quite uncomfortable, so find your posture and then prop yourself. Place a folded blanket under your knees and one or more pillows under your chest. If this is too much pressure on your lower back, try hugging in your lower ribs and see if that helps.

This posture can be tricky to hold for the full three minutes, so if you feel more uncomfortable than you were expecting to at minute two, feel free to gently move onto the next posture.

Physically, this posture opens your shoulders and heart space. While you’re here, see if you can gently sink your chest into your cushion or the earth, imagining your capacity for love growing bigger and more open. With a big, open heart, think of some things about yourself that you love. The gap between your teeth. Your birthmark. The fact that you chose to do this practice today. Your sense of humour. Your ability to make the world’s best chocolate muffins. The muscles holding you in this posture. How loyal you are to your friends. Don’t panic if they don’t come to mind immediately. There is so much to love about you, and you have the rest of your life to discover it all.

When you’re ready to move on, savour your last big inhale in this position, your last big exhale, and then start to move.

Wide-legged child’s pose for 5 minutes

Make your way into child’s pose by drawing your hips back and down towards your heels. Take your knees out as wide as your mat – or wider (I need space for my belly to feel free) – and begin to organise your props.

Nice props to add here include a blanket or pillow between your bum and your heels, a blanket under your knees, and a pillow or two or three under your chest. You can turn your head to face one side if that helps you breathe more easily. Just make sure to spend half your time there and then turn to look at the other side to even it out.

In a more active yoga class, this would be considered a resting posture, but bear in mind that five minutes is a long time, so you may feel sensations you’re not used to in a non-yin child’s pose.

Once you’re settled in, breathing deeply and slowly, start to think about how you talk to yourself. Are you using gentle words and kindness? Would you talk to your best friend that way? Would you talk to your five-year-old-self that way? If not, think of ways you can be kinder with your internal monologue. You’re just one complex, tired, beautiful human who is doing their best.

When five minutes is up, you’ll start moving to your next pose by sitting up and finding a seated position on your mat.

Caterpillar pose for 5 minutes

Stretch your legs out in front of you. Roll up a blanket or towel and place it under your knees. Depending on your hamstring situation, you may also want a pillow on top of your legs to support your body.

Take a deep breath in as your reach your arms up high and then on your exhale, fold forward. Take care to land with your palms up. Arms and legs are relaxed. Tuck in your chin and let your upper back curve a little – a tiny cat (kitten?) pose feeling. Then let go and make sure none of your muscles are tense. Move your props around until they feel right. The sensation you may notice is a release in the lower back. If you’re feeling it in the hammies, you may want to prop more to give your back a chance for this beautiful release.

At this point, you’ve said a lot of nice things to yourself. Go you! While you’re settled into caterpillar pose, let your brain have a rest. Bring your mind back to your breath, feeling the back of your heart space expand and contract with each inhale and exhale. Let your thoughts float by as if they’re clouds in the sky.

Reclined butterfly pose for 10 minutes

Slowly and gently roll up to a seat from caterpillar and prepare to move into reclined butterfly pose – your last one before your final savasana. Sitting up, bring the soles of your feet to touch. Place a pillow under each knee for support and place another couple behind you to support your back. When your pillows are in position, gently lie back onto the ground with your arms out wide, palms up. As usual, you might need to spend a moment getting the props into the right places.

Now lie back, and once again let your body hang heavy. The earth will support you. Relax the space in between your eyebrows. Unclench your jaw. Let your limbs feel heavy. This yoga posture is one where you can really release. The pose is doing the work for you. You don’t have to “do yoga”, let gravity do it for you.

Having your palms up is a sign that you’re willing to receive. Think about the things you want more of in your life, and on every inhale, imagine those things flowing into your lungs and hands, filling you up. You can ask for whatever you need, big or small. Physical or emotional.  More compassion. Forgiveness. To feel supported. Or you know, a fiddle-leaf fig tree or a cookbook. Whatever you want more of in your life. No judgies. Just ask.

Savasana for 15 minutes

When your 10 minutes in reclined butterfly have ended, and you’re well and truly filled with all the things you need, remove all of your props (or keep some, it’s your practice) and move into savasana pose – lying flat on the earth with your arms and legs out wide. Let your feet flop open. Take a deep inhale and then exhale loudly with a big sigh. Maybe two more of those.

Then settle in for your 15 minutes of rest. You’ve done the work. There’s nothing left for you to do but enjoy the delicious feeling of rest. You have nothing to do. Nowhere to be. Just inhale and exhale.

What now?

Well done! You spent a lot of time nurturing yourself and watering your little seedling of self-love. What you do next is up to you. Get up slowly, giving yourself some time to get back into the bright and bustle of the world. You might want to write in your journal or make a cup of tea. The world is your oyster, and you deserve all the good things in it.

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