One of the main benefits of a yoga practice is its calming influence on the mind as well as the body. Asanas (poses) are intended to bring the focus inwards to prepare us for meditation where our busy minds can find some peace. Perhaps we simply want to take some quiet time for ourselves after a busy party season; maybe we’re struggling with the long darkness of winter or feeling helpless during a period of change in our lives. Whatever is causing you stress and anxiety, yoga will always be a comfort to you. Yin yoga will give you the space and time to flood your body with positivity and calm. Here are the best asanas to practice to beat the winter blues, from Sampoorna – Yoga Teacher Training School India with love. Stay in each pose for five luxurious minutes…
1. Child’s pose
Here you have the ultimate restorative pose, something you can drop into behind your desk (or sofa!) for a few breaths any time you feel life and darkness getting on top of you. From an all-fours position (tabletop), slowly lower your hips back, reaching your tailbone towards your heels, laying your belly over your thighs. You can also choose wide-legged child’s pose, with the toes touching and knees turning out to the width of the mat for an even more restorative position. Your arms can stretch out in front of you or remain by your sides in classic Balasana to relax your shoulders, forehead on the floor. This pose soothes us when we feel cold, vulnerable or anxious by stimulating the kidney and urinary meridians (energy channels) in the body.
2. Quarter dog pose
Starting again in tabletop position and slowly lowering your tailbone towards your heels, this time extend your arms out in front of you and keep the hips high above the heels. Folding one arm in front of you to cushion your forehead, keep the other stretched out and let your back arch, allowing your belly and chest to fall to the floor and your shoulders to open. Try three minutes on each side to stimulate your lung, heart and urinary meridians which will make you feel more positive about your life and give you a feeling of peace and calm.
3. Caterpillar pose
You may recognise this seated forward fold as ‘restorative paschimottanasana’ in your yang classes, but did you know that this is one of the best poses for relaxing the mind and stimulating the urinary meridian, giving us great inner strength, optimism and courage to face the world? Sit with both legs stretched out in front of you, feet hip-width apart and fold fully forward so your belly is lying on your thighs. If you have tight hamstrings or lower back, you can support your hips and knees with cushions or blankets. Keep the knees slightly bent if you have very tight hamstrings.
4. Lying Butterfly pose
Again, you may recognise this pose as Supta Baddha Konasana from your yang classes, but did you know that it helps relieve the symptoms of stress and mild depression? It’s great for stimulating the heart and circulation, as well as the kidney meridian. It will have the effect of encouraging a feeling of optimism and courage, as well as bringing you peace and calm. Bring your feet together and allow your knees to drop to the sides. You can either rest back on your elbows, lie back on a bolster or pillow or simply rest on the floor for five minutes.
5. Dragon pose
This is a low lunge/lizard position in Yin that works a number of key meridians, including the kidney and urinary meridians and the stomach, spleen, liver and gall bladder. As a good all-rounder for mental health, stimulating these meridians will encourage a sense of kindness and tolerance towards others, as well as help to rid you of self-doubt, anxiety, insecurity or despair. From a low lunge with one foot in front of you and hands to the floor either side of your foot, slowly lower the thigh of your rear leg until you feel a stretch along your hip flexor at the front. You can bring your hands to your top knee or lower onto your forearms on the inside of the bent leg, hands in prayer position, for a deeper stretch. Find the place that works best for you.
6. Spinal twist
This pose is great for stimulating the kidney, bladder, urinary and gallbladder meridians. The gallbladder meridian is responsible for a sense of tolerance and kindness towards others but in negative terms, if it is blocked it is also responsible for a sense of guilt, rage, criticism and judgement which can also be directed internally. Be kinder to yourself and others by taking this spinal twist. Lie back on the floor, with knees bent and feet flat to the floor. Allow your knees to drop to one side, keeping the opposite shoulder on the floor. Raise your opposite arm alongside your head, bent at the elbow, to increase the stretch. Your other hand can rest on your top knee or on your abdomen for five minutes on each side.
7. Corpse pose
Contrary to its ghoulish name, good old Savasana is great way to calm the brain and help relieve stress and mild depression. It relaxes the body, lowers blood pressure and reduces headaches, tiredness and insomnia. As you lie back, keep your shoulder blades down away from your ears and rest your hands on your abdomen (you can also allow your arms to rest away from your body with palms facing up). Your legs should be wider apart than your hips and your buttocks, legs and feet should be completely relaxed. Relax in the stillness and let your mind go blank. If negative thoughts crowd in, focus on your breathing and the sensations in your body. Spend at least five or ten minutes in this pose.
Yin yoga is all about creating space in your joints and time for them to release, but it is also about allowing your mind the space and time to let go of everything that is not serving you. Give yourself the gift of a daily Yin mind release and find peace within. Namaste.
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