Yin Yoga | For the Spine

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Nancy Nelson

The spine plays a crucial role in all movements that the body creates on a day-to-day basis. Whether you are commuting back and forth, chasing your kiddos around the neighborhood, lifting heavy boxes to help someone move, or even sitting at your desk – your spine determines the way you feel before, during, and after movement. I hope this sequence helps alleviate chronic and acute back pain as well as prevent you from straining your back in the future. This is a good one to incorporate at least once a week!

My Playlist

  1. Block down the spine (12m) – This is just one of those things that makes me feel taller after doing it. Every part of your spine matters – from cervical, to thoracic, to lumbar, it houses your spinal cord as well as helps bring blood and nutrients to the brain. Breathe deeply and consistently while in these variations to create space between the vertebrae.
    • 5 min – Upper back w/block vertically placed between shoulder blades
    • 3 min – Middle back with block horizontally placed at tips of shoulder blades
    • 4 min – Low back (sacrum)/Supported Bridge Pose









2.  Butterfly Pose (5m) – Begin upright, breathing long breaths. At the top of the inhale feel the crown of the head rise as the spine is lengthened. After you’ve taken a few breaths there, use your exhales to slowly lower you forward. At each moment you feel sensation, pause and explore that sensation with your breath. Once the intensity settles a bit, then deepen until you find a place to land and surrender.









3. a)1/2 Pigeon Pose (R Leg forward) (5m) – From butterfly, keep the right leg out in front of you drawing the heel as close in to the hip as you need, while extending the left leg to the side (twisted deer variation) or back of the mat. Like the previous pose, take some breaths to lengthen the spine and then eventually settle into the fold. Use as many props as you need to make this pose accessible and pain-free.

b) Wide Leg Janu Sirsasana Lateral Stretch (R foot to L inner thigh) (3m) – From pigeon, rock onto the right hip and come into a wide leg stance at the long edge of the mat. Take the right foot into the left inner thigh. Take a block to the inside of the left leg (you can play around with placement that feels best for you). Place your left elbow on the block and rest your head into the palm of the hand. Opposite arm can stay at your side, or to intensify the stretch in the side body, take it overhead and rest it on the opposite side of the head. You can also increase intensity by lowering the block a level or removing it completely.









(repeat two poses on other side) 

4. Catepillar Pose/Forward Fold (4m) – Starting in a seated position with legs straight out in front of you, locate a firm seat (using a blanket under the hips if your low back is strained in any way). Breathe a few breaths into the spine from an upright position and then take a few breaths to lower you forward. I like to use a bolster under my chest or block under my head (sometimes both!), so get creative with props and find a place to land here.








5. Table Top (Cat/Cow Variations 5b)Thread the Needle (4m e/s) – Starting on your hands and knees take a few rounds of cat and cow. Inhaling to reach the heart forward, tailbone high; Exhaling to draw your spine toward the ceiling, rounding the back and sending the gaze to the belly button. Move through 5 rounds of this.

From a neutral spine, root into the left hand as the right arm extends toward the sky. As you exhale, thread the right hand across and through to the left side of the mat, resting your shoulder and the corner of the head on a prop or your mat. Left arm can stay, reach forward, or wrap around the back (pictured).









6. Melted Heart Pose (4m) – From a neutral table top position, take a deep inhale and as you exhale begin to walk the hands forward until you reach a stopping point and melt the heart toward the earth. You can support your chest or forehead with a block if it helps you. If you want to increase sensation, you can bend your elbows 90 degrees bringing the palms together above your head and then reach the thumbs toward the base of the neck.

(Repeat on the other side)






7. Belly: Shoulder Rollover (4m each side) – Come to your belly and reach your left arm out 90 degrees from the body. Place your right hand under the right shoulder and bend the right knee (first picture). Begin to press into the right hand and roll onto the left side body (second picture). If you feel good here, land the right foot behind the left leg and breath into the shoulder stretch. You can relax the top arm in front of you for support, wrap around your back or even interlace all 10 fingers behind you. **Make sure to maintain the 90 degree shape in the arms if you interlace.









(Repeat on second side)

8. Reclined [Bound] Twist (from stomach) (4m each side) – Reach the right arm forward and roll onto the right side body, resting the head on the arm (first picture). Take your left leg forward, 90 degrees from the body (second picture). You can pause here and begin to rotate the spine back toward the floor behind you. OR you can bend the right knee and reach for the ankle/foot with your top hand (third picture). If you can bind with the foot, relax the head back down and begin to rotate the top shoulder back, moving into the twist.









(Repeat on second side)

9. Savasana (5-7m) – Find a place where you can simply rest into the new space you’ve created in your body. Rest here for several minutes and then close by gentle coming back to a seated position, and thank yourself for the practice you took the time to explore in your body and mind!


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15 Responses

  1. Thanks for sharing this! Love your yin sequences! I would like to seek your advice on yin poses for people with back pain/issues. Yin forward folding postures generally allows for rounding of the spine, but this idea seems to counter with the hatha style of practice where spinal flexion is not recommended for people with back issues due to compression of the vertebral discs. Can’t seem to figure this out..could you share some insights on this??

    1. Hey there! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. This is a great question. For anyone with this type of back issues (ie. bulging discs, trauma to the lower back or the neck, etc.), I highly encourage keeping the spine long vs. rounding it, even when practicing yin. This is something I voice when teaching, but don’t always include on my blog. I should remember to mention this when writing my posts so there’s no confusion especially to those who are not as body-aware or are early in their practice. In hatha yoga, since you’re focused on more superficial tissues of the body (muscles, skin, etc.) and you are in a heated room moving through dynamic stretches, it’s important to stay strong and engaged when doing deep stretches so that you don’t cause any kind of damage to the tissues. The yin tissues (connective tissues such as fascia, the joints, bones, etc) are accessed most safely and respond best to a cooled room and longer held, gravity-induced stretches. The rounding of the spine in the yin practice will not harm the non-injured person’s back because you are not rushing into and out of the pose. You gradually enter the posture over the course of 3-7 minutes (on average). Does this difference make sense?

  2. Thank you so much for this sequence! I love the way you explain all the poses, it’s really easy to follow. And the images are also very helpful. Great job!!

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Titles for Website (38)
Nancy Nelson
Nancy Nelson
Nancy is the fearless leader here at Nancy Nelson Yoga! She has been instructing yoga since 2012 and is certified as a Registered Yoga Teacher (E-RYT 500, YACEP) with Yoga Alliance. She loves guiding yoga classes in all forms – from sweaty vinyasa flows, to slow mindful movement - but her favorite style to practice and teach is yin yoga. She attended a formal 50-hour Yin Yoga training with Bernie Clark and Diana Batts in the fall of 2018 and it truly propelled her into developing her yin focused website, webinars and trainings.

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