How are you feeling, really?
Take a moment to notice any tension that you’re holding in your body. Consciously begin to soften your forehead. Create a soft smile with your lips as you unclench your jaw. Remove your tongue from the roof of your mouth. Drop your shoulders down away from your ears. Roll your head from side to side. Sit up a little straighter. Deepen your breath. On your next inhalation, say to yourself, “I am calm.” Exhale, and feel that sentiment. As you inhale again, say to yourself, “I am peaceful.” And as you exhale, feel the peace that’s all around and within you. Lastly, inhale and say to yourself, “I am relaxed.” As you exhale, feel and surrender to that state of relaxation. Now gently close your eyes and let your focus rest on your breath as it flows in and out through your nose, filling and emptying your belly and chest.
…spend as long as you’d like here. There’s no rush to keep reading.
How are you feeling now? A bit more relaxed? This is a simple style of meditation that can help you down-regulate your nervous system into that restful state where you feel safe and can let go. Feel free to let out a couple audible sighs if that would feel nice. Maybe give yourself a gentle hug or caress. What else would feel nice? Tune into your own inner wisdom and knowings. Your body knows what it likes, wants, and needs. Take a moment to listen and respond.
As a society, we’re constantly pushing and striving and squeezing to try to create more productivity, efficiency, and busy-ness. We’re racing through life… but why? What are we gaining? (From my experience, it’s things like stress, anxiety, overwhelm, exhaustion, and burnout.) So here’s your daily reminder: it’s okay to slow down, relax, and breathe. You’re allowed to lighten up, let go, and take a break.
Obviously we need to work in order to pay our bills and take care of our responsibilities, but many of us have lost any semblance of a healthy work-life balance. We’re going faster and faster, working longer hours, always playing “catch up.” We’ve forgotten how to find our “off” switch. The good news is that relaxation is something that can be learned and practiced. This is nothing to feel guilty or selfish about. This is about giving yourself what you need so that you can show up in your life as your best self.
I am committed to helping you with this. I have dedicated a large chunk of my career to helping people relax. Since 2010, I have worked with people one-on-one in order to help them cultivate inner states of calm using practices and tools such as bodywork, energy work, yoga, meditation, and coaching. Today I have compiled five of my favorite yin yoga poses that can help you induce a state of relaxation.
As you may already know, yin yoga is a slow-paced practice that can be a great doorway into a state of relaxation. When I teach public yin classes, I have students hold each pose for 3-5 minutes. In my personal practice, however, I often hold yin postures for 10 minutes or longer. That being said, listen to your body as you settle into each shape and rest. Always give yourself permission to make any additional adjustments or modifications that would help you feel the most supported and comfortable in each posture. (Remember, the goal here is to relax as much as possible.)
Once you’re feeling settled in a pose, let yourself become relatively still. Intentionally let go of any holding, tensing, or clenching happening in your body. Bring your focus onto your breath as it flows in and out through your nose. Your breath can be natural (no need to change anything about it) or you can practice gentle pranayama exercises such as three part breathing. When you’re ready to come out of a pose, let that process be slow and gentle. In between poses, feel free to make gentle movements or find some other type of counterpose that would feel good to your body after being in one particular shape for an extended period of time.
You can practice one or two of these poses or you can allow this to be its own sequence. Alternatively, you could include some/all of these poses at the beginning or ending of a more vigorous sequence. Without further ado, let’s dive into the following five yin yoga poses that can help you relax:
Supported Fish is a chest-opening posture that can practiced with a number of different prop variations. For the sake of simplicity, I’m going to recommend grabbing a bolster or a couple pillows for this pose. Sit down on your mat with your legs extended straight. Bring the bolster/pillows behind your back so that the long ends of your prop are parallel to the long ends of your mat. The edge of your prop can hug up against your sacrum. Slowly lay back onto the prop behind you. Make sure your head is properly supported. Your legs can continue to be extended straight or you can bend your knees and plant your feet on the mat or you can point your knees toward either wall as you draw the soles of your feet together. Find the version that feels best to your body at this moment in time. Your hands can rest on your body, beside your body, or extended out toward either wall like the letter “T.” Add any other props that would feel nice.
To practice Supported Bridge, you will need a prop of your choice (i.e. block, bolster, blankets) to place underneath your sacrum (which is that triangular bone at the base of your spine). Start by lying on your back with your knees pointing up toward the ceiling and the soles of your feet resting on the mat (we call this pose Constructive Rest). Start to press down into the soles of your feet as you begin to lift your hips and low back up toward the ceiling. This is when you’ll take your prop of choice and place it under your sacrum. If you’re using a block, remember that blocks have three different height settings (low, medium, and high). Although you can use any of these settings while you rest in Supported Bridge, I generally advise to choose between the “low” or “medium” height. This will allow you the option to extend your legs (one at a time) toward the front of your mat if you want a little bit deeper of a backbend. If you opt to straighten your legs, you also have the option to play with the placement of your arms (perhaps bringing them overhead). When you feel settled in your variation of this posture, allow your body to become heavy as you sink down into the props and earth.
In the yin tradition, there are many different variations of Reclining Twists. For a simple version of this posture, lay on your back and bend your knees up toward the ceiling as you plant your feet down onto the mat. Now pick up your feet and bring them up into the air so that you create a 90 degree angle with your knees over your hips and your ankles level with your knees. Slowly start to lower your knees down toward the ground on your left side. If your left knee doesn’t come to the ground, feel free to fill the space between your knee and the ground with any props (i.e. pillows, blanket, bolster, etc.). You now have the option to extend your right arm toward the right wall. If it feels okay on your neck, you can even gently turn your head to look toward your right hand. If you arm starts to tingle at any point, you can bend your elbow and bring your hand to your chest or you can simply release your arm down beside your body. Rest here for a few minutes before switching sides.
Bananasana provides a nice side stretch throughout the body. Start by lying down on your back in a Savasana-type shape. Keep your butt right where it is as you start to move both of your feet over toward the front left corner of your mat. If you also want to bring this stretch into your upper body, you have the option to bring your arms overhead by either catching your right wrist with your left hand or you can bend your elbows and hold onto opposite forearms. If you’re bringing your arms into the pose, you can now start to move your head and arms toward the back left corner of your mat. Feel free to move your lower and/or upper body more toward the left if you have more space available. When you’re ready to settle in, you have the final option to cross your right ankle over your left ankle to help keep your body in this shape without any effort. Now allow yourself to let go for a few minutes before switching sides.
Savasana is said to be the most important pose in any yoga practice. This is because Savasana is the opportunity at the end of each class/sequence to allow the body to become still so that it can integrate all the benefits from the previous poses. To practice Savasana, lie flat on your back. Find a comfortable placement for your legs and arms. Utilize any props that would help this pose be as comfortable and effortless as possible (a bolster or rolled blanket under the knees is often nice). As much as you can, let your body sink and melt down into the ground. Consciously allow all the muscles throughout your body to become completely relaxed. It’s generally recommended to stay in Savasana for at least 10% of your total practice time; for example, if you have 60 minutes set aside for a yoga practice, linger in Savasana for at least 6 minutes of that time.
A great follow up to this practice is to now ask yourself what you need in this moment and then give yourself that very thing as a gift. Maybe that’s a cup of tea or a nap or a few minutes journaling or maybe it’s turning on Netflix. You honestly don’t need me to tell you what to do. You know what works best for you. Remember that you are both capable and worthy of rest and relaxation. I’m honored to be here if you need any additional help along the way.