As a student in my first Yin class, I wanted to run out of the room. I remember this feeling of panic while in Cat Pulling Tail. Did the teacher forget we were here? How long were we holding this for? Was the feeling in my lower back a good one, or was I about the break in two?
Sitting in the silence of a Yin posture and especially a Restorative posture, can be taxing for a busy mind. For those of us without a regular meditation or yoga practice, the mind can even work against the body in these moments, causing us to tense or tighten up, and work in opposition to the benefits of the shape.
Now that I am a Yin student and a Yin teacher, I’m aware of this mental challenge that stillness can bring. Especially when teachers work with student populations exposed to stress, anxiety and/or trauma, the silence can be deafening and make it difficult to be fully present.
I have a proposed solution that I’ve begun implementing in my weekly Yin classes. We start class with a guided meditation that gives the students some themes and concepts to anchor their mind for the upcoming practice. And then we play music. Loud, music. Students hold their poses for a full length of a song and many times that song is not “yoga approved”.
A sample playlist includes Sunny and Cher’s, “I Got You Babe” where I’ve had students bop their feet to the thump-thump, thump-thump beat while holding Legs up the Wall. I’ve also played, “When it Was Wrong” by the California Honeydrops and have students giggle while holding Half-Shoelace. Some students cry while holding a Supported Bridge listening to Bruce Springsteen’s, “Jungleland”.
There are times when a student’s reaction doesn’t seem to have any connection to the song at all, they just get lost in the pose. Of course, there’s no judgment regardless of how students react. We acknowledge the moment and acknowledge the brevity of it, knowing it will only last for this one song. Then we move on to the next pose.
This untraditional (at least in yoga terms) music allows students to be fully present for the length of a posture, whether that presence is getting lost in the Yin shape or in the music. They’re fully in that moment and when the song shifts, so does their attention.
Song selection here is key – I aim to pick well known songs or covers of well known songs that don’t have any obvious triggers. I’ve included a sample playlist and Yin sequence for you to try at home or in your next class. Between each pose, there is a minute to ninety seconds of “interlude” music in my playlists. This allows students to take a counter pose and prepare for the next shape.
Another advantage of playing music, and playing it loudly, is that I am forced as a teacher to give my students the space they need to find their own space in the shape or the moment. I offer some cues and modifications while we’re setting the posture up and then I’m silent. I let the pose and the music do the work.
Perhaps this method is not a perfect fit for all studios, but I encourage you to try it in one of your upcoming classes! It’s a nice change of pace for both the students and for the teacher. Please find an example class below, I hope you enjoy!
- Bolster or Pillow
Each move is matched to a song. Between postures, a piano instrumental by Dan Kastrul plays for 90 seconds, allowing for transitional movements and counter poses to the Yin shape. Poses will be listed in order of the song they correlate with.
Ra Ma Da Sa, Snatam Kaur: Meditation/Warm Up
Start laying on your back and connect your breath with your body. Take a few deep inhales and exhale through your mouth. Then inhale and exhale with your lips pressed together, ujai breath. Take a few minutes to meditate with the gentle music, repeat a mantra or even listen to a guided meditation. Settle in to your practice.
From your back, take a few gentle windshield wiper movements, feet wide to your mat. As you open your hips, lift your arms above your head and cross your right arm in front of your left. Let your hands drop down by your shoulders, opening up your upper back. Switch and repeat.
I Got You Babe, Handsome and Gretyl: Crouching Tiger
From your supine position, come to a seated one. We’ll be moving into Crouching Tiger, wide legged squat. Feet will be wide with your heels on the mat, toes extended off the mat. You can modify this posture by taking a block on a low setting under your pelvis to rest or you can bring a rolled up blanket under your heels. Use your elbows to press your knees away from you. Settle in to the posture with a straight spine.
To transition, turn your toes forward and take a wide-legged forward fold. Perhaps you sway back and forth and come into ragdoll.
Fire and Rain, Birdy: Reclined Big Toe
We’ll come to meet on our backs. If you like, you can lay on a blanket if your mat is on a hard surface. Extend both legs long on your mat. Grab your strap and bend your right leg towards your chest. Wrap your strap around the arch of your foot and extend your leg as straight as you can. If you have tight hamstrings, you might use the strap to move your leg further away from you. If you have more flexibility, move your leg closer to your nose. Pay attention to your hips and shoulders, they should stay equally weighted along the mat.
(other side) Brown Eyed Girl, Candace Leca, Michael Paglia
When Fire and Rain is over, move to the left side as Engage your core before lowering your leg to ensure your lower back is protected.
Transition by taking a bananasana: both arms and legs move to the right side of your mat, then the left, for a lateral stretch.
I Wanna Dance with Somebody, Mark Jones & Twenty Paces: Front Groin Lift
Come to lie on your back. Bend your knees and lift your hips to lay a block or bolster underneath your sacrum. Bring your knees wide in front of you, right crossing in front of left so that you’re creating a sukhasana shape with your legs. Option to bring your arms overhead into cactus or down by your sides.
Simply the Best, Ben Haynes: Other side
Keeping your pelvis where it is, switch the order of your legs so that your left is in front of your right. Enjoy the deep opening of your hips and inner thighs.
Here Comes the Sun, JJ Heller: Dragon
Bring two blocks to the top of your mat. Begin in tabletop, pull your right knee towards your nose and step your foot between your hands. You may need to move your left knee an inch or two backwards on the mat to come into Dragon, or Low Lunge. Use the props under your hands to support you, but be sure to keep your upper body relaxed and shoulder blades down your back. You always have the option to “fly” your dragon, moving your hands to the inside of your right foot and coming down onto elbows on blocks or to the floor.
Landslide, Music Travel Love: Other side
Engage your core and move your right leg back to meet your left. Reset into tabletop. Repeat the same on your left side, remembering that your sides are different so your prop usage may be different on this side.
Have a Little Faith in Me, Olivia Penalva: Twisted Root
Come to lie on your back and settle your hips so they’re evenly supported by the floor. Engage your core and pull your knees in to your chest. Begin by giving your knees a squeeze, nose to knees. Then bring both knees together to the right side, perhaps they rest on a bolster or block if the floor is too far away.
The Climb, Jessi Alexander, Chris Stapleton: Other side
Bring your knees back to your chest and even out your hips on the mat. Repeat on the left side, opening your right arm to the right and looking to the right if you want an additional twist.
New York State of Mind, Denise, King, Massimo Farao Trio: Child’s Pose
From laying on your back, move to a table top position. Spread your knees wide and press your hips towards your heels. Come to Child’s Pose and start to slow down your practice as we come to the end. Your forehead can come to a block if that makes this more accessible for you. Feel free to also put a blanket or bolster between your seat and heels if you can’t bring your seat all the way to your heels.
Tupelo Honey, Van Morrison: Savasana
Release all the effort from class and come into Savasana. Take up as much or as little space as you want on your mat. If you like, cover yourself with a blanket or weighted blanket as you come into your final relaxation posture.
Love this concept! I have my own ways of starting off in yang style, and diving in to yin. But I’ve always thought the ‘yogi’ approach too inaccessible for the gym or sporting community.