Category Archives: basics
No, I’m not really letting go of practicing, teaching, or writing about yoga… I’m just losing it from my website. Because I’m not currently teaching and I’m posting less about yoga and more about our travels, I’m dropping the ‘yoga’ part from my blog address. What was yoga.2ndavenue.ca is now just 2ndavenue.ca.
The old address will re-direct to the new one and hopefully not much gets lost in the shuffle! But please leave a comment or send me an email if something’s not working the way you think it should.
The move is also a great occasion to tweak the look of the site and add some new functionality. It’s now easy to move to the next or previous post (using the links at the bottom of each post), the front page shows the most recent posts, and you can subscribe to get new posts delivered by email.
I’m looking forward to writing more in the months to come – and hopefully making your reading experience better!
In my previous post on yin poses, I somehow completely left off ones that target the quadricep muscles at the front of the thigh. It is possible to stretch the quads in some of the postures I listed (like dragon and swan from the hip openers group and sleeping swan and thread the needle from the outer-thigh and butt stretches), but there are a few yin yoga poses that really access the top of the thighs.
So with my apologies to the fronts of my thighs, here are a few more poses that should have been part of Strike a (yin) pose.
Known as rock pose or seiza, sitting on your heels is an uncomplicated way to stretch into the quads. Some yin teachers start their classes with a short meditation in rock pose; others use it as a recovery pose after forward or backward bends; I like it in both contexts and as a quad stretch on it’s own.
Taking rock pose and lowering the back down to the mat turns it into saddle pose. Keeping one leg straight along the mat turns it into half saddle pose and often introduces a bit of a twist into the low back.
Coming out of half saddle is often a bit of a challenge; I like rolling onto my side and hugging my knees to my chest in fetal pose for a few seconds before flattening out on my back for a rest.
No list of yin yoga poses would be complete without targeting all the large muscle groups of the lower body! Hopefully my quads will forgive my original omission of quad stretching postures 😉
I re-read my post about What is Yin Yoga? and realized that it’s too abstract to be very useful to someone who hasn’t practiced yin yoga before and wonders what a class would be like. Here’s a more concrete overview of my approach to a yin yoga class and what to expect.
Of course, I’m only speaking for myself and my own experiences with yin yoga. Every teacher and every student will be different and here are lots of ways to practice any form of yoga!
Yin yoga classes are meditative in nature and typically involve students holding poses for several minutes with shorter recovery or rebound poses to break up the long holds. The focus is mostly from the knees to upper back as the lower body and spine tend to stiffen more and are better suited (e.g. less flexible) to longer holds.
My goal with a yin yoga class is to help students settle into postures and quiet their minds. I focus a lot on breathing and encourage students to use their breath to target areas of tension and exhale it away. “We’re here for three more breaths” is how I signal the coming end of most holds and it’s probably the most over-used phrase in my teaching repertoire!
I want students to identify where they feel the stretch in a posture most and then attempt to relax those muscles and any muscles not needed to hold a pose. No posture should be painful (it’s very hard to relax when you’re in pain!) and I encourage using as many props (blankets, bolsters, blocks, etc.) as desired to get comfortable.
I start my yin yoga classes with a short meditation and gentle movement exercises to warm up the neck and spine. This often involves sitting in easy pose (although it’s often not that easy!), pictured at right.
The class then moves into longer holds (generally two to five minutes, sometimes more) broken up by shorter recovery postures, which allow students to feel the impact of the holds, and more active poses to get blood and energy flowing.
I’ve outlined some typical yin yoga poses I use in my classes in another post.
I like to conclude my yin yoga classes with at least 10 minutes of relaxation, re-awakening, and closing meditation. I usually do a guided relaxation (also called yoga nidra), where I lead students through relaxing each part of their bodies.
And then it’s time to emerge from the yoga studio and go back into the real world!
I tend to think of the yin yoga poses I teach and practice in loose groupings based on their purpose within a practice and which areas of the body they primarily affect. These groupings are not absolute and students all feel postures in different ways. A pose that one person feels very intensely in one area, someone else might not feel there at all.
There are many ways to modify these postures to increase or lessen their intensity and, of course, many other possible postures to use in a yin yoga practice; these are just a sampling.
Most yin yoga poses have equivalents in other forms of yoga, but the yin versions are intended to be static, allow the muscles to relax, and exercise the joints to their full range of motion.
The neat stick figure drawings come from Yoga with Amey.
These are helpful to counteract all of the forward bending most people do throughout the day – hunching over a desk or a steering wheel. The target areas are generally the spine (anywhere from the sacrum up to the neck) and chest.
Typical backward bending poses are sphinx (shown at right) and seal.
Back bends can also be wonderful chest openers. I like using a supported fish or bridge (shown at left) to stretch the chest muscles, open the shoulders, and bring some compression into the back. I’ve previously posted detailed information on supported fish if you’d like to know more about that pose.
These are great for stretching the spine and releasing tension along the spinal column and through the shoulders. Standing forward fold (or dangling as I usually call it), pictured at right, is one of my favourite ways to release tension across the upper back and shoulders and stretch the hamstring muscles at the back of the thighs.
Caterpillar, pictured at left, is a seated forward fold that targets similar areas as dangling, although it can also be good for stretching the muscles of the buttocks (or glutes) depending on the tilt of the pelvis.
If you want to get a gentle stretch through the back of your legs, but are worried about the impact of dangling or caterpillar on your back, legs up the wall, pictured at right, is a great option. This is one of my go-to poses (as I detailed in a previous post) and is fabulous for people with lower back issues.
Other forward folds like butterfly and half butterfly (shown at left) are good for stretching into the hamstrings as well and can also target the glutes (muscles in the buttocks), inner thighs, and spine.
The inner thigh or groin area can be difficult to stretch; thankfully, there are a couple of yin yoga poses that are good for targeting this area. Dragonfly, pictured at right, and frog are the two postures I use most often. Both poses are easy to modify depending on the tilt of the pelvis and width of the legs and it’s also easy to use props to make them comfortable.
Holding a squatting pose (shown at left) for a minute or more and gently pressing the knees apart can also be an effective groin stretch, although some people feel the stretch more through their thighs or buttock muscles.
In addition to accessing the backs of the thighs by holding forward bending postures, happy baby (shown at right) is another good way to stretch the hamstring muscles. I sometimes jokingly call the pose ‘angry baby’ as the compression in my hips brings out all kinds of rage and frustration!
Most people I know complain of having tight hips. Generally they mean that their hip flexors (the group of muscles used to pull the knee upwards) feel stiff, stuck, or inflexible.
The single greatest yoga pose I know to target the hip flexors is a modified lunge (pictured at right) known as dragon. Dropping the back knee to the ground in dragon, as opposed to holding it up in a lunge, means that students can stay in the pose for a few minutes. Dragons can also target other areas and make people angry as I outlined in a previous post.
Swan, shown below in the section on outer-thigh stretches, can be another wonderful opener for the hip flexors.
In between more intense yin yoga holds, there are many wonderful postures to come into for a rest. Simply standing in mountain, shown at right, or lying flat on the mat, allows students to feel the impact of the previous hold.
In order to get blood and energy moving through the body again after poses that compress the knees or ankles, I frequently have students move their knees in windshield wipers or drum their feet and legs against the ground.
And then there’s savasana or corpse pose, the ultimate posture of relaxation!
Outer-thigh and butt stretches
Runners in particular often struggle with tightness in their outer-thighs, specifically the IT tract, which is the band of fascia that extends from the hip to the knee. Tightness in the outer-thighs generally goes hand-in-hand with unhappily tight butt muscles (also known as the glutes), which are some of the most powerful muscles in the body.
Square, shoelace, and sleeping swan (a yin version of the pigeon pose pictured at right) are all effective at targeting the muscles and fascia in the IT tract and buttocks. Lowering the chest towards the mat in these postures elongates the glutes and outer-thighs.
Threading the needle is another posture that can have profound impact on the IT tract and butt muscles. It’s one of my favourite poses and is particularly great to do against a wall.
Gentle spinal twists like cat stretch, shown at right, and two knee twist really illustrate the idea of a yin practice. Reclining twists are quite simple and it’s easy to think they’re not doing anything, but the deep stretch can be incredibly profound after a long hold.
All twists can also help open the chest and stretch throughout the hips and legs.
There are lots of other possible yin yoga poses and many more postures I regularly draw on in my classes. These are a few of the basics that give a sense of what kind of poses to expect in a yin yoga class. I’ve also done a post on what to expect more generally in a yin yoga class and what my idea of yin yoga is.
My basic definition of yin yoga is: A series of yoga postures held for longer than in a usual practice. But that’s a really short explanation that leaves a lot of room for expansion.
In yin yoga, the postures tend to be relatively easy ones (not balancing or strength poses) and the hold times are generally between two and five minutes. I like to find the middle ground in a yin yoga pose, which I often describe in Goldilocks terms; it’s not painful (like burning your mouth on really hot porridge), but it’s more than nothing (like sinking too far into a ridiculously cushy bed) – it’s that perfect balance. Enough of a stretch to feel it, but not so much that your muscles tense up and fight against relaxation.
My intent in a yin practice is to relax and gently stretch, as well as mentally settle into stillness. Holding a posture for two to five minutes (or even more) tends to be a mental test, far more than a physical one. The commitment to being in the moment -letting go of thinking, planning, and doing- is a challenge for most people.
Spending last week with Paul & Suzee Grilley really got me thinking about how I define yin yoga. It’s not a trademark or a specific limited number of postures; it’s not proscribed sequence or a meticulous list of dos and don’ts. I think it’s an attitude.
My new working description of yin yoga is: The desire to be still in a yoga practice and the intent to affect parts of the body beyond muscles through long-held postures.
Of course, if that definition fails, I can always fall back on my favourite tongue-in-cheek way to describe a yin yoga class: Lazy yoga 😉
Updated April 2012
Certifications & training
- Registered Yoga Teacher
- Yin Anatomy Workshop
Yin Yoga Teacher Training, hosted at Semperviva Yoga; Vancouver, BC
- 30 hours of study and practice with Paul & Suzee Grilley
- Yin Yoga Teacher Training
Prana Yoga Teacher College; Vancouver, BC
- 200 Hour Level I Yoga Teacher Training
Prana Yoga Teacher College; Vancouver, BC
- Standard First Aid CPR C with AED
St. John Ambulance; North Vancouver, BC
- SOYA Annual Yoga Retreat
South Okanagan Yoga Academy (SOYA); Naramata, BC
- 20 hours of study and practice with Sri Dharma Mittra
- Training for Trainers
Continuing Studies, Langara College; Vancouver, BC
- Master of Library and Information Studies
School of Library Archival and Information Studies, University of British Columbia; Vancouver, BC
- Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies with Distinction
University of Alberta; Edmonton, AB
- Requests for Proposals
Stevens Consulting Group; Richmond, BC
- The Influential Manager
Executive Education, Sauder School of Business; Vancouver, BC
- Essential Management Skills
Executive Education, Sauder School of Business; Vancouver, BC
- Project Management Basics
MICA; Vancouver, BC
- Facilitation Skills for Leaders
MICA; Vancouver, BC
- Plain Language in Written Communications
Wordsmith Associates Communications Consultants; Vancouver, BC
- Canadian Securities Course
CSI Global Education
- Facilitation skills for info pros, January 2011
Continuing Education, BC Libraries Association; Vancouver, BC
- Creating Order Out of Chaos: Writing and Maintaining Web Design Standards, October 2009
Netspeed Conference, The Alberta Library; Calgary, AB
Born and raised in Richmond, BC, I now live on the North Shore with my husband of 10 years and our small dog.
I’ve practiced yoga on and off since age 16 and it became an increasingly important part of my life three years ago when I struggled to physically balance running and horseback riding. I took up yin yoga to help loosen my hips and it allowed me to continue both running and riding.
My yin yoga practice quickly became about more than my hips and it began to transform my sense of self and view of the world. I turned to yoga and meditation to help me balance a stressful job and in early 2011 I decided to concentrate on my well-being by taking a leave of absence from work.
While on leave, I continued my meditation and yin practices and also found a wonderful kundalini yoga community. My kundalini practice and the support of teachers and other students within the close-knit North Shore kundalini community inspired me to leave my corporate job and pursue a more healthy and fulfilling lifestyle.
Yoga is an integral part of my journey to integrate all aspects of my life and find balance. I am particularly drawn to the concept that yoga is always “practice,” and not a competition for mastery. I enjoy teaching and sharing knowledge; being a yoga teacher gives me the opportunity to help others with their yoga experience and well-being.
I have experienced the transformational effects of a consistent yoga and meditation practice and want to share that power with others.