self-love spotlight: yin yoga for moon cycles (or whenever)
If you’re like me, the idea of putting on tight pants and getting sweaty for a hot vinyasa class sounds like the worst when you’re bleeding, bloating, and low-energy. Even traditional schools of yoga, like Ashtanga Vinyasa, encourage women to take time off from a vigorous practice when they’re on their moon cycles. And yet, all those benefits we get from yoga (stress and pain relief, flexibility, awareness of our emotional body) are the best when we’re more emotionally and physically sensitive.
That’s why I love Yin yoga for moon cycles.
Yin yoga is different from Yang styles of yoga (Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Hatha) in that all poses are passive and you stay in them for up to 20 minutes. Yin focuses not on strengthening and lengthening the muscles of the body but on the deep connective tissues (joint capsules, ligaments, tendons, and bones.)
*Note- Yin yoga is not just slow yoga and it’s also not restorative yoga. Yin yoga stresses the body to make it stronger, unlike restorative yoga that is designed to bring about healing to injuries. It’s important not to stress injured areas until they’re ready to be. Feel free to contact me a firstname.lastname@example.org for questions.
Why is Yin yoga so great for moon cycles?
It can help release emotions.
The stillness in a Yin posture allows for meditative observance. When you’re in practicing Yin, try to observe the physical sensations of being in the pose. You may also be able to notice emotions that come to the surface. We store emotions in different places in the physical body through peptides. This concept is explained by neuropharmacologist Candace Pert:
“A feeling sparked in our mind-or body-will translate as a peptide being released somewhere...This means the emotional memory is stored in many places in the body, not just or even primarily, in the brain. You can access emotional memory anywhere in the peptide/receptor network, in any number of ways. I think unexpressed emotions are literally lodged in the body. The real true emotions that need to be expressed are in the body, trying to move up and be expressed and thereby integrated, made whole, and healed.”
Tapping into these spaces holding on to emotions in the body can allow for release, but only if we are present enough to acknowledge that they are there and let them release. So if you do feel something come up, try not to get attached to it, figure it out, or get rid of it. Just watch it. See if it changes. See if the physical sensation changes. If you want to cry, cry. If you want to scream, scream. Then watch what happens afterwards too.
When we don’t have a lot of extra energy in the first place, we might not want to do a vigorous practice. Yin consists of passive stretches that require little physical energy to stay in. As you stay in the posture, your tight muscles and connective tissues will begin to release and relax. Much of our stress is stored in the physical body as tension. Because Yin yoga is a passive practice aimed at releasing tension, it’s particularly more relaxing than other forms of yoga. In a time when you find you might have less patience and more anxiety, Yin can be a calming balm to our entire body.
It can help us deal with pain.
Yoga is proven to help us be more resistant to pain by helping us manage stress at a neurological, unconscious level, as is described in this Harvard article. Since some of us have killer cramps, this can be an especially powerful tool while menstruating. You can strengthen this superpower by observing sensations in the body and training the body and mind to perceive ‘pain’ in a different way.
When you’re in a posture, try not to label things you feel as good or bad, painful or pleasurable. Go beyond the mind’s label and feel how those sensations appear in the mind. How do you become aware of them? What is your mind’s natural response? Do you shy away from sensations? Do you constantly push yourself to your max? Observing these sensations and our reactions to them can help make us aware of our pain/stress response, therefore helping us regulate our perception of them on a deeper level.
Yin Yoga Sequence for Releasing Emotions, Pain Relief, and Relaxing
As you’re going through these postures, there’s no need to control the breath. Allow it to be natural, but be aware that you continuously breathe. If you notice that it’s difficult to breathe or that you’re holding your breath, it’s a good sign you’ve gone too far into a posture. Remember, you want to stay at 50-70% of your maximum stretch. Notice if you often stay above or below this threshold.
The sensation you should be feeling in the target area should be an all-over stress or stretch in a wide area. If you feel localized pain, that feels more like a point than an area, you may be hitting compression (bone touching bone). This doesn’t mean you’re bad at this posture or yin yoga--it may mean that you’re so flexible you need a different posture to get the stretch or that your bones are shapes in such a way that this posture isn’t the best for you. Again, feel free to email me if you’re hitting this problem!
Hold time: 4 to 5 minutes
Target area: Inner groin, adductor muscles
Getting in: Laying on your back, on a pillow or a bolster, bring your heels together and close to your hips. Let your knees fall out to the sides, allowing them to rest on blocks or pillows. This will allow the muscles in the groin to completely relax, rather than grip.
Moving through: Enjoy the sensations in the groin as you feel your knees become heavier. Breathe into the chest.
Getting out: Roll to your left, your Yin side, and sit up.
Take Rest for 1 Minute
In between each Yin posture, we take rest. This gives us a chance to observe how each pose acts on our body. You can rest on your back, belly, or left side (the left side of the body is the Yin side).
Hold time: 4 to 5 minutes
Target area: Hamstrings, lower to upper back, neck
Getting in: Extend your legs out in front of you, keeping your knees together and rotated up towards the ceiling, not out to the side. Rotate your hips forward, if you need to bend your knees to do this, do so, and fold over your legs. Allow the back to round so that you can get a full stretch through the back. Allow the head to hang to also release the back of the neck. You can place pillows under your chest for support or place your head in your hands if the neck stretch is too intense. You can also sit on a cushion to rotate the hips forward.
Moving through: Initially, find your edge. The place where you feel strong sensations, but where you can still breath comfortably. This should be around 50-70% of your maximum. If you feel your edge moving out in front of you and that there’s more space available, move deeper to hit your edge once again. You can slowly work towards straightening the legs and bringing the head and chest closer to your legs.
Coming out: Slowly roll down to lay on your back.
*Contra-indication: This pose can aggravate sciatica, so if you do have sciatica skip this or sit on a bolster. If you have a lower back condition that prevents you from flexing the spine, try to keep the back as straight as possible.
Hold time: 2.5 to 4 minutes on each side
Target Area: Hip flexors
Getting in: From all fours, step your right foot forward so that your right foot is under your right knee. Scoot your left foot back and rest your left knee on the floor so that your hips have space to stretch downwards. You can allow your head to hang or rest your forehead on your knee to stretch out the back of the neck as well.
Moving through: This stretch sometimes gets more intense as time passes, so stay present with your edge. Adjusting the weight on your hips even slightly can affect the intensity. Move slightly and slowly as you move deeper or back off.
Coming out: Bring the upper body up and step the front foot back, moving slowly. Lower yourself down to your belly.
Take Rest for 1 minute and then do the left side. While you’re resting observe the different sensations between sides.
*Contra-indication: This may be uncomfortable for the back knee, so feel free to support it with a blanket or a pillow.
Hold time: 2.5 to 4 minutes on each side
Target Area: Outside of the hip (abductor muscles), inside of the thigh (adductor muscles)
Getting in: This posture is similar to Hatha yoga’s pigeon posture. From all fours, bring your right leg forward, scooting the right knee over to the right side of the mat and bringing the right foot over to the left. You can try to scoot the right foot forward to make a 90-degree angle with your knee and flex your foot, however, it’s not necessary. Ensure that the inside of the knee doesn’t protest. Tuck your back toes under and move your hips backward. Try to level the hips--if this is hard and you’re rolling to the right, you can stick a pillow under your bum for support. Fold over your front leg until you hit your edge.
Moving through: Stay aware of your edge, either moving further in or intentionally backing off slightly if necessary. Try to stay with the sensations rather than reacting to fears of the mind. As this pose affects the hips, you may feel a lot of heavy emotions come up. Watch and let what needs to come up, come up.
Coming out: Roll to the right, lengthen your right leg back and lay on your belly.
Take Rest for 1 minute, then, do the same for the left side. Your skeletal and muscular structures may not be symmetrical (this is totally normal!) so this may look different from the first side. Instead of judging, try observing with a sense of curiosity.
*Contra-indication: If you have bad knees, this may be too much. Watch for pain in the inside or outside of the knee.
Hold Time: 2.5 to 4 minutes for both legs together or for each side
Target area: Thighs (quadriceps), hip flexors, low back (lumbar spine)
Getting in: Sit on your heels or in between your feet. Place your hands behind you and walk them backward. If you still have room, go down to your elbows. If you have more room, come to lay all the way down on your back. You can bring your arms overhead and grab opposite elbows if that feels good to you. You should feel a big stretch over your quadriceps, and possibly over the top of the knee. If you feel anything in the inside or the outside of the knee, try to do one side at a time by extending one leg out in front. The pelvis doesn’t have to stay neutral there and you may find relief for your knees.
Moving through: If you find you have more space as the posture goes on, move deeper. If you’re already laying down, try tucking your pelvis under and pressing your low back to the floor. If you are doing one leg at a time, you can bring the heel of the extended leg close to your hip with your knee up to the ceiling or pull that knee into your chest.
Coming out: If you’re doing both legs at the same time, slowly push yourself up using your hands. You can come forward and lay on your belly. If you’re doing one leg at a time, roll away from your bent leg and bring it out from underneath you to lay all the way down on your back with legs straight.
If you’re doing one side at a time, take rest for 1 minute between sides.
*Contra-indications: If you have bad knees and can’t find a place where they don’t protest, this pose might not be for you. If the tops of your feet hurt as they’re pressing into the ground, place a pillow or blanket underneath you.
Hold time: 5 minutes each side
Target area: Spine, Outer hips (Abductors)
Getting in: From laying on your back, bring your knees up to 90 degrees and stretch your arms out at shoulder level. From here, either drop your knees together to the left or wrap your right leg over your left once or twice and then bring them to the left. You can place a pillow under your knees if they don’t reach the floor or if your right shoulder is coming off the mat. If your arms start to tingle, you can bring them down by your sides. You can play around with looking in the opposite direction or the same direction as your legs.
Moving through: You may find as the posture goes on that you can melt further into the twist. If you’re using a pillow you may be able to remove it. Melt, enjoy, feel.
Getting out: Bring your knees back to center and slowly stretch out your legs. You may feel it more as you rest between sides than when you’re in it in the first place, so take a full one-minute rest between each side.
This is your final rest, similar to Savasana in Yang styles of yoga, so take at least 10 minutes.
Laying on your back, take your legs apart as much as you'd and your hands away from your body. If you feel comfortable, close your eyes. You can also lay on your belly or your side if that feels more comfortable to you. Observe the sensations in your body, without labeling them. Observe any emotions that have come up, without judgment.
Want to learn more about going Yinside?
I’ll be hosting a Yin and Yang Yoga retreat in one of the most high-vibrational, bio diverse places on the planet in February 2020! Check my website to find out more and mention this article for 10% off the total price. <3 Much Love
Written with love by Kristen Koester-Smith of copybykristen.com, providing copywriting and storytelling for brands of integrity.