Over the summer I’ve been walking a lot. Really, an awful lot! We have three dogs with very different needs: Dennis the oversized Labradoodle needs pace and distance (and a bit of an enthusiasm check if he happens to meet other dogs walking their owners!); Amber the hedge forager needs a big walk too but doesn’t walk well on a lead so needs a close eye keeping on her, especially if any small furries are around; Guru Bob doesn’t need to go very far but wants to take his sweet time, as you would expect from a key proponent of the yogic concept of santosha, contentment.
So, when I’ve been on sole dog walking duty over a period of several days, I end up going three times each walk, and as you can imagine – am very tired and very tight in the lower body. This will be true of most people who either do sport, or routinely walk or sit for long periods of time: those muscles just need a good stretch out to counteract the stressful effects of our activity. Therefore, lovely yogis, I’m sharing with you in this blog a 30min Yin practice which should stretch out most of the areas where you’re feeling that tension. Here goes!
Each of the main poses in this sequence should be held for (up to 5) minutes.
Get a timer. Get some props: cushions or pillows, a bolster, and maybe a yoga block and brick if you have them. Remember the three principles of yin yoga:
- Come into the pose in a way that is comfortable for you and your body right now, which means if you need props in the pose use them; if you don’t that’s fine too.
- Once you’ve come into the pose, set your timer and try as best you can to remain still. Work with your breath, which should be steady and even. If it helps plays some gentle music or use a silent manatra (“let go” is a great one) but try to stay as still as you can, breathing into the place where you’re feeling most resistance to the stretch and trying to release on each exhale.
- Remain there for time: typically we stay for only 5-10 breaths in poses in hatha yoga, but yin challenges us to much longer stays, which brings great benefits for the physical body and the energetic system as well.
Ok here goes with the poses:
Sleeping Swan (aka Pidgeon – practice both sides)
Keeping your hips square to the front of the mat, draw your right knee forward, ensuring the knee is slightly further to the right than your hip. Draw the foot up so that it’s in front of your left knee and ease the left leg back straight, with the foot in line with the leg. Take a moment to enjoy a backbend before you descent into the pose.
If you find your hip is hovering some way above the ground don’t worry, that’s quite normal! In this case you can use props underneath the hip to support, as pictured. Lower the head and chest towards the floor, either resting on another prop (a cushion for example or a bolster), or coming to rest on your hands or the floor. Release and let go of any tension through the body and breathe into the right outer hip, letting go of tension with the exhale. After your 5 minutes is up don’t forget to repeat on the other side.
Dragonfly (aka Straddle – upavishta konasana)
If you find your lower back rounds out and your hips tip back when you come into this pose, sit on a block or a cushion, just enough to tip you a little forwards. Then you can use props as is appropriate to your needs: the version of the pose above uses a bolster to rest the forehead on and is useful if you don’t get much of a forward bend in this pose. Remember if you’re feeling a stretch you’re “doing” the pose right!
The second version of straddle shown above is for those who can fold a little further forward, remember to keep the pelvis plugging down into the floor or block, and stretch forwards leading from the chest. Once you’re in situ, then you can relax everything! My feet in this picture are still a little flexed (it’s stressful doing poses on self timer, you know?!) but you should relax the feet and legs as much as possible as you sink into the deliciousness of the stretch.
If you want a more challenging stretch you could take straddle without props – but remember you’re staying here for five minutes so give yourself a break, and be very sure you want to be there with no support for that length of time before you begin!
This is a really nice stretch for the lumbar (lower) spine as well as super hamstring stretching. Again, sit on a block if you have that tipped back pelvis thing going on, and use as many or as few props as you need. Keeping the legs as straight as you can, remember to relax them once you begin the pose. The photo below shows a version for those of you who might consider using less propping. Remember to reach forward through the torso as far as you can so you’re not too curled through the spine.
Saddle (hero pose – Virsasana)
The key thing to remember in this pose is not to put too much pressure on the knees. Your ankles might feel it quite a lot too if they’re not used to being stretched. Sit on the end of the bolster with your knees on the floor and pretty much together ( a slight gap is fine if you need it). The feet extend behind you, trying to keep the tops of the feet and toes moving straight back. We’re looking for a stretch in the front of the thighs, but remember, don’t strain those knees!
If you don’t need quite so much height in the hips, and you can let your quads, ankles and knees stretch a little more, try it on a block, or you could use a cushion or thick book if you don’t have a block.
If you feel there’s more available, you could rest your sit bones onto the floor between your feet, and begin to slowly and carefully recline back, moving sensitively and only going as far as you feel is appropriate for you. Initially try coming down to your elbows, supporting yourself as you go. Don’t overstretch and be very aware of your knees at all times. If you don’t want to recline fully to the floor you could always recline onto a bolster in this pose.
This is an alternative if the suggestions above don’t suit your for any reason (tweaky knees etc) – lie on your belly, knees just a little apart but not splayed. Prop yourself up on your left forearm, and reach back for your right foot – without twisting as that’s not good for your back. If you can’t reach the foot use a belt or scarf and loop it around your foot. Carefully draw the heel towards the back of the hip, being attentive to how your knee is feeling as you go, and breathe into the stretch. Don’t forget to repeat on the other side.
And finally … Downward facing dog!
This is a great pose both to counterpose (counteract) the backbend from Saddle pose, and also a great stretch for the whole back of the body. Begin on all fours, hands underneath shoulders at shoulder width apart. Extend one leg back and press into the ball of the foot, tucking your toes. Follow with the second leg, and lift the hips back and up as you let your chest drop towards the floor, looking back towards your thighs. Keep the hands pressing forwards, middle fingers pointing straight out. Use strength in the arms and draw your shoulders away from your ears. Engage your core (“bandhas”) by drawing up through the pelvic floor and bringing your navel back towards your spine. Use the thighs, drawing up through the knee caps. Breath and enjoy!
You could then take a short spell in child’s pose, bringing the knees to the floor and taking your hips onto or towards your heels, as you rest the arms down by the sides of the body.