As we start to leave behind the darkness of winter and the green shoots start to appear from under the earth, we enter the season of the wood element in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
The meridians that are connected with the wood element are the Liver and Gallbladder - organs that are responsible for the body’s natural detoxification process.
After the stagnation of Winter, the earth goes through a transformation and so do we.
By stimulating the flow of chi around the body with a targeted Yin Yoga practice we can feel more energised and ready to make new plans, to shed our old layers and do some ‘spring cleaning’.
- Laura McDonald
The energy of Spring is upward and expansive, when our Wood element is in balance we can harness this energy to see through new plans and to make important decisions.
When our wood element is out of balance this upward energy can give rise to mood swings, frustrations and anger outbursts. We can be over controlling and seeking perfection.
In an opening 5 minute meditation (in any comfortable sitting position), we can simply allow the breath, without the need to control or perfect, simply letting the breath find it’s own rhythm. Let thoughts and feelings move through you, without adding any drama. Notice when thoughts and feelings come up, let them go, returning to the breath.
WIDE-LEGGED CHILD'S POSE/FROG
The Liver channel runs from the big toe, up the inner seam of the leg, up through the groin and pelvis and into the abdomen, so any poses that create a groin stretch will help to harmonise the flow of chi along this channel.
The three principles of Yin Yoga
1. Play your edge
2. Find Stillness
3. Hold for time
You can take the knees as wide as you like until you feel a tug on the groin area. You can rest the forehead on a block or cushion if it doesn’t reach the floor.
After 3-5 minutes in wide-legged child’s pose, you might like to experiment by taking the feet wider, into Frog pose. Working with your own unique anatomy, the pose is correct when you feel sensation in the groin area.
Next we focus our attention on the Gallbladder channel, which starts at the outer corner of the eye and goes around the ear and the side of the head, running down the back of the neck, across the shoulder before making a zig-zag down the side of the body, the side of the hip and buttocks, the outer side of the thigh and leg before ending at the fourth toe.
The shoelace pose targets the glutes, so we might feel it at the side of the hip, around the buttocks and also the area from the hip to the knee, the IT band.
This version of the shoelace with one knee stacked on top of the other does not work for everyone. Feel free to ‘loosen’ the shoelace by bringing one shin in front of the other.
As you fold forward the sensation should be in the glutes, especially on the leg that is on top or in front but some people do feel sensation on both sides.
Hold for 3 minutes on each side (it’s nice to take some time in between sides to relax and feel the rebound of the pose)
SHOELACE WITH SIDE BEND
Because the Gallbladder channel runs along the side body, a side body stretch is a nice addition. You can do this in the shoelace pose or in any seated position.
This feels a bit more Yang, a bit more muscular, so you might only hold this for up to a minute on each side.
RECLINING ALTERNATIVES TO SHOELACE POSE
These reclining poses are another great way to target the glutes. Which is your best glute stretch?
Have a play around and experiment to find which one works for you. Remember to do both sides, perhaps taking time to relax in between the sides
EYE OF THE NEEDLE
STRADDLE POSE OR BUTTERFLY POSE
Back to the target area of the groin, which one of these gives you the best groin stretch? It’s also possible that you will feel a sensation around the hamstring area.
If you are new to the practice of Yin Yoga a 3-minute hold is a good place to start. More experienced students could hold between 5 and 10 minutes.
When forward bending it can be a good idea to sit up on something, which will tilt the pelvis forward and help you to come forward. Make use of any props that you have available, resting on a bolster or a block is a good way to encourage your muscles to relax.
Allowing the spine to round is a good way to ‘stress’ the spine, helping to strengthen the ligaments around the spine. Do not be afraid of this unless you have a back condition that means it’s not advisable for you to round the spine, such as a bulging or herniated disc.
SWAN OR DEER POSE
In Yin Yoga it’s called ‘Sleeping Swan’ you might know it as pigeon pose.
In a functional approach to yoga, what the pose looks like is irrelevant. What matters is the function of the pose or how we reach the target area.
Here my intention is to target the glutes, so if feel a glute stretch I know I am targeting that area. Watch out for the knees, you do not want to feel this in the knees.
Feel free to explore the pose to find what works for you, foot forwards more or in closer, knee further out or further in, pelvis tilted or level, the angle of the torso. What works for you will depend on your own unique anatomy.
I am also including the deer pose where the back leg is bent as some of my students find this much more effective than the swan pose.
3 to 5 minutes on each side. I like to come into a down dog after each side, it’s a nice counterpose, but you might prefer to rest in between the sides.
Don’t be alarmed if some emotions are stirred up when you practice these poses.
The more we try to hold in our emotions the stronger they become, so let them move through you, acknowledge them and let them go, using your breath as a way to gently move energy around the body.
Now it’s time to come into your final savasana. Let your hair down, put on an extra layer of clothing or wrap yourself in a blanket.
Scan your body, noticing if you are holding on to tension anywhere, making a conscious effort to let go.
Pay attention to your breath and how the breath ebbs and flows without your effort.
Notice how you feel, without judgement. How does the practice affect you physically, mentally and emotionally.
Spend 5 to 10 minutes here in stillness before coming back into your body, wiggling toes and fingers, gently stretching out before rolling onto your side.
Move slowly, enjoying the Yin side of life.
To come full circle, return to the seated meditation you began in.
Images courtesy of Jo Ellis
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Laura has been practising Yoga since 2005 and qualified as a Bikram Yoga Teacher at Bikram’s Yoga College of India in Palm Desert, California in 2009. Since then she has taught full time all over London and beyond.
What Laura likes most about the yoga she teaches is it’s accessibility to all body types, all ages, all shapes and sizes and all abilities. She is committed to helping people find the therapeutic benefits of a yoga practice for themselves.
You can find Laura at the following studios :