Published: 17 November 2020. Written by: Fi Clark, Head of Yoga at FLY LDN
With our work and home life boundaries becoming increasingly blurred, allow Fi Clark – Head of Yoga at FLY LDN – to offer some kind words and restorative yoga poses.
By nature, I am a relatively very active person. When I think back to my twenties, I’ve had an extremely fast-paced life. I worked in publishing and was always rushing around London, cramming lots into my weekends – not ever letting the dust settle. I would never have dreamt of going to a slow yoga class like yin. In fact, I doubt I even knew what yin yoga was.
I was in my mid-thirties, training to teach ashtanga vinyasa yoga (a more energetic form of practice) when we had a guest tutor teach us an hour of yin. And boom! That was my personal practice changed for good. I’d never felt energised from being still before – for someone who mentally and physically fidgets as much as I do, that says a lot.
Something in me shifted. I realised I needed to complement my dynamic life and yang yoga practice with yin. The penny dropped; if I was to ensure my body was nourished and open, and in order for me to live a healthy and sustainable life, I needed more balance.
What is yin yoga?
Yin is a very deep form of yoga and roots itself in ancient practices linked to Chinese medicine. It’s believed we have thousands of meridians – or energy conduits – flowing through the body, and if the network is disrupted, then blockages occur and the body can’t function properly.
Yin serves to clear energetic and physical blockages in the body by holding seated and supine postures typically for between 2 and 5 minutes, helping to release tension in the fascia (the connective tissue in our bodies). It also increases range of motion in the joints and lengthens tight muscles (hello laptop balanced on a pile of books).
While some yin postures are incredibly restorative, some can bring a feeling of discomfort; it’s all about finding your edge and breathing space into that body part over the duration of the hold. Yoga props (bolsters, blocks, blankets, etc) can be used to ensure the body is completely supported.
Once your body is set up in a posture, the practice is very similar to a meditation practice where you master stillness and then focus your mind on your breath, allowing the body to release and welcome in head space and mental clarity.
Can anyone do yin yoga?
The good news is that yin is suitable for all levels of experience whether you’re someone who is a HIIT junkie, a marathon runner or a power yoga veteran, all the way through to first-timers. It is a gentle ‘gateway’ into yoga for those testing the waters, and because it doesn’t require any strength, speed or a knowledge of postures, there’s plenty of time to adjust your pose.
How can yin yoga help during lockdown?
Sharing a one-bedroom flat in central London with my partner, and no outdoor space, while he continues to work from home, has been an intense experience throughout lockdown. We forget that so much of our daily mobility – commuting or popping out to get lunch – vanishes when we are working at home, causing achy, stiff bodies and mental and physical fatigue.
I was teaching a yin-based practice twice a week through Instagram Live for almost five months at the start of the year, and they quickly became the most popular classes I ran during lockdown.
When your world (and the rest of the world around you!) feels like it’s spinning out of control and you feel overwhelmed by the news, your workload and constant WhatsApp updates, the best antidote is to carve out time for the absolute opposite. To be still. Take time to digest and declutter the busy mind, and focus more on inner perspective rather than the stress, upheaval and big life changes that lockdown has thrown at us.
The messages I received daily from people, saying how much yin was helping them deal with anxiety, how it was the highlight of their week, and how working from the kitchen table was taking its toll but yin was helping, were so touching.
How to practise yin yoga
First, prepare a space which feels calm. Make sure you have low lighting or candles and the space is warm and quiet, so you can really switch off. You’ll need a yoga mat, cushions/bolster, a blanket, a yoga brick (or thick book) and a slim yoga block (or slim book).
The following postures will open your hips, quads and inner thighs, lengthen and release compression from your spine and help stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system which is our ‘rest and digest’ trigger. When the nervous system is soothed, this signals to the body and mind that it’s in a safe environment to sleep and restore after the day’s activities.
Posture 1: Dragon pose
Starting with the right foot planted to the top right corner of your mat with the knee bent, place a bolster (or cushion) underneath your left knee to give you some support. Ensure your right knee is directly over your ankle and then let your knee fall out to the right side, resting your right hand on your thigh. If you want to work deeper and also integrate an opener for your left hip flexor and quad, bring your left heel inwards so that you can gently cradle your back foot with your right hand. Hold for up to 5 minutes and then repeat on the other side.
Good for… opening the hips if you’ve been sitting down all day.
Posture 2: Supported child’s pose
Kneel on the floor with legs as wide as feels comfortable for your hips, and the tops of your feet resting on a blanket with the big toes connected. Place either a yoga bolster or two pillows between your legs on the floor and lean forwards onto the props to fully support your belly, chest and one side of your face. Arms are relaxed to the side. With your eyes closed, focus on the journey of your breath moving in and out of your body and slow it down to a count of 3-4 seconds in and out. Halfway through your hold, change the direction of your face to give your neck an equal stretch. Hold for at least 3 minutes, preferably up to 5 minutes.
Good for… calming the mind if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Posture 3: Reclined butterfly pose
Place a slim block under your glutes and lie on your back with a bolster/cushions under your spine lengthways and a block under the end of the bolster that’s furthest away from you to create a comfortable recline. Bring the soles of your feet together to form a diamond shape with your legs. Your feet can either be resting on the ground, or if that is too intense for your hips and inner thighs, you can elevate your feet using a yoga block or a thick book. For a deeper hip opener, draw your heels inwards, and equally for a less intense hip opener, elongate the diamond by taking your feet further away from you. Let your arms relax to where it feels natural. With a relaxed jawline and forehead, bring awareness back to your breath, feeling your chest naturally lift and fall with your breath. Hold for up to 4 minutes.
Good for… opening the chest, back and shoulders – great if you’ve been on a laptop!
Posture 4: Melting heart pose
Kneeling on a blanket with knees underneath hips, reach forearms forwards to rest on a bolster/cushions towards the top of your mat and allow your head to suspend to form an arch in your thoracic (upper-mid spine) through a melting sensation of your heart towards the earth. If that’s too intense for your upper back and shoulders, bring your prop closer so you can also rest your head down. Hold for 3 minutes.
Good for… bringing space to your upper-mid spine and letting go of the day’s stresses.
Posture 5: Supported bridge pose
Lying on your back with knees bent, push your feet down into the mat to elevate the hips enough to slide your bolster/cushions underneath your pelvis and glutes (make sure it’s not under your lower back). Rest your hips onto your props and either keep your knees bent, or for a deeper release into your lumbar and lower thoracic spine, straighten your legs out. Hold for 3 minutes.
Good for… Expanding the abdominals, chest and quads if you’ve been sitting for a long period of time.
If you want more tips for when you’re working from home, take a look at how you can be kinder to your back.
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