When you don’t have much time, but need to ground yourself into the body, a short yin yoga and mindfulness practice can work wonders! The following sequence can take as little as 12 minutes, or you can increase the time if you have longer available. Here is the link to the audio version, which is 18 minutes long.
Arrive and Centre
Begin by finding a comfortable way to sit and focus on the natural rhythm of the breath as it moves through the body. Take a pause and turn your attention inwards. Now soften gently. What is here? Listen to the language of the body, heart and mind and connect with whatever is here, in this moment. What sensations are present? Maybe tightness, softness or places of numbness in the body? How is your heart? The feelings, emotions and moods? Notice too what thoughts, images or stories are here, without following them, pushing them away or getting involved.
Then set your intention for the practice, maybe using words such as these:
“I commit, in this moment, to cultivate mindfulness awareness of my body, heart and mind, knowing that it is for my own deepest well-being and for the benefit of all those whose lives mine touches.”
Take time to feel how this intention can motivate you to stay present, even if you are feeling distracted. Take 12 breaths, maybe contemplating the Neruda poem given below.
A Yin Pose: Butterfly
Come now to a place where you begin to feel sensation; this is your first edge. Take a breath here and as you exhale, notice whether the sensation changes. If it eases you can move a little deeper, until you feel your next edge. Remember that you will stay here a while (3-5 minutes), so the sensation can be interesting, but not painful. A deep achy feeling is ok, but if you feel any sharp pain, particularly in the knees, then ease off straight away.
There are three guiding principles of a yin practice: 1) to move to your edge; 2) to find stillness in the body which can also show the mind how to access tranquility; and 3) to stay a while, letting time and gravity deepen the experience. See if you can release any tension or striving and instead access a sense of softening into the pose. Yin tissues have a low fluid content of 6%, so we need to work them in a different way from muscles. We hold a static, stable pose to load the ligaments and allow them to stretch slowly, while ensuring that the muscles stay soft.
Yin yoga poses allow us to stimulate the flow of energy – or chi – through the body, and improve meridian health. We invite moisture to the connective tissue, such as the ligaments and the sheath – or fascia – that surrounds all the muscles, organs, bones and nerves. By sequencing yin poses in a particular way, we can coax chi through the meridian system that runs through the fascia, in order to bring greater health to the organs, such as the kidneys, lungs, heart and liver.
While you relax into the pose, you can cultivate a longer ujjayibreath, drawing energy and your awareness into your belly, and relaxing the nervous system.
We take Butterfly in many of the yin sequences as it harmonizes the three meridian pairs of the lower body; the kidney-urinary bladder, the liver-gall bladder and the stomach-spleen meridians. We both stretch and compress the places where the meridians run through the connective tissue to increase the flow of energy through these channels. The kidney meridian will particularly help bring more energy into the lower tantien, the ground of our being.
When we are feeling fatigued, without much energy left to offer others, we can take a pose that specifically supports the kidney-urinary bladder meridian pair, as they act as a store of vital energy and need to be balanced to ensure healthy functioning of all the other organs. The kidneys are the yin organ, responsible for filtering blood, balancing bodily fluids, and regulating blood pressure and glucose levels. The urinary bladder is the complementary yang organ, where urine is stored and eliminated. The influence of this organ pair on our body-mind is connected with the limbic system, which needs to be kept cool and underactive for us to feel emotionally stable. An inflamed limbic system can cause us to have unskillful emotional responses to situations, as we may start acting from a clouded view, brought on by depression or anxiety. Yin poses in general allow us to relax muscular tension and connect with our inner environment so that we can cool the limbic system and ease feelings of emotional struggle.
Poses that support kidney health will affect our energetic, emotional and mental qualities. With healthy kidney chi, we avoid problems in the lower back, the reproductive organs and the urinary system. At the emotional level, if the kidneys are out of balance, we may experience fear of different kinds; fear of letting go or a lack of trust in ourselves, and others. With balanced kidney chi, we experience feelings of gentleness and openness, and gain greater access to our innate wisdom. At the mental level, healthy kidneys are associated with short-term memory, willpower and healthy ambition. If our kidney chi is deficient, we may lack energy or enthusiasm and have difficulty following through with our commitments.
Take two more breaths, with a short hold on the exhale. Notice the moment of quiet in both the body and mind. And on your next in-breath slowly lift up, straightening your legs out in front with you, with your hands supporting behind. You may feel tingling as the compression is released and refined chi, or energy, flushes along the meridian lines.
Once any achiness has eased, come into an upright, seated pose with the head balanced effortlessly on top of the spine and the legs and buttocks softening down onto the ground beneath.
A Mindfulness Practice
You can now move into a mindfulness practice, remembering that mindfulness is about simplicity and means that we are aware of what is happening, while it is happening, whatever is happening. Although it is simple, this does not mean it is easy, so we use different techniques to train the mind to return to its natural state of present moment awareness. Let’s explore the first foundation of mindfulness; mindfulness of the breath. Find your own natural breathing rhythm and bring clear attention to the movement of the breath through the body. You may notice the breath entering through the nostrils, moving down the back of the throat and filling the lungs as the diaphragm draws downwards. There’s no need to regulate the breath, simply watch it flowing in and flowing out. Sometimes we will experience a short breath, sometimes a longer breath, sometimes smooth, sometimes jagged. There is no right or wrong, there is just the movement of the body as it breathes.
Notice how the body knows how to breathe. It is breathing for us and we can let go and become the witness of our physical, emotional and mental experience. This practice helps us to move away from ‘doing’ mode, back to our natural state of ‘being’. Thoughts and feelings will arise, that’s ok, we can witness them without getting caught up or chasing after them. If we find that the mind has moved away from the breath, we gently bring ourselves back to the present moment, with no criticism or judgment. That moment of noticing is our moment of mindfulness, or sati, which is often translated as ‘remembering’. We are remembering to attend to this breath and the next breath, as they flow one after the other.
Continue for 6 minutes of silent mindfulness of the breath.
As you come to the end of your practice, you may like to bring your hands together at the heart and offer a dedication. We make the sincere wish that the beneficial energy we have cultivated by befriending our body, heart and mind, is sent out to all sentient beings, in ever widening circles.
“Keeping Quiet” by Pablo Neruda
Now we will count to twelve and we will all keep still.
For once on the face of the earth, let’s not speak in any language; let’s stop for one second, and not move our arms so much.
It would be an exotic moment without rush, without engines; we would all be together in a sudden strangeness.
Fisherman in the cold sea would not harm whales and the man gathering salt would look at his hurt hands.
Those who prepare green wars, wars with gas, wars with fire, victories with no survivors, would put on clean clothes and walk about with their brothers in the shade, doing nothing.
What I want should not be confused with total inactivity. Life is what it is about; I want no truck with death.
If we were not so single-minded about keeping our lives moving, and for once could do nothing, perhaps a huge silence might interrupt this sadness of never understanding ourselves and of threatening ourselves with death. Perhaps the earth can teach us as when everything seems dead and later proves to be alive.
Now I’ll count up to twelve and you keep quiet and I will go.
Powers, S. (2008). Insight Yoga. Shambhala.
Neruda, P. (1974), Extravagaria (translated by Alastair Reid)