Category:

Yoga

Yin Is The New Black

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In this post, I’m going to discuss Yin Yoga in a broad sense like an overview for those who are new to Yin Yoga. If you’re looking for Yin Yoga practice guidelines you can check out this post.

Yin Yoga has been quietly gaining popularity over the last decade or so, but there still seems to be some confusion as to what Yin Yoga actually is.

Because ‘Yin is in’ many Yoga teachers have now jumped on the Yin Yoga bandwagon without actually studying Yin Yoga or Taoism (the philosophical roots of Yin). This has created confusion as to what Yin Yoga actually is despite the increasing number of people practising Yin.

So what is Yin Yoga exactly and how is it different from other styles of Yoga that you may have practiced? Why would someone choose to practice Yin Yoga?

Before we explore Yin Yoga, I feel like it’s important to clarify that there is nothing that is 100% Yin or 100% Yang. Within the Yin Yang symbol itself, there is a white dot of Yang within the black Yin portion and a little black dot in the Yang or white portion of the symbol.

Yin and Yang are always in a state of flux and interdependent on each other. For simplicity sake, I will be presenting these as a list of opposites for comparison but please know that this is not 100% philosophically sound Yin and Yang are spectrums not fixed.

Other than Yin and maybe Restorative Yoga, most of the Yoga practiced in North America is more Yang in nature, some more so than others (Yang being a spectrum not a fixed point), but they do share some common characteristics.

Yang Yoga

Yang styles of Yoga tend to strengthen and stretch muscles. Often times there is a focus on structure, alignment and the aesthetics of a pose. In Yang Yoga, you’re likely to increase the heat, blood flow and circulation in the body due to movement and its repetitive nature.

 

 Yin Yoga

In Yin Yoga, we spend our time deeply investigating our inner landscape. One of  Yin Yogas’ super powers is the effect on the fascia of the body (fascia is the tissue that envelops, separates or binds together muscles and structures of the body).

Yin poses are more free form and there is an emphasis on function. In Yin, we are more concerned with feeling sensation in the intended areas as opposed to what the pose looks like.

We steer clear of our edge and instead work in 60-70% of our full range of motion.

Because the meridians (energy pathways) of our body are believed to be at the level of fascia, Yin Yoga accesses the Qi (energy/ life force) of our body in a deeper way than a Yang Yoga practice.

The energetic goal of a Yin Practice is also different than other styles of Yoga. In Yang Yoga styles the focus is moving energy up and out, the eventual goal to transcend the body.

Taoist Yoga is a nature-based tradition. We try to stay embodied, to cultivate energy in the meridians of the body and the Dantian or gate of life with the goal being to increase longevity.

Because the energetic intentions of Yin and Yang practices are different so are the breath techniques used. In Yang Forms of Yoga breath, techniques like Ujaii (breath with sound) and Kabalibati (breath of fire) are used to move energy upwards.

In Yin, however, we want to cultivate the energy in the belly and lower body area so diaphragmatic (belly) breathing is a foundation, in addition to circulating the breath in the meridians (energy pathways) of the body.

So there you have it, Yin Yoga 101. Yin Yoga is a Taoist form of Yoga which directs the Qi of the body through meridians of the body and cultivates the energy of the body for improved health the longevity.

Yin Yoga is still a quiet meditative form of Yoga which can be deeply restorative to the nervous system. So what I recommend for you is next time you’re heading to the Yoga studio, give Yin Yoga a try and experience this Yin magic for yourself.

Lions Breath aka The Stress Buster Breath

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Lion’s breath or Simhasana in Sanskrit is a great breath for relieving stress and releasing negativity. It’s great for ‘clearing the air’ or helping you speak your truth.

When I first practised Lion’s breath I felt a bit silly in the beginning but once I experienced the power and release of this breath I was a big fan!

You can also practice Lion’s Breath in your Yoga asanas, I specifically love this breath during cat pose. But you can practice it during class when you need a boost of internal heat and energy. Or you can practice it throughout your day when you’re feeling foggy or slow.

Here are a few of the many benefits of this fierce breath:

  • Relieves tension in the chest and face
  • Simhasana can be a useful pose for those who stutter
  • Stretches the muscles in your face, neck and throat
  • Relieves tension and tightness while improving circulation
  • It’s an energetic and awakening breath that will also help to ease the mind
  • Lion’s Breath opens the throat chakra and helps to boost confidence
  • It’s a warming breath that can increase your internal temperature

If the video below I’ll walk you through this stress busting breath.


It may feel silly at first, but stick with it and you’ll awaken your inner lion.

Ok, Lemme Hear You Roar!

ox

nyk

Yoga Words – What Does Yoga Actually Mean?

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When we say we are going to a Yoga class or we are practicing Yoga, we get a particular image in mind. This likely includes a bunch of people twisting themselves up into pretzel-like position. But what does the Sanskrit word ‘Yoga’ actually mean?

The meaning of the word Yoga is union.  It is derived from the Sanskrit root ‘yup’, (pronounced yug) meaning to join, to unite but also to control, to discipline to master. The English word ‘yoke’ is also derived from the same Sanskrit (Indo-European) root.

So although many of us think we are “doing Yoga” we are actually practicing the postures or Asana (more on that in a later post). The word Yoga actually has a much larger all encompassing meaning beyond the physical poses.

In the video below I’ll go into more detail on this.

 

So now you can tell your friends you are going to Asana class and giggle when they give you funny looks 😉

Peace, Love & Asana

ox nyk

Yin Yoga Breathing-Belly Breathing

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Those of you who have practiced Yin Yoga know that it is quite different than more Yang forms of Yoga. So it would go to follow that the breath techniques are different as well. In more active forms of Yoga the breaths are sometimes used to bring energy up. But in a Yin Practice we want to keep the energy very grounded and in the lower or more ‘Yin’ areas of the body.

One of the easiest Yin Breaths to practice is belly breathing, or Diaphragmatic breathing as it is know in anatomical circles.

Sadly in our culture we are often breathing high up in the chest or rib area and this shallow breathing limits the diaphragm’s range of motion. We aren’t using our full lungs so we aren’t using fully oxygenated air. That can make us feel short of breath, anxious and tired.

Deep abdominal breathing allows for full oxygen exchange. Full deep breathing can:

  • slow the heartbeat
  • lower or stabilize blood pressure
  • calm the mind and help with anxiety
  • bring the body into relaxation response
  • improve energy

Because most of us aren’t breathing from deep in the belly regularly at first it can feel an bit unnatural, but nothing could be further from the truth. We already breath this way when we sleep we just aren’t aware of it.

So with a bit of practice and mindfulness you’ll be able to access this breath as your default way of breathing.

In the video below I’ll walk you through ways to practice ‘Belly breathing’.

 

Deep Bows and Deep Breaths to you

ox nyk

Yoga Words – What is a Kula

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If you travel in Yoga circles long enough you are likely to stumble across words that may sound kinda funny or even intimidating. In some upcoming posts I’ll go into the meaning of these words for those of you who are new to ‘Yoga speak’. Even those of you with Yoga experience may not know some of these terms 😉

 

 

Let’s start with Kula. This word has a very similar meaning to the word Sangha. Sangha is often used in Buddhist circles to describe a group of Buddhists studying and practicing together or a spiritual community. Whereas Kula is less specific and could also refer to a tribe or even a village of people. Most often though when Kula used in Yoga circles it is used to describe Yogis and Yoginis practicing Yoga together.

Check out the video below for more detail:

So now when I call you Kula you’ll know I’m not swearing at you in Sanskrit HA!

Big Love,

ox nyk

To Round Or Not To Round – That Is The Question

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This post could stir the pot a little and maybe even cause a wee Yoga uproar. Believe it or not, Yogis just like everyone else can be pretty attached to ‘their way’ of practicing being the ‘right way’.

So if you are a Yoga teacher or a long time practicing Yogini and you are reading this, I encourage you to keep an open mind on this and try it out for yourself.

My first 300 hour teacher training was taught almost exclusively by Iyengar teachers and it was such an amazing training as it had such a diverse group of seasoned teachers. In addition to our traditional Asana training it included a strong therapeutic foundation, as well as a good degree of Restorative Yoga training.

sportswear sitting in head to knee forward bend pose, doing Janu Sirsasana variation with strap, studio full length isolated shot

I’m so grateful for that foundation and I look back on those days with such a fondness and reverence for my teachers. During my time in the Iyengar circles it was drilled into us that all forward bends should be practiced with a flat back period, no questions asked.

A couple years after graduating I discovered the work of Paul Grilley. I felt like the anatomy training I had in my teacher training barely scratched the surface and so I bought Paul’s Anatomy For Yoga DVD as a means of extra self study. Needless to say this DVD literally pulled the Yoga Mat out from under me! So much of what I had learned didn’t ring true and for the first time what was happening in my body made sense. That DVD changed the way I saw my body and my students bodies forever (and for the better).

Before studying with Paul I had never considered that someone could choose to practice a forward bend with a rounded spine or what the benefits of that might be (let alone how good it feels). Now I alternate practicing with a flat spine and a rounded spine depending on my needs and intentions at the time.

 

In the video I’ll go over this in more detail including why one might choose whether or not to let their back round in a forward bend.

Please note: If you have bulging or herniated disks it may not be a good idea for you to round your spine in a forward bend so please check with your health care practitioner before attempting this video.

 

Here’s to happy hamstrings and spines!

ox nyk

Yin Yoga – Sleeping Swan Pose

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Sleeping swan pose is a variation of swan pose only folded over the front leg. Folding over the front leg will increase the sensation in the hip, butt, IT band area and is a pretty sweet hip opener.

sleeping swan pose

If your front knee doesn’t like this pose, sometimes moving the knee towards the mid-line of the body can take the pressure off. If it still hurts you’ll want to skip this pose and choose a different hip opener like shoelace pose.

If it’s the knee of the back leg that is the issue, a small rolled up towel or a blanket under the thigh of the back leg will often do the trick or curling the back toes under to take pressure off the knee cap.

Once you’re able to settle into this pose it is quite soothing for the nervous system so is a great pose to do before bed. Feel free to have blankets and pillows near by for comfort.

 

Sleeping Swan

In the video below I’ll walk you through the complete how to, including how to use props and modify sleeping swan.

 

Here’s to happy, healthy hips.

ox nyk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yin Yoga – Swan Pose

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Swan pose is great as a back bend on its own, and a great pose to lead into Sleeping Swan Pose (more on that in a future post). Of the Yin Yoga poses Swan is a bit more on the Yang side so the hold time isn’t as long. In general 1-3 min is good, but of course if you are an experienced ‘Yinnie’ you’re welcome to hold for longer.

Swan pose is a great backbend and also awesome at opening up the hip, butt and IT band area of the front leg, even in its upright position. It’s also a sweet little stretch for the hip flexor of the back leg.

If your front knee doesn’t like this pose, sometimes moving the knee towards the mid-line of the body can take the pressure off. If it still hurts you’ll want to skip this pose and choose a different hip opener like shoelace pose.

If it’s the knee of the back leg that is the issue, a small rolled up towel or a blanket under the thigh of the back leg will often do the trick or curling the back toes under to take pressure off the knee cap.

 

Yin Yoga Swan Pose

In the video below I’ll walk you through the complete how-to for Swan pose, including variations and modifications.

 

 

Happy Practicing

ox nyk

Neck Pain? Get Relief!

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I have a few neck pain poses in my Yoga tool belt and they are all helpful, but this one is the granddaddy of all neck stretches. For some of you, it may even stretch out some little hidden muscles you didn’t even know you had and it can even get into tightness the shoulders for some of us.

So this is the neck stretch I do when I need some serious neck love and have a little more time.

How you get in and out of this one is pretty important especially when exiting the pose. So watch the whole video once first before you try to practice on your own.

In the video below we’ll practice this together.

If you know someone suffering from chronic neck pain why not share this with them?

Here’s to relief

ox nyk

Foot Pain? Yoga To The Rescue!

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Plantar fasciitis, foot pain, fallen arches, flat feet and bunions oh my! These are just a few foot problems that affect so many people. I’ve got some pretty strong opinions on why this is and what we can do about it.

We can blame most of our foot issues on shoes! Now you might be thinking ‘oh no not me I wear good supportive shoes’ and that I’m afraid is exactly the problem. The more support we have in our shoes, insoles and orthotics the tighter and weaker our feet become and this can become a vicious cycle.

Our feet are sore and weak so we get orthotics, insoles and more supportive shoes, then our feet become weaker and tighter and so on and so on.

Of course occasionally someone actually needs orthotics or custom insoles because of an injury or a problem from birth, but this is very rare. Most foot issues are because our feet are weak and tight. We have been wearing thick shoes and walking on pavement, we are meant to be barefoot or very close to barefoot. We are designed to walk and run on the earth which naturally keeps the muscles in our feet strong and supple.

So if this resonates with you and you want to improve the health of your feet, I’ve got general stretches and strengthening exercises in the video below to help you. But don’t burn your orthotics just yet. This video addresses some of the common foot problems and because every case is different, if these don’t work for you I would recommend seeing a physiotherapist to get exercises specifically for you.

To happy healthy feet,

ox nyk