Tag Archives: yin yoga
We’ve all had the experience of hurting our body in some way. Zing! There goes a pulled muscle. YOWCH! Now your back hurts. There’s also been a lot of talk about how yoga can hurt you in the recent media. We all don’t enjoy being injured, but have you ever learned a specific technique for avoiding injury in your yoga practice? The following technique will help you stay healthy, consistent and strong in your practice for years to come.
Minimum vs. Maximum Edges: Learning to Open the Gate
What this technique entails at its core is learning to listen to your body. Sounds simple, right? Well, there are a lot of things that can happen between your calf muscle and your brain – so specific techniques are essential. If you’re like me, up until I tried this technique I totally thought I was listening to my body. It’s a way more intricate process than I thought, but with amazing rewards.
The first idea to consider is the concept of your minimum and maximum edges. When you attempt a yoga pose, we often go right away to the position of most sensation, to the position right before it’s “too much.” This is our “maximum edge”. If you went any farther, you will feel a lot of sensation, and possibly pain if you tried to hold it too long. But have you ever tried to feel your “minimum edge”? This is the very first, whisperlike sensation in the body of some kind of stretch. It’s the first awareness that you can feel that something is stretching. Instead of pushing past this first gate of awareness, take a moment to pause here. What’s it like? How do you feel? What’s the emotional and mental sensation like?
The Key to Depth in Postures
Once you take this moment, wait for the next gate to open. When sensation lessons, you know you are ready to move on. “Rather than push your way in, you will feel drawn into the pose.” (Erich Schiffman, Moving Into Stillness). When we pause in this way, it’s an invitation, which is so important for natural depth in a posture as well as natural spiritual growth. If we feel that we are being pushed or punished, instant resistance forms in both body and mind and it’s hard to get deeper on both levels. The movement is like a waterfall. The water just naturally falls farther down when resistance lessens in the rock. Try that visualization when applying this process to your practice.
Do and Don’t Do
So as you slide into the postures, there is another layer to consider. When we use this minimum-edge technique, we can be relaxed in the midst of even sometimes great effort. Do the pose, but don’t do the effort. Be easy in your mind, and glide into the pose. Manage the current of the pose, the energy it creates, but keeping your mind clear of negative thoughts about yourself and your abilities, as well as the abilities of others. Focus on observing the constant push/pull of the breath, at the tip of the nose.
Keep Tabs on Your Emotional State
The next step in this process may surprise you. Ask yourself if you are having a good time! If you aren’t enjoying yourself, then that level of pose may not be for you at this particular time. One way you can assess this is to check in with your body and see if your level of sensation (the amount of stretch and intensity you feel) is going up or down. If it’s going up, then you may be in too deep. With this technique, less is more for longer. If you can exist in a state of enjoyment within the intensity that you are feeling, no matter what the pose looks like, you are progressing emotionally and physically. Perhaps spiritually as well.
Tap Into Your Instinct
One way to keep tabs on yourself is to trust your instinct. Can you relax within the intensity and keep your focus on the breath in each moment? Then stay in the pose. If not, back up to the gate of sensation before and stay there for a while. The gate may re-open or it may not. Your responsibility is to keep your finger on the pulse of your body and know when you can relax and when you are struggling. “Yoga is an awareness process wherein you attend to those subtle shifts in sensation and feeling.” – Eric Schiffman
What do you do when intensity doesn’t decrease?
So let’s say you are hanging out in a pose and the intensity is not going away. It’s not past what you can handle, but you seem to be at a wall of sorts. This is not the time to push yourself! It’s the perfect time to respect that message. Work sensitively with that part of your being, and see if you can lure it to greater openness, tapping into the desire to go deeper.
Learn Sensation Vs. Pain
Another useful skill is to determine what is sensation and what is pain. It’s simpler than you might think. It’s all in how experience the sensation. If it’s pain, you don’t like it and you don’t want to be there. It might be a sharp, pinching or pulling sensation and that’s definitely something we want to avoid. If it’s sensation, it is intensity that is pleasurable to you. It is most often reached slowly. As you develop a finer and finer tuned sense of the difference between pain and sensation, the gradual payoff is you will be able to enjoy and assimilate larger and larger levels of intensity.
Find Your Range
One of the last tools for this technique is using a range of sensation to determine how deep you are/want to be in a pose. If we start with a scale where 1 equals no sensation and 10 equals pain, to work with your minimum edge you want to stay in the 3-5 range. This is the “sweet spot” where your body, mind and spirit are relaxed enough to be open to change. Never push yourself into pain – the resultant tightening can cause you to clamp down harder, both physically and emotionally.
We are not pain-seekers.
We are not trying to punish ourselves with yoga. A well done strong stretch is invigorating, exhilarating and pleasurable. You are freeing yourself of tightness, constriction and pain physically, mentally and emotionally. Maybe even spiritually. Find a degree of stretch you can completely immerse yourself in.
Avoiding intensity is a common road block. We have a natural reluctance to experience pain – this is the human condition. We can have any number of reasons. Past trauma, fear, pain, ignorace – all of these can keep us in a very tight space, trying to avoid intensity. Eventually, however, that space becomes smaller and tighter, smaller and tighter, until the pain of staying there is too great and we must break open and free to become something new.
The Rewards of Learning and Practicing Your Minimum Edge
When we work with minimum edges diligently, we gently but firmly increase our resiliency on the mat was well as in the world. Our ability to deal with life’s challenges increases and our durability increases, but physically and emotionally. To be durable, strong and confident in our practice is to take those same ideals into our lives off of the mat. And isn’t that what we came to yoga for in the first place?
Intention for Practice: Yoga is the process of relating the microsystem of the human being to the macrosystem of the human experience. Think about how your heart and lungs are working throughout the entire practice. On each inhale breath feel the lungs expand and take in oxygen, and on the exhale imagine the heart circulating the freshly oxygenated blood to your body. Each breath brings renewal and nutrients to each cell of your body, increasing your level of health and well-being. Imagine the heart pumping fresh and oxygenated blood into your body, and receiving the veinous blood to be reengergized.
Bring to mind the first two Kosas (KO-sha) (layers of human experience) while you do this practice: Annamaya Kosa and Pranamaya Kosa.
1. Annamaya Kosa: This is the food sheath, the physical body. This is where we can start to learn about all the kosas (the five layers of being). As you practice, feel your body and what it is doing as accurately and lovingly as you can. Start by observing the breath and how it goes in and out, up and down. Observe the 360 degree effect of your breath on your torso. Feel it in your belly, ribs, chest, throat and nose.
2. Pranamaya Kosa: Start to notice how the energy moves in the body. As you move through the more yang poses, feel the energy you create to move up and down, in and out. Notice how this energy is attuned with the breath with each pose and movement. Start to feel the energy of the heart and how that can help you attune to your body. As you move through the more energetic poses, repeat the mantra “Yoga is the uniting of consciousness in the heart.” Feel the heart energy of deep strength and deep vulnerability inform your practice. Practice feeling deep compassion for yourself and others.
Start with Yin to quiet the mind and body:
1. Child’s pose (5 min).
2. Sphinx Pose (5 min)
3. Dragon Pose (3 minutes each side).
4. Fallen Tree Pose (3-5 minutes each side). (Tree Pose lying down on the floor, belly up).
Warm up for a Yang Practice with 5 Surya Namaskar A series.
1. Tadasana – Standing Mountain Pose
2. Uttanasana – Standing Forward Fold
3. Chatarunga – Low Push-Up Pose
4. Urdhva Mukha Svasana- Upward Dog Pose
5. Adho Mukha Svasana – Downward Dog Pose – 5 full breaths
Pause at the end of the 5 Sun Salutations and close your eyes in Tadasana. Feel the breath and the heartbeat as clearly as you can. Give thanks for a heart and lungs that are supporting you in this practice. Take 10 breaths here.
Yang Yoga Series:
1. Warrior One. (Optional Vinyasa)
2. Warrior Two. (Optional Vinyasa)
3. Reverse Warrior. (Optional Vinyasa)
4. Tree Pose. (Optional Vinyasa)
5. Dancer Pose. (Optional Vinyasa)
1. Legs Up the Wall or Handstand.
2. Bridge Pose or Shoulderstand.
3. Plow or Reclining Twist.