Like many, I came to yoga to heal my mind. At the time, I was suffering from Generalised Anxiety and Panic Attack disorders. I had been going to a psychologist, and although I was glad to finally understand why I felt the way I did, I was looking for a more peaceful and compassionate approach. Yoga is more than a form of exercise. I like to think of it as mindfulness in motion. To me, yoga is less about how you move your body, and more about how you can delve deeper into your subconscious thoughts. The more stillness, the more thought. This is the reason many people struggle with, or even avoid yin yoga.
What is yin yoga?
Yin yoga postures are typically held for 3-5 minutes, meaning you might only move between 10 poses in a typical 60-minute class. Many people have felt the calming effects of yin yoga, and whether you understand the reasons behind it or not, it’s hard to deny the benefit. While there is an obvious physical ‘stretch’, and release of muscle tension, there is a lot of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) behind the practise of Yin Yoga. In fact, the style of ‘Yin Yoga’, has only officially existed for around 40 years, while TCM originated thousands of years ago.
The overall goal of yin yoga, from a TCM perspective, is to promote the flow of ‘Qi’ or energy, around the body. Qi flows through meridian lines, or energy channels, coinciding with chains of muscle and fascia (connective tissue) throughout the body. This is where the physical ‘stretch’, and the deeper emotional or spiritual work, connect.
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In TCM there are 5 elements of the body: earth, wind, fire, water and metal. Different yin yoga postures work on the key meridian lines of the body, and within this, the element related to that energy channel. Anxiety is connected to the Earth element. When out of balance, the Earth element can lead to over-stimulation, causing a person to become scattered and doing many things at once. When in balance, the Earth element allows self-acceptance and the setting of personal boundaries. The spleen and stomach meridians are the energy channels connected to this element, therefore yin poses that target the groin, hip flexors and adductors help to bring balance to this anxious energy in the body.
Earth balancing yin sequence:
Support yourself as much as you can, this is a restorative practice! Bolsters or cushions, and straps can be used in ever pose.
The principles of acupressure are similar to those of acupuncture, with the bonus that you can do it yourself, at home, and there are no tiny needles in your skin! It is extremely safe, particularly when self-applying, as you would only apply pressure to a point of discomfort, never to acute, sharp pain. It promotes circulation and balance of blood throughout the body, as well as energetic flow of qi, which when blocked is thought to cause unbalanced emotions and fatigue in the body. Another way to quickly and effectively quell any anxious feelings is to look at the acupressure points associated with this Earth element and meridian lines. The most utilised of these points are ST36 and SP6. ST36 affects the limbic and paralimbic parts of the brain, to positively impact the body’s response to stress. SP6 is the junction of the kidney, liver and spleen meridians and is a very powerful point in TCM, used to address fear, worrying and overthinking. SP6 is particularly useful for women, relieving symptoms of PMS, and more recently potential application for pain relief during labour is being researched.
Yoga works on the body beyond the physical feeling of a deep stretch.