Aetna’s CEO Offers Viniyoga Therapy to Employees

By on April 22nd, 2015 — Comments Off on Aetna’s CEO Offers Viniyoga Therapy to Employees

Viniyoga Therapy at Aetna

Recently we saw a New York Time article that truly inspired us. The CEO of health insurance giant Aetna now offers meditation and yoga classes to his employees. Of Aetna’s workforce of around 50,000, 13,000 have already participated. According to this CEO, classes are overbooked! The CEO himself attributes his interest in yoga to a nearly fatal skiing accident he suffered only a few years ago, after which yoga and meditation helped him to manage the chronic pain he had been experiencing. We at Pranamaya are overjoyed hear of the benefits that viniyoga therapy and meditation have given to Mr. Bertolini, and applaud him for incorporating the therapeutic and restorative practices of yoga and meditation into his workplace.

Setting an Example

As the Aetna example so beautifully illustrates, yoga and meditation can help anyone and everyone manage their stress, their pain, and achieve more with their lives. Aetna shows us that viniyoga therapy is, quite literally, good for business. I’m sure Mr. Bertolini would recommend that anyone with an interest should at least try yoga and meditation, and we at Pranamaya agree. Not only that, we believe we have the tools, in the form of yoga DVDs and videos, to help any new student grow into an avid, thriving yogi.

Bring Viniyoga Therapy to Your World

Our educational material gives any student at any age or experience level access to yoga master teachers at a fraction of the cost of an in-person lesson. Practice each pose at your own pace. Our DVDs allow you to practice yoga in your home or office. If you have the space, why not take a page out of Aetna’s book?

ViniyogaTherapyFor those seeking the benefits of viniyoga therapy who don’t believe they have the time, or the funds, to give to a yoga class or instructor, our DVDs are essential. The benefits of lowered stress can be enjoyed by anyone, and with Pranamaya there is nothing holding you back from experiencing the joy and serenity of yoga practice.

Join the Movement

Aetna is leading a new movement sweeping corporate culture, with more big businesses adding yoga and meditation classes to their list of benefits. Pranamaya offers courses and DVDs in popular disciplines for reducing stress and even easing joint and chronic pain. However, our selection is highly diversified.

From beginner materials to extremely advanced, Pranamaya offers yoga sessions to challenge even experienced yogi. We offer education in new and emerging disciplines such as Yin Yoga and viniyoga therapy.

Aetna, through offering yoga education to their employees, is a health insurance company showing a true interest not only in their employees’ health, but their well-being. We would again like to applaud them, and invite you to invest in your own well-being and join us today in the international practice of yoga.

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What is Yin Yoga? An In Depth Look by Tracey Soghrati

By on April 2nd, 2015 — Comments Off on What is Yin Yoga? An In Depth Look by Tracey Soghrati


What is Yin Yoga?

Whether you are a new or seasoned yoga practitioner, the names of yoga classes on any given studio schedule can be confusing. In light of this, I will attempt to answer some of the key questions I’ve received about yin yoga over the course of teaching this practice and running a yin yoga teacher training. (More information on the training at:

What’s in a Name? Why call it Yin Yoga?

First of all, it’s important for practitioners to understand that different styles of yoga may represent how the yoga postures are taught, what lineage the teachers have studied in, the breathing practices, chanting and meditation incorporated, OR all of the above. Since yoga has evolved into a big business in North America, we have the more traditional styles of yoga (i.e.: iyengar, ashtanga, and viniyoga (from the last century) and hatha etc) as well as more modern styles, which include branded sequences that represent a specific community or individual. So, while the postures remain similar from style to style, the name tells us a bit about how the yoga is practiced.

The name “Yin Yoga” came from Sarah Powers. However, the practice of yin yoga itself is far from new. In fact, I’m sure that many people who practice yoga at home, have fallen into doing the postures this way over time. My first yoga classes at a community centre in the 90’s were called “hatha” and yet the way we practiced was almost the same as how I teach yin yoga now. So you may be practicing yoga in a yin way and not even know it!

So what does it mean to call something yin?

The terms “yin” and “yang” are labels that convey the polarities that occur in the natural world. Specifically, yin is “shady side of the mountain” and yang is “sunny side of the mountain”. To simplify this, think of the two labels as opposites – like hot and cold, light and dark, day and night. Things that are cool, hidden, dark and slow are traditionally labelled as yin in nature. Likewise, things that are warm, apparent, bright, and fast are traditionally labelled as yang in nature. If we apply this labeling system to yoga practices, we might say that faster styles of yoga are yang while slower styles of yoga are yin.

Of particular note, is the fact that a yin yoga practice often facilitates deeper understanding of the self, meditative calm and facilitation of the parasympathetic nervous system – and these things would all be in the “yin” category using the aforementioned labeling system.

What does a student experience in a Yin Yoga class?

As with any other style of yoga, each yoga class is as unique as the person teaching it, however there are some general things that every yin yoga class will incorporate:

Almost all of the postures are practiced on the floor (or using the wall for support)
Most of the postures target the hips, legs and spine
The student finds an edge of therapeutic and non-threatening intensity in the posture, then stays for a period of time (2-5 minutes on average).
The physical goal of the practice is to enhance range of motion that has been limited by our history, postural patterns, or previous injuries
The postures are practiced in stillness (without reactive fidgeting)
The student comes out of the posture slowly and carefully, resting briefly
There is often a profound experience of both physical relaxation and emotional release and/or stability
Depending on the style and experience of the teacher there may also be:

Philosophy discussion
Psychology discussion
What tissues are we targeting?

This is a really important question, because there has been a fair amount of controversy over yin yoga, in terms of efficacy and safety. If you read most of the print or on-line information about yin yoga, writers indicate that this practice targets connective tissue and joints, rather than muscular tissue.

Connective tissue (CT) does exactly as its name implies – it connects things together – cells, layers, organs etc. In the study of anatomy, we have broken things down, or separated them in order to facilitate our own understanding. So, historically speaking, dissection led to classification of different types of connective tissue into categories according to both location and function(i.e.: tendons, ligaments, fascia etc…). By reducing this tissue into different “parts” our focus was taken away from how it functioned as a whole – and modern research is identifying that CT is best understood as a whole unit.

The Controversy:

If we divide CT into tendons, ligaments, fascia etc… and we say that yin yoga targets these tissues at the joint specifically, we immediately create misunderstanding. My greatest discussions about this misunderstanding have been with orthopedic surgeons who spend a great deal of time repairing joints. These professionals understand that the connective tissues surrounding a joint provide both encapsulation and protection. So, in their minds, direct stretching of a ligament that is supposed to be taut and protecting a joint, is immediately injurious. And they are correct.

So the question (in my mind) is; are we explaining this practice correctly?

A Shift in Perspective:

One of the most beautiful and clear texts on the connective tissue matrix is Thomas Myers: Anatomy Trains. In this manual, CT is examined as a whole with areas that become thicker or tougher due to patterns of use and function. Moreover, Myers identifies certain pathways or “meridians of CT” which when manipulated by manual therapists can provide system wide relief, healing and/or increase in ROM (Please note that I am greatly simplifying this information – it is important to follow this article up by reading the text for greater understanding – or even better, check out his excellent YouTube videos).

So rather than reducing the body to the sum of its parts (a reductionist view), this view of CT looks at the body as a unified whole. Within this context, the CT connects everything, (superficial to deep, head to toe), encapsulates everything and communicates with everything, by operating as a neuormyofascial web (or a web of tissue with localized specializations according to function, which contains over 600 pockets of muscle).

This “web” encapsulates the tiniest parts of us, slowly connecting layer upon layer until there is a unified an integrated whole. When we look at the body as a whole, it becomes obvious that if everything is interconnected, and if in fact individual muscle fibres are actually encapsulated by fascia, then it is impossible to target CT exclusively (meaning that there is some muscular stretch as well). Robert Scheip, an international researcher and authority on fascia found that certain types of stimulation will affect specific areas of fascia.

“The goal of the proposed fascial training is therefore to stimulate fascial fibroblasts to lay down more youthful fibre architecture with a gazelle-like elastic storage capacity. This is done through movements that load the fascial tissues over multiple extension ranges while utilizing their elastic springiness” (Schleip & Muller, 2012).

Schleip & Muller (2012) go on to say that fascial fitness is best accomplished through a combination of dynamic or ballistic stretching, muscular training and slow “melting” static stretches. Yin yoga is a form of slow static stretching; which is quite effective at enhancing range of motion, and/or relieving the body of restriction that is associated with previous injury or holding patterns. It seems to provide the best stimulation for extramuscular fasciae and the intramuscular fasciae oriented in parallel to the myofibers. (Scheip & Muller, 2012).

A final comment in relation to yin yoga & fascial tissues, is that the practice, by its very nature serves to hydrate the fascia. When the tissue is stretched, compressed or sheared, fluid moves out, when we come out of the posture and rest, the tissue is re-hydrated. This allows for movement of fluids, and potential toxins. Additionally it allows for additional fluid to be “bound” in the fascial “web or net” which creates a more healthy and youthful tissue. (Schleip & Muller, 2012).

So if I back up and look at the original question, “what are we targeting in a yin yoga practice?” My answer would be the myofascial web. I believe that joint range of motion is definitely enhanced as a side benefit of increasing overall range of motion in the tissues between the joints.

What is BioTensegrity?

This is a really hot topic right now, and it is directly relevant to our understanding of how the body is linked together, from head to toe, superficial to deep. There is tons of information online, however I will reference a review article that I found particularly useful (“Biotensegrity: A Unifying Theory of Biological Architecture With Applications to Osteopathic Practice, Education, and Research—A Review and Analysis” by Randall L. Swansan II, DO PhD. J Am Osteopath Assoc, January 1, 2013 vol. 113 no. 1 34-52).

“According to the tensegrity principle, structures are stabilized by continuous tension (tensional + integrity = tensegrity) with discontinuous compression. In contrast, most manmade structures are stabilized by continuous gravitational compression.” (Swansan, 2013)

Research into biotensegrity (mostly at the cellular level) has demonstrated that cells from their nucleus are linked to the extracellular environment, which then link to every other cell (through that relationship between the intra/extracellular environment of every cell). When forces are applied to the body (in yin yoga, think stretch or compression), a mechanical signal is produced (mechanotransduction) which is then coupled with chemical signals and leads to a cellular response.

This understanding of the architecture of the human body, allows us to comprehend how the form can experience myriad mechanical forces, disperse these forces and still retain its form (Swansan, 2013). Moreover, when we view the body as a tensegrity structure, it becomes evident that the force from one area is going to ripple into other areas, and conversely, lack of movement, adhesions or trauma to one area will restrict the rest of the tissues.

The Relationship between Yin Yoga & Traditional Chinese Medicine

There has long been a connective tissue hypothesis for acupuncture mechanisms. This hypothesis (loosely) is that the meridians of acupuncture actually exist in the fascial planes of the body. Thus, when we stretch, pressurize, shear, compress the fascia, via mechanotransduction, we would affect the way that chi (qi) moves in those meridians. Duncan McGechie wrote a great review article on this topic in the Journal of Chinese Medicine in June of 2010. His research found that this hypothesis has merit, however the current studies available aren’t significant enough to alter western medical views and practice.

What I find interesting personally, is that the holistic nature of TCM highlights the interrelationship between our physical and emotional selves. So any time we work with specific meridian pathways, we also work with aspects of the psyche. This is very consistent with my own experience during a yin yoga practice, as well as the reports I have received from students and other teachers over the years. It will be interesting to see how this hypothesis evolves over the next few decades.

Tony Tavares, a TCM practitioner is doing some excellent work on the relationship between Chinese Medicine and yin yoga

What are the Benefits of Practicing Yin Yoga?


As discussed earlier in the article, this style of stretching will naturally increase flexibility in certain tissues in the body. This will likely lead to increased ROM, which can be accompanied by decreased pain. Practitioners also report feeling either deeply relaxed (perhaps the down-regulation of an overactive sympathetic nervous system) or reinvigorated and energized (increase in parasympathetic nervous system activity). Either way, students consistently report feeling more stable in terms of their nervous system.


This is an area where the majority of students experience a huge shift. One of the basic things that yoga asks us to do is to connect to the present moment, to integrate there (breath, body, mind) and to act according to present circumstances with equanimity. While it is incredibly easy to write those words, the practice of actually doing this is so difficult that it seems impossible to many. Part of the problem is that connecting to the present moment may not be pleasurable. In fact, it might mean that we have to learn to tolerate NOW and relax our nervous system around “not knowing” and “not being in control”. Meditation is a fabulous place to begin to explore sitting with the mind, but I’ll be honest; I’ve been training teachers for a while now, and getting them to sit with themselves is often difficult. Now this is where yin comes in. People are able to experience 5 minute intervals of stillness, where a teacher can take them mindfully through the practice of watching the mind and its reactions without behaviorally acting them out. Students eventually notice that consistently doing this in their practice translates into the ability to be present with themselves in the rest of their lives – this changes everything.


This area is profound for people too, and perhaps difficult to describe in a way that is accurate, scientific or evidence-based – but I’ll try. Yoga practitioners, dancers, people who work with movement, body-workers have long held that our “issues” or our emotions are in our “tissues”. So we move in specific ways, and the movement actually triggers an emotional response, or brings to light our emotional baggage. Practitioners of yin yoga have found that this is a very poignant part of the experience. Postures are held for a period of time and students experience a cascade of emotions, memories or even the sudden onslaught of tears. As they stay with the experience, students typically report a feeling of surrender or ease with what is. This in itself also has the capacity to change one’s perspective on their reality. The caution that I will add here is that this practice is not a replacement for therapy, nor is the teacher a therapist in the setting of a yin yoga class. It is essential that the yin yoga teacher models excellent and healthy psychological boundaries so that students are able to engage in self-directed svadhyaya (self-study).


The tradition of yoga teaches us that Prana (lifeforce or energy) is the animating force in our lives. It permeates all of our cells, and is responsible for the way things move inside of us – from gross (think, muscles and joints) to subtle (think about the way thoughts or emotions move). Moreover, the movement of prana through specific energetic vortices (Chakras) is linked to the evolution of our consciousness. If this movement is blocked in some way, that evolution is said to be inhibited. Similarly, in Chinese Medicine, Chi (Qi) is the animating force, and the way it moves or doesn’t move in the meridians and organs is directly linked to our physical, emotional and spiritual health.

In both of these traditions specific movements and breathwork are used to move, contain, or stabilize energy. Yin Yoga has proven to be one way to practice working with the energy body. Pranayama (breathing practices) can easily be incorporated into the postures, as well as acupressure on specific points or meditation on the chakras and their attributes.

Can I Injure Myself Practicing Yin Yoga?

The short answer to this question is a loud and resounding YES!

Injury by “Chasing the Edge”
As I indicated above, one of the principles of this practice is to find an appropriate edge; which is safe and non-threatening. However, as its name implies, an edge is a bit “edgy”, so people often misunderstand the purpose or goal. In my experience there are two ways that people can “chase the edge”. First, they might come into a yin yoga pose and try to start the posture at their absolute maximal edge, which will become intolerable after about 20-30 seconds. This is both non-therapeutic and injurious. It can also be reflective of a pattern in the rest of that persons’ life (i.e.: their ability to discern the difference between appropriate stress and distress). The second way that people “chase the edge” is when they come into a posture, and report “feeling nothing” so they contort their body into progressively non-integrated shapes trying to find the edge. This is also non-therapeutic and potentially injurious. There will always be some posture that feels “easy” for each person – because they are not limited in that particular range of motion. In these ones – try to relax and absorb the energetic benefits of the posture rather than engaging in contortionist acrobatics. Moreover, if someone is incredibly flexible, they often need to strengthen – not continue to stretch through tissue. This leads to my final point about chasing the edge. We need to BOTH stretch AND strengthen the neuromyofascial web. To only stretch will lead to injury, and the injury often happens at vulnerable junctions in the body.

Injury by Physical Adjustment from the Yoga Teacher
While I absolutely love physical yoga adjustments – I generally refrain from using them on my students during a yin yoga practice. If I know a student’s body extremely well, I might perform a physical adjustment that stabilizes them – all the while checking in with them and their experience, but otherwise I avoid them. This is because they are performing very deep and long held stretches with the goal of freeing up fascial adhesion’s between the joints. Ideally the stress avoids both the knee and the sacro-iliac joints, however it is impossible for me to tell (from the outside) how close a student is to their maximal edge. If I come along and perform a deep adjustment, it can easily and quickly tip them over into injury.

Injury through Exacerbation of Pre-Existing Postural Misalignment & Compensation Patterns
This is more subtle and often difficult for newer teachers of yin yoga to discern. We all come to movement practices with postural patterns. These patterns reflect our history of trauma, stress, insecurity and anger, as well as reflecting what we do in our lives every day (work on a computer, drive, sit at a desk, run etc.) If the yin yoga practice exacerbates postural patterns that cause pain and injury, then it is clearly injurious. A great example of this is having people who already have a bit of a hyperkyphosis (rounded upper spine) and head forward position (relative to the torso) practicing an entire class with the upper body in that exact position. Teachers need to have knowledge enough to offer variations for students with obvious misalignment or compensation patterns. In the example above, it would be far more therapeutic to have the student lying on their back, practicing various postures with legs up the wall.

Injury through an imbalance in activities: too much stretching, not enough strengthening
This is something that has to be evaluated on an individual basis. We all use our bodies differently, so where we are weak versus strong is variable. The overall point is to not overdo any one thing. If we are constantly stretching without strengthening, we generally lose stability which leads to injuries. The key is balance, the middle path. Yin yoga is part of the practice, but not the whole thing. If our practice isn’t balanced and stable how can we expect our bodies and minds to be?

How is Yin Yoga Different from Restorative Yoga?

Restorative yoga literally seeks to restore the body – not stretch it or remove adhesions or target specific energetic pathways. The body is fully supported at all times. Yin yoga is more intense, in that there is an edge, and the body is not always fully supported. Moreover, in yin yoga, we are trying to create a change in the tissues.

Yin Yoga & Pregnancy

Yin yoga may be practiced during pregnancy with the following considerations:

The hormone Relaxin is produced abundantly during pregnancy. It rises during the first trimester and the third trimester.
Relaxin has a diverse range of effects, including the production and remodeling of collagen thereby increasing the elasticity of muscles, tendons, ligaments and tissues of the birth canal in view of delivery.
This remodeling of collagen is not by itself associated with problems; however, adding the stress of a yin yoga practice to these tissues could potentially be injurious.
Teachers should advise the students to decrease the amount of time in the posture, particularly postures affecting the hips. Pregnant women are prone to pain in the SI joints and pubic symphysis.
Cautions: avoid any pose which compresses the baby or blood return via the inferior vena cava (i.e.: lying flat on the back or sphyinx).
Pregnant woman are also at risk for diastasis recti – the spreading apart of the rectus abdominus muscle at the linia alba (middle fascial line). It is essential that the abdomen, which is already being stretched, is not stretched even more, which would contribute to a diastasis.
Avoid elevating the body temperature above 37.78°C. This poses a potential risk to the fetus.
Yin Yoga and Osteoporosis

Often people with osteoporosis are warned to stay away from yin yoga – this is a blanket warning and needs to be placed in the context osteoporosis/osteopenia guidelines for exercise. First of all, consider the prevalence; 1/3 woman and 1/5 men in Canada will suffer from and osteoporotic fracture OR 50% women and 30% of men will get osteoporosis. This means that people suffering from this degenerative process will be in yoga classes. Generally speaking, Yoga is recommended, both for flexibility and balance training (which reduces falls).

The movements that are contraindicated once a spinal fracture is present OR in someone who is in the high risk category, are: flexion or rotation of the spine, arms overhead or high impact activities. Flexion of the spine is particularly dangerous as it may lead to a compression fracture of the vertebrae (this is what causes a dowager’s hump).

This is why those with the condition are often warned away from yin yoga – it is a blanket recommendation because the teacher (especially if they are not trained well) may not know that those movements are dangerous. However, those movements are equally dangerous in a regular yoga class.

If someone with osteoporosis wants to practice yin yoga, I always recommend they practice lying on the floor (flat) with legs up the wall. The spine is neutral (no flexion or rotation) and movements happen purely in the hip joint. This is safe, and quite helpful for their flexibility and range of motion.


Tracey’s vision is to share yoga philosophy & practice in a manner that is authentic, accessible and applicable to modern day life. Her classes are grounded in a sound knowledge of the physical body and a humble perspective on the power of the mind. She seeks to incorporate self-inquiry as a tool of self-realization in every practice. She specializes in delivering classes (yin yoga & vinyasa) that are healing and invigorating for all levels of the body.

Tracey is a Yoga Therapist and has completed > 2000 hours in yoga teacher training of various lineages (Hatha, Vinyasa, Jivamukti, Yin, Prenatal, Yoga Therapy (Sri T Krishnamacharya), Yoga Nidra, Restorative) and her primary influences include Sharon Gannon, David Life, Bernie Clark, Felicia & Ante Pavlovic, Saraswathi Vasudevan, and Dr. N. Chandrasekaran. She is a member of the Ontario Nurses Association (ONA), Canadian Yoga Alliance (RYT 500+), Yoga Alliance (E-RYT 500) as well as the International Association of Yoga Therapists.

Her formal education includes post-secondary studies in molecular biology, nursing, critical care nursing, advanced life support, anatomy & pathophysiology, parenting/child development, health education, perinatal care, swedish massage and thai yoga massage.

She has worked as a critical care nurse in a busy downtown intensive care unit and as a health educator for women and children. She is grateful for this amazing life, the practice of yoga, and for the support and love of her husband, daughter, family and friends.



© Tracey Soghrati, All rights Reserved

This post originally appeared on and we were graciously given permission from Tracey Soghrati to republish it here. Be sure to check out Tracey’s other blog posts.

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Yin Yoga: Principles and Practice

By on April 1st, 2015 — Comments Off on Yin Yoga: Principles and Practice




Exercise in Awareness

Some students say that they “Do not feel anything” when practicing asana or when they are relaxing on their back . This is not possible. There are always sensations arising from our bodies, and we only have to focus our attention to experience them. Our chi will move to wherever we place our awareness. It is also true that wherever our chi moves it will bring our awareness with it.

Try this exercise : Sit comfortably and focus on your nose. Is it warm? Does it itch? Is there a pulse? Is the inhalation in the top of the nostril, or the bottom? Is one nostril more open than the other? Exercises like this are endless and demonstrate the impossibility of being without feeling— we need only direct our awareness to it.

If a student insists he is not feeling something, we can only surmise that he is not feeling what he imagined chi should feel like. It is a misconception to think chi only flows through the meridians depicted on a chart. Chi flows into every cell of the body. The meridians depicted on acupuncture charts are just the surface meridians accessible by needles. There are larger, deeper meridians referred to as “reservoirs of chi.” These are the source of the surface meridians. Chi circulates from these deeper meridians into the surface meridians and then back again. The movement of chi in these deeper meridians is felt in the bones, muscles, and organs.

I am not dissuading students from trying to feel specific meridian channels but I am encouraging them not to overlook the more obvious “physical” sensations of chi movement throughout the body and the pleasant calmness it brings.


Learning to Relax

One hundred years ago the American philosopher William James suggested an experiment to illustrate the mind-body connection: Relax on your back and become calm. Once you have succeeded in relaxing, then try to make yourself angry without tensing or altering your body in any way. In other words, try to become angry without tensing your muscles, changing your breathing, clenching your teeth, raising your blood pressure or your heart rate, or manifesting any other physical change. Impossible! Every thought, every emotion puts its imprint on our physical being.

In our highly intellectual, head-oriented world many of us are physically stressed and do not know it. We imagine that by masking our emotions they are not affecting us. But masking suppresses only the crudest outward display of our emotions—our bodies are still taking a beating. If we were more aware of the physical toll of our inner life, we might take more precautions against undesirable mental states.

Learning to relax in poses like the Pentacle helps us to identify and release tensions that are deep within us , not just in the skeletal muscles. Tension in the eyes, jaw, heart, diaphragm, and stomach can be isolated and relaxed. This healthy habit helps us to dissolve the negative tensions that accumulate in our bodies. This is a valuable skill in our heart attack-prone society.


Learning to be Still

Dr. Motoyama has demonstrated that the meridian system and the nervous system are yin-yang to each other. This means that if the energy in one system increases, the energy in the other system decreases. Yin yoga amplifies chi energy and reduces nervous energy; therefore a common reaction after doing yin poses is to desire to just lie still and not move. When deeply relaxed, the effort it takes to move the limbs just doesn’t seem worth it.

This inhibition of movement is a desirable state and it is a perfect prelude to meditation. Many people are so nervous they literally cannot sit still for several minutes. A yin practice can change this. If you find yourself wanting to extend your rest phases during your practice, don’t fight it. Recognize and enjoy it, and this will develop your ability to recreate the peaceful state of immobilizing inner calm. When you can do this you are nearly over the first hurdle of meditation, which is sitting upright and relaxed for extended periods of time.

Excerpts from: Yin Yoga: Principles and Practice — 10th Anniversary Edition by Paul Grilley.


To learn more about Paul Grilley, visit his website at and check out his DVD’s and online courses here at Pranamaya.


Paul Grilley:  A well-known master of yin yoga, Paul brings a thorough grounding in Hatha and Ashtanga yoga as well as anatomy and kinesiology to his teaching, which integrates the Taoist yoga of martial arts master Paulie Zink and the Chinese meridian and acupuncture theories of Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama. Paul’s book, Yin Yoga: Principles and Practice, explains how yin yoga can teach us to relax, be patient, be quiet, and focus on the skeleton and its joints—a necessary counterpoint to today’s more ubiquitous muscular yoga.


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Yin Yoga: A Stretch By Any Other Name…

By on March 20th, 2015 — Comments Off on Yin Yoga: A Stretch By Any Other Name…








By Paul Grilley

Sometimes health professionals gnash their teeth when they hear a yogi say they are “stretching” their ligaments. They scream loudly that ligaments don’t stretch. We could quibble and say all biological tissues stretch but that would be avoiding their legitimate concern. Compared to muscles ligaments don’t stretch. But to keep ligaments healthy they must be subjected to stress by pulling on them. So what word might be better than stretch? A more appropriate word might be stress. We could say a yogi wants to regularly stress their ligaments to maintain their length and strength. This is similar to a body builder stressing his muscles to keep them strong.

In most yoga presentations I use the phrase “Yogis stretch their muscles but stress their ligaments.” This works well but it takes time and several examples to clearly discriminate the difference between stressing and stretching. For an engineer the word stress means physical forces acting to deform a tissue but to a naïve yoga student the word stress has the connotation of “nervous stress or tension”. The word stress also carries the connotation that it is a bad thing as in “Don’t get stressed.”

Other words to substitute for stretch might be “stimulate” or “exercise”. But neither of these words communicates the idea of pulling which is how we stress the ligaments. When students hear the words exercise or stimulate they usually think of contracting the muscles and making a forceful effort which is undesirable.

All in all I must admit that using the phrase “stretch your ligaments” is anatomically weak and perhaps perpetuates wrong ideas. But when writing a brief article it can be tedious and distracting to elaborate the difference between stress and stretch if the purpose of the presentation is to simply teach students to feel the difference between the two tissues or how to isolate them.

In future this writer will try to consistently use the word “stress” when describing exercise of the ligaments but if the occasion demands the more colloquial “stretch” than I hope he will be forgiven on the grounds that brevity is sometimes a virtue.

Why stress ligaments? Because of contracture.

Ligaments are dense connective tissues that wrap around and stabilize the joints. When joints are underused the ligaments are not stressed and so they go through a shortening process called contracture. Researchers can easily induce contracture in lab animals by immobilizing one of their joints with splints or sutures. In a matter of weeks the ligaments are contracted.

Human beings are also subject to ligament contracture whenever they are immobilized by habit (sitting at a desk), convalescence (post surgical) or lack of normal movement (arm in a sling).

Contracture is an active process that continually shortens the ligaments to prevent them from becoming lax. It presents many clinical problems to physicians who work in physical rehabilitation. Post surgical patients, burn victims and patients who are old or sedentary present physicians with a wide range of joint problems related to ligament contracture.

Why does over contracture occur?

The ligaments are unique among the body’s tissues in that they must be of the proper length to function. If a ligament is too long the joint is unstable. If the ligament is too short joint movement is painful and limited. Modern research has shown that ligaments grow and contract in response to the stresses placed on them.

Ligaments are subjected to micro traumas from everyday living. These traumas are minute tears and stretches to the ligaments. If the ligaments did not have a mechanism to contract and repair these micro tears then as we age the ligaments would gradually become so long that our joints would become overly loose and unstable. Obviously in real life the opposite is true. As we age we tend to use our joints less so the ligaments contract tighter and tighter. If this contracture is not countered by regularly stressing the joints they can become “frozen”. The most common example of over contracture is frozen shoulder syndrome (adhesive capsulitis). The typical frozen shoulder story goes something like this:

Grandma falls down and sprains her wrist.

Grandma’s wrist is put in a sling.

Six weeks later the wrist is better but grandma’s shoulder is frozen.

Being in a sling immobilizes grandma’s shoulder and prevents any elongating stress from countering the normal process of contracture. So grandma’s ligaments contract to the point the movement becomes painful if not impossible.

Conservative intervention for frozen shoulder includes gentle stretching of the joint ligaments during physical therapy. Aggressive intervention can include anesthetizing the patient and distracting (stretching) the joint ligaments while they are unconscious. Needless to say as a yogi I would recommend the conservative approach.

The shoulder is not the only joint to get frozen.

Frozen shoulder is an affliction of older people. When we are young our ligaments are moister and more resilient. For young people the everyday stresses of picking things up and swinging one’s arms while walking is enough to counter the ever present process of contracture. But as we age the ligaments become less resilient. This means our everyday activities eventually become inadequate to prevent over contracture and we must conscientiously exercise the shoulder. This is true of every joint in the body.

Consider the lower spine. Eighty percent of the Western world’s populace complains of severe lower back pain at one time or another. And the people most afflicted by bad backs are sedentary office workers. The reason for this is that sitting in a chair compresses the discs in the lower spine. This means the discs are flattened and the bones move closer together. If the bones move closer together the ligaments can contract to a shorter length. Shorter ligaments create less mobility and more compression. This means the discs degenerate further and the cycle goes on.

It cannot be emphasized enough ligament contracture is an active, sometimes aggressive phenomena. Even in a perfectly healthy spine the ligaments are so tight that even when lying horizontal there is pressure on the spinal discs. If you visit a retirement community it is virtually guaranteed you will find no one with a normal lumbar curve. The ligaments have contracted to the point that they are effectively pulling the spine into a fetal position. This gives older people the appearance of walking stooped over.

How to prevent contracture.

The natural therapeutic for ligament contracture is long, sustained traction. Ligaments are formed of overlapping slender filaments of collagen. In sustained traction ligaments respond by sliding their filaments past one another which results in a longer ligament. The matrix of cells around these filaments also becomes healthier and this results in stronger ligaments as well. This allows for greater range of motion and less chance of injury.

Whenever a ligament is being stressed the force must be gentle and sustained. If too much force is used the ligament will be strained or torn. If the stress is too brief the ligament will remain unaffected. The analogy is that of stretching taffy versus stretching a rubber band. Muscles are like rubber bands, they can be stretched easily. Ligaments are like taffy, if they are pulled too hard they tear. But if a modest stress is placed upon them and sustained then they gently elongate without tearing. Although these elongations are minute they are necessary to balance against contracture.

Some yoga poses can be done with the specific intention of beneficially stressing the joints. Doing poses with the intention of stressing a joint is called Yin yoga. Yin yoga postures are done while seated on the floor so the muscles can relax. When the muscles are relaxed the ligaments take the stress. Yin poses are done very gently for up to five minutes at a time or even longer.

Use it or lose it.

If we don’t play tennis our skills will atrophy. If we don’t stimulate our memory it will atrophy. If we don’t stress our muscles they will atrophy. If we don’t stress our joints they will atrophy. There is nothing odd or unusual about the need to stress joints. It is the simple extension of a universal principle. Modern peoples suffer debilitating joint problems due to lack of use.

Indians in the Amazon can climb branchless trees when they are sixty. On the beaches of India grandfathers can cast and haul heavy fishing nets. In Southeast Asia people stand with straight legs and rounded spines for hours as they plant and harvest rice. These are movements that would ruin modern office workers because their joints have degenerated from disuse. In fact the degeneration of the modern spine is so pronounced that something as simple as making ad bed can be debilitating.

Just as it is necessary to systematically stress the muscles to keep them strong it is also necessary to systematically stress the ligaments to maintain their length and strength. This is one of the reasons why yoga postures were invented.


To learn more about Paul Grilley, visit his website at and check out his DVD’s and online courses here at Pranamaya.

Paul Grilley:  A well-known master of yin yoga, Paul brings a thorough grounding in Hatha and Ashtanga yoga as well as anatomy and kinesiology to his teaching, which integrates the Taoist yoga of martial arts master Paulie Zink and the Chinese meridian and acupuncture theories of Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama. Paul’s book, Yin Yoga: Principles and Practice, explains how yin yoga can teach us to relax, be patient, be quiet, and focus on the skeleton and its joints—a necessary counterpoint to today’s more ubiquitous muscular yoga.


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10 Reasons to Immediately Book Your First (or Next) Yoga Retreat

By on February 11th, 2015 — Comments Off on 10 Reasons to Immediately Book Your First (or Next) Yoga Retreat





Water Purification Tracee-16-2

by Tracee Stanley

I have been leading international yoga retreats for over 10 years and each time I notice the same thing. People come together with a group of strangers- stressed, tired and needing a vacation. On day one as the deep breathing and yoga begins, the layers begin to peel away as everyone begins to leave behind thoughts of their daily lives, mundane tasks and stresses. Day by day I can sense their bodies and minds becoming more and more relaxed.  And by the end of the retreat a transformation has occurred for us all.

Here’s my list of why you should not hesitate to book your first (or next) yoga retreat:

1.You meet new people who share similar interests and love of yoga as much as you do. Communing with like-minded souls is said to sustain our spiritual life. In some traditions of yoga it is said that if we can do nothing else towards our practice we should cultivate sangha.

2.We let go of “doing”. We can drop the masks and responsibility of everyday life and reconnect with what is true for us in the moment.

3.You will have new experiences like hiking up volcano’s, eating local cuisine and exploring  new cultures. You will be outside of your “normal” and yo will feel alive!


4.You begin to tap into the flow and pulse of life in an organic way and soon you are listening to our own inner teacher with the answers to life’s questions coming so much more easily.

5.You spontaneously wake up  to greet the day without 3 cups of coffee, feeling refreshed and energized. You may even find yourself getting up and meditating before sunrise.

6.By day three there usually is vibrance, a radiance that begins to emerge. I call it “the glow”. The glow comes from being in nature, eating fresh local food, being away from TV, media and our daily mudra of texting, emailing and posting our every move.  It also comes from the friction that comes from deep practice. We begin to let go, see more clearly and we begin to shine from the inside out.


7.You shift towards becoming more in tune with yourself and with the people around you. You can sense who needs a hug and who wants to be left alone. And you take none of it personally.

8.Before long you are sharing with once strangers as you would with a sister or closest friend. You realize that we are more alike than different

9.Once you return home your friends notice your “glow” they see it in your smile, your skin and the light reflected in your eyes. You have gained a sense of ease. You inspire friends to practice self care or even take a yoga class.

10.You have connected deeply with yourself and others in a way that can only be felt in the heart. And you know that no matter what you want to return to that place. It doesn’t require you getting on plane though, just you getting on your mat. But sometimes we need to take a journey to remind us that all we need is already here.


For more information about retreats with Tracee click here


pictures courtesy of BaliWellness and Tracee Stanley

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