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Posts Tagged ‘Yin Yoga’

Half Frog- Easy Yin Yoga for the Hamstrings and Groin

Posted on March 1st, 2017 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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Half Frog stretches the hamstrings and the groin. Because the pelvis is pushed forward by the Half Frog position, the stretch on the hamstrings and groin is easier and more effective than the half butterfly pose. The beginner will feel the hamstrings more than the groin, but as the student loosens up the groin is also stretched. This is an easy yin yoga pose, allow yourself to feel the pose.

Sit with legs straight and the other leg folded with the foot near your buttocks. the foot of the bent leg may be pointed or flexed. Open the legs to a comfortable width and lean forward. keep you torso over the straight leg to stretch the hamstring.  If you swing your torso towards the middle of your legs, the groin of the extended leg and the hip of the bent leg are stretched more. Be careful not to strain the bent knee.

Hold half frog 2-3 minutes on each side.

Excerpt from Yin Yoga: Principles and Practice by Paul Grilley

Find all of Paul’s DVD’s and Online Courses including Yin Yoga, Anatomy for Yoga, Chakra Theory and Bare Bones of Yoga HERE.

Use the code ILOVEYIN  for an extra 10% off

About Paul:

Paul Grilley began practicing yoga in 1979 after reading The Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananada. He moved to Los Angeles in 1982 where he studied and taught yoga for 12 years. In 1988 he read Theories of the Chakras by Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama. Paul and his wife Suzee have been active students of Dr. Motoyama ever since.

Paul started his studies of anatomy with Dr. Garry Parker in 1979. He continued his studies at UCLA where he took courses in anatomy and kinesiology. He earned a M.A. from St. John’s College, Santa Fe in summer 2000 and an Honorary Ph.D. in 2005 from the California Institute for Human Science for his efforts to clarify the latest theories on fascia and its relevance to the practice of hatha yoga. He enjoys reading science and esoteric literature, trying to find connections between the two.

Paul and his wife Suzee now spend their time administrating and teaching the Yin Yoga Teacher’s Training program both in the USA and abroad.

 

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Dragonfly- Yin Yoga for Groin and Hamstrings

Posted on February 24th, 2017 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

 

 

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Yin Yoga is becoming one of the most popular styles of yoga. Yin Yoga as taught by Paul Grilley focuses on the target area of a pose as opposed to the superficial shape of a posture. In dragonfly the target areas are the hips and groin.

Lie down on your back with your buttons close to a wall and your legs extended up the wall. slowly spread your legs apart and slide your feet down the wall. The wider your legs, the deeper the stretch, so adjust yourself accordingly. the close your buttocks are to the wall, the intense the stretch will be so adjust your distance accordingly.

Your legs do not have to be completely straight in the beginning, but as flexibility increases they will get straighter. Do not rush. It is the stretch that is important not the aesthetics.

Hold Dragonfly at the wall for 3-5 minutes.

Excerpted from Yin Yoga: Principles and Practice by Paul Grilley

Check out Paul’s best selling Yin Yoga, Anatomy for Yoga and Chakra Theory DVD’s and online courses. Stay tuned for his new online program Yin Yoga a Functional Approach for Every Body with Paul Grilley. Find all of his programs here and Use the code ILOVEYIN for 10% off any purchase.

 

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DESIGNING YOUR HOME YOGA PRACTICE

Posted on February 15th, 2017 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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by Paul Grilley

Guiding Principles:

As you develop your own sequences of poses, please keep these ideas in mind:

1. Every yoga pose is bad for somebody. Everyone’s anatomy and history are unique, and this means that each pose affects each person differently. Usually the difference is trivial , but it can sometimes be significant and harmful. Do not become fixated on “mastering a pose.” The poses are meant to be therapeutic, not to challenge your pride. Some poses may be uncomfortable but result in a healthy response, but other poses might just be bad for you.

2. Forward bends are yin. They bring the head level with the heart making it easy to pump blood to the brain. The heart muscle is relaxed and the blood pressure all over the body is reduced. Forward bends harmonize chi flow along the meridians near the spine, which is calming and sedating.

3. Backward bends are yang. They stimulate the nerves and invigorate the yogi. Backward bends do not need to be held as long as forward bends. Experiment with doing more backbends for shorter periods of time rather than longer holds.

4. Time of day and season are important. A more yang practice with shorter holds might be desirable in the morning or on a cold day. A more yin practice might be appropriate in the evenings or on a warm day.

5. The more yang your practice, the greater your variety of poses should be, with shorter durations and more repetitions. The more yin your practice, less variety is needed and the emphasis can be placed on just a few poses.

6. It is fine to practice yang exercise before yin, or yin exercise before yang. Just allow adequate adjustment time when going from one to the other.

7. Use pillows, blankets, and bolsters to support yourself if you find poses stressful. Yin yoga should never be a strain. If you find yourself unable to relax, you are being too aggressive.

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

 

To learn more about Paul Grilley, visit his website at www.paulgrilley.com 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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The Foundation of Steadiness and Ease in Yoga

Posted on November 4th, 2016 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

 

 

 

 

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By Sarah Powers

Patanjali’s linked concepts of “sthira” and “sukha” — steadiness and ease — can help structure your teaching. Learn how situating your instruction between these two poles can help your students find harmony.

In describing the qualities of asana with the adjectives “sthira” and “sukha,” Patanjali uses language very skillfully. Sthira means steady and alert–to embody sthira, the pose must be strong and active. Sukha means comfortable and light–to express sukha, the pose must be joyful and soft. These complimentary poles–or Yin and Yang co-essentials–teach us the wisdom of balance. By finding balance, we find inner harmony, both in our practice and in our lives.

As teachers, we need to help our students find that balance in their practice. Our instruction should assist them in an exploration of both sthira and sukha. In practical terms, we should begin by teaching sthira as a form of connection to the ground, and then move to sukha as a form of lighthearted exploration and expansion. In this way, we can teach from the ground up.

Manifesting steadiness (sthira) requires connecting to the ground beneath us, which is our earth, our support. Whether our base is comprised of ten toes, one foot, or one or both hands, we must cultivate energy through that base. Staying attentive to our roots requires a special form of alertness. Our instruction should begin there by helping students cultivate this alertness at the base of a pose. I will demonstrate this form of instruction for Tadasana, the blue print for all the other standing poses. The principles of Tadasana can be easily adapted to any standing pose you wish to teach.

In all the standing poses, steadiness comes from rooting all sides of the feet like the stakes of a tent. We need to teach students with high arches to pay particular attention to grounding their inner feet, and show students with fallen arches to move their ankles away from each other.

After rooting the feet, we move up, reminding students to draw the kneecaps up, the upper inner thighs in and back, and the outer sides of the knees back. This allows students to notice whether their weight feels evenly distributed between the right and left leg, the front and back of the foot, and the inner and outer thighs.

Next we should remind our students to adjust the pelvis, allowing the weight of the hips to be above the knees and ankles. This often requires them to draw their weight slightly back in order to allow the point of the coccyx to face down. In this alignment, the tailbone is not tucked nor lifted, but merely directed down between the fronts of the heels. Those with flat lumbar spines will need to allow the tailbone to move slightly back, moving away from tucking, while those with over-arched backs will need to encourage the tailbone to draw slightly in.

We should then instruct our students to lengthen the side waist, lift the top of the sternum and relax the shoulders down the back, aligning them over the hips and ankles. They should bring their heads above their shoulders, aligning the chin in the same plane as the forehead. Finally, they should relax the jaw, allowing the tongue to float freely in the mouth and the eyes to soften.

Once our students have attended to steadiness, the other qualities of alertness and comfort become accessible. They are now ready to bring their hands into Namaste position and reflect on their motivation before beginning their practice.

Encourage your students to view this grounded base as their home base, the foundation from which they can create, explore, and at times expand. From there, they can navigate to a place of ease or sukha. Just as steadiness requires and develops alertness, comfort entails remaining light, unburdened, and interested in discovery. By teaching this quality, we encourage a balanced equilibrium rather than impose rigid rules for alignment. This helps students develop a natural respect toward their bodies and themselves, while encouraging them to fully inhabit their bodies. They can then learn to move away from commanding their bodies to perform poses, and instead breathe life into them from the inside.

With sthira and sukha as the points on our compass, we can organize our teaching and help our students enjoy exploring their places of limitation and liberation in every pose. As a result, regardless of your students’ individual abilities, their practice can focus on celebration and refreshment.

At a deeper level, the way we practice and teach yoga poses mirrors the way we live the rest of our lives. As we reflect on our practice and our teaching, we can use yoga as a tool for developing greater insight into ourselves and the world around us. Sthira and sukha can then become not only tools for teaching or understanding yoga, but also principals that help guide the way we live.

Sarah Powers blends the insights of yoga and Buddhism in her practice and teaching. She lives in Marin, California where she home schools her daughter and teaches classes.

First Published in Yoga Journal Newsletter, September 2005

 

To learn more about Sarah Powers, visit her website at www.sarahpowers.com, and check out her DVD’s and online courses here at Pranamaya.

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 SARAH POWERS

An internationally acclaimed master teacher, Sarah Powers weaves the insights and practices of yoga and Buddhist meditation in an integrated practice that seeks to enliven the body, heart, and mind. Her yoga style blends a yin sequence of long-held poses to enhance the meridian and organ systems, with a yang or flow practice influenced by Viniyoga, Ashtanga, and alignment-based vinyasa teachings. – Read more HERE.

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Maintain a Healthy Spine Through Yoga

Posted on June 17th, 2016 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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By Paul Grilley

Some yoga instructors insist that students avoid curvature of the spine by insisting on tucking the pelvis. But any healthy movement can be overdone. Rather than insist on always having the pelvis tucked encourage your students to utilize the full range of pelvic motion in their practice.

Bad News Ballet?

The idea that a “tucked pelvis” is good for you comes from ballet. Ballerinas are taught to tuck their pelvis so they can spin on a straight axis. It is difficult to spin multiple times if the pelvis is not tucked. Ballerinas are also taught to tuck their pelvis so they can maximize the height and appearance of leg extensions. Many yoga instructors are former dancers and it is habitual for them to remind students to tuck their pelvis.

If ballet is bad for you, why imitate it?

Well, number one: ballet is not bad for you. Much of ballet training is about balance, stretching, and learning to isolate movements. This is good for you. Number two: tucking the pelvis is a natural movement you should learn how to do. It only becomes destructive if you remain stuck in that position.

Is an arched pelvis better than a tucked pelvis?

The last two covers of Yoga Journal magazine feature photos of young women in deep backbends. This is the opposite movement to a tucked pelvis. The poses look beautiful and one can’t help but admire the ease and range of motion of the models. But I doubt if anyone would think it healthy for someone to habitually hold their spine in this deep bend. If anyone attempted to do so, the discs in their back would degenerate painfully.

Then is a neutral position best?

Constantly arching the spine is unhealthy. Constantly tucking the spine is unhealthy. So should we live our lives in a timid neutrality of spine position, neither tucking nor tilting the pelvis? The answer is an emphatic “No!” The neutral spine position is how office workers live their lives, and statistics show that 80 percent of them will suffer serious back problems.

Inhale and exhale, tuck and arch, life is about movement.

To have a healthy spine, we must systematically move it through its full range of motion. This means sometimes we tuck the pelvis to flatten the spine, sometimes we tilt the pelvis to arch the spine, and sometimes we keep the spine neutral. This is the Taoist view of life, a constant alternation from one opposite to another. The contraction and expansion of the heart are opposites, but by alternating they are the Tao of circulation. The expansion and contraction of the lungs are opposites, but by alternating they are the Tao of breathing. Tucking and tilting the pelvis have opposite effects on the curve of the spine, but by alternating they are the Tao of posture.

Tuck it and arch it.

When practicing backbends such as the Cobra, don’t try to tuck the pelvis but let the spine arch. When practicing forward bends such as Paschimottanasana, don’t try to tilt the pelvis but let the spine round. These are normal movements for the lumbar spine, and to fight against them is to nullify the effects of the poses. Of course, overstretching an already injured spine could make it worse. But sooner or later, the goal of all physical rehabilitation is to regain the natural range of motion. Yoga practice helps us retain our full range of motion so we can easily alternate from a tucked pelvis with a straight spine to a tilted pelvis with an arched spine. Both these movements are necessary to maintain healthy posture.

 

To learn more about Paul Grilley, visit his website at www.paulgrilley.com 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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Cultivating a Home Yoga Practice

Posted on April 13th, 2016 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Home Yoga

By Sabrina Samedi

For many of us, the time we spend on the mat whether it’s for a sweat-cleansing power flow, a nourishing vinyasa series, a healing yin yoga practice or for meditation, it is considered “me time.” Time to step away from all the hustle and bustle, noise and distractions of everyday life and step into our true self- it’s our dedication to our self: to listen and honor our mind, body, spirit and soul. Hence, self-care is the manifestation of self-love and such compassion should not be jeopardized simply due to the fact that you couldn’t make it to the studio for your meditation or yoga class.

Let’s face it,  we have all been there- starring at the jumbled yoga mat in the corner of our room as it dauntingly seems to whisper- breathe now or forever lose your peace. It takes willpower and commitment to practice yoga whether it’s asana-based, pranayama work or meditation with consistency. Classes at studios can add up and after a steady series of visits it can feel as if our center of zen is in a heated debate with our wallet and our wallet is in the lead as a victor as our zen turns into financial worries. Between work and running errands, time can restrict us to practicing before sunrise or well after sunset; thus, time restrictions are an honest determinant for when we can carve out studio space. It is quite harmonious and healing to share your practice with the gracious breath of community members, but often times it an uplifting challenge to remove and all distractions and simple focus on your breath, your body’s needs, and your strength without any inclination towards judgement nor competition.

Therefore, cultivating a home yoga and/or meditation practice is a great compliment to your community studio-based classes as well as a wonderful tool to utilize when traveling or when time and budget act as bumps along the road to tranquility.

Tips on how to create and maintain a home practice:

1. Hold the Space and Honor Yourself

  • Be kind to yourself as you would in any class. When a teacher suggests a modification and you tune in realizing that since your lower back has been aching lately, you decide it’s best to lower down onto your knees during a Chaturanga Dandasana or bend your knees as you lift into Ardha Uttanasana. Thus, you are listen to your body and are taking the instructor’s suggestion. You are your own guru- listen to the teacher within your soul and treat your body with compassion.

 

2. Strengthen Your Willpower

  • Your manipura or solar plexus is engaged here as you dedicate the same adherence to studio etiquette to your self– show up on time, no texting or taking calls while invested in your practice. The e-mails and pile of laundry can wait- there is no where else you need to be than right here, right now. Be present and flow with your breath.

 

3. Find the Right Flow and Style 

  • Getting a little help from our yogi friends is key here; while listening to your inner teacher you may still need guidance from a yoga instructor and rest assured we’ve got you covered. Invest in yoga DVDs and/or online courses that you’d be able to access from any platform (ie tablet, iPad, iPhone, etc) and find as well as explore the diversity of class styles and duration that pike your interest. For a vast and unique selection of classes and lectures taught by our own master teachers click here. Our collection includes: Yin Yoga, Yoga Therapy, Viniyoga, Vinyasa and Meditation.

 

4. Don’t Forget Savasana

  • Savasana or corpse pose is oftentimes considered the most important asana as this is where our bodies truly integrate all of the emotional, physical and mental benefits of the practice to our subtle and conscious bodies. You’ve exerted quite a bit of effort, energy and time. Thus, give yourself the chance to soak in the benefit and recharge your soul. Give yourself permission to let go and simple be- rejoice in the highest form of self-love: self-care.

 

Namaste! Thank you for sharing your practice with me and inviting me into your home. I hope you find this information insightful.

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Yin Yoga and Stretching the Spine

Posted on February 9th, 2015 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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By Paul Grilley

When working a joint the first thing a yogi or yogini must decide is whether she intends to work muscle or bone. She must decide if she wishes to strengthen the muscles that stabilize the joint or stretch the ligaments to increase range of motion. In this article we explore the second option: stretching the joints of the spine through a specific yin yoga pose.

Two layers of the joints

A fundamental insight of Taoist analysis is to see the body as at least two layers. For different needs the body could be analyzed into many more layers than two but for a discussion of joint movement two is enough.

The two layers of a joint are Muscle and Bone. Muscle is the yang layer and includes muscle and tendon. Bone is the yin layer and includes the ligaments. With the proper yin yoga pose, yogis should train themselves to feel the differences between the muscle and ligament sensations.

The Neck

The following neck stretches are an effective way to start this process. Once a yogi has learned to discriminate the sensations of muscle and ligament in the neck with a certain yin yoga pose, then it will be easier to feel these differences in the rest of the spine.

Drop your chin to your chest and relax. This is a passive or yin stretch for the muscles and ligaments of the back of the neck. The muscles of the neck are on the left and right sides of the center line. The ligaments we are concerned with are on the centerline. A yogi can learn to feel the difference by comparing the sensations on each side of the spine with the sensations in the center.

Move the head to the right while it is still dropped forward. This yin yoga pose stretches the muscles on the left side of the neck making it easier to discriminate them. Moving the head to the left stretches the muscles on the right side of the neck. Bringing the head back to the center the yogi should be able distinguish sensations that are neither left nor right but in the midline. These are the ligaments.

Muscular stretches feel sharper and are easily locatable. Ligament sensations are deeper, duller and more attached to the bones. This is why Taoists use the expression “Stretch you Bones” to describe ligament stretches.

This simple yin yoga pose should be repeated many times. The distinctions may not be noticeable the first few times but with time and experience they become clear. Remember that it’s possible to feel ligament stretches when the head is moved to the left and right. But by exaggerating the stretch on the muscles it is easier to feel the difference between the two tissues.

Yin Stresses

Once a yogi has learned to feel the difference between muscle and bone the next step is to determine how much leverage to use when stretching them. Passively dropping the chin to the chest is a gentle approach to this yin yoga pose. The next most aggressive effort would be to contract the muscles of the neck to depress the chin deeper toward the chest. But the most aggressive stretch would be to use the hands to gently pull on the back of the head. This is the deepest possible stretch for the neck while seated.

Yang Stresses

All three of the above stretches are yin. The muscles of the front of the neck were used in second variation and the muscles of the arms were used in the third variation. But in each variation the muscles of the back of the neck were relaxed. This allowed the neck to round forward and stretch the joints. If while doing any of these exercises a yogi contracts the muscles of the back of the neck he is resisting the forward bend and preventing the stretch. This principle can be demonstrated as follows.

Gently drop the chin and place the hands on the back of the head as before. Now engage the muscles of the back of the neck and try to lift the head up. At the same time gently pull down on the head with the arms. The yogi is now in a tug-of-war with himself. His arms are trying to pull the head down but the neck muscles are trying to lift the head up.

 

To learn more about Paul Grilley, visit his website at paulgrilley.com  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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Why Does Yin Yoga Practice Feel So Good: Exploring the Three Tissues of the Body

Posted on January 22nd, 2015 by Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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“Why does my body not move the way I want it to?”

To answer this question we will look at our joints. There are many tissues that form a joint: bone, muscle, tendon, ligament, synovial fluid, cartilage, fat, and sacks of fluid called bursae. Sufficient to our purpose we need only consider three of them: Muscle, Connective Tissue and Bone. Each of these tissues has different elastic qualities and each responds differently to the stresses placed upon them by yin yoga practice. By learning to feel the differences between these three tissues Yogis can save themselves a great deal of frustration and possible injury.

We begin our analysis by classifying the three tissues according to quality. Muscle is soft; it is the most elastic, and mobile. So Muscle is the most Yang of the three. Bone is hard; it is the least elastic, the least pliable and is immobile. So Bone is the most Yin. Connective Tissue lies between the two extremes.

It is interesting to note that this classification of the Three Tissues remains the same when we examine them not by quality but by location. The muscles are the most external and exposed during yin yoga practice. They are Yang. The bones are the most internal, the least accessible. They are Yin. The connective tissue lies literally between the two.

Why bother with this analysis? Because Yang tissues should be exercised in a Yang way and Yin tissues should be exercised in Yin way. The characteristics of Yang exercise are rhythm and repetition. The characteristic of Yin exercise is prolonged stasis or stillness. We are all familiar with Yang exercises like running, swimming, and weight training. All of these activities are rhythmic. We alternate the contraction and relaxation of our muscles to run or swim or lift. It would be unproductive to just contract a muscle and hold it until it spasms. It would be equally unproductive to just let a muscle stay relaxed. Healthy muscle requires the rhythmic contraction and relaxation that Yang exercise provides. The rhythm is very important. Indeed, it could be said that it is rhythm that distinguishes exercise from simple manual labor.

Manual labor is rarely of the proper rhythm or of adequate repetition to make a person “feel good”. It is usually a haphazard mix of too much of some movements, not enough of others. This leaves us feeling sore and “kinked” at the end of our labors, not pleasantly perspired and relaxed, as with yin yoga practice. In cultures where long days of manual labor are unavoidable Human Beings have responded by making up “Work Songs” and soldiers have invented an endless variety of “Marching Songs”. The purpose of these songs is to create a rhythm to work to. Labor is still labor but it is made more palatable and less destructive by moving, singing and breathing with a rhythm.

Yang exercise is easy to define and identify. It is what we are all familiar with. By contrast Yin exercise seems a contradiction in terms. How can something that is gentle and static even be called “exercise”. One purpose of these articles is to expand our conception of exercise to be more inclusive. Yang exercise is not the only form of exercise.

The characteristic of yin yoga practice is stasis or stillness for long periods of time. Yin exercise has a rhythm but it is a much, much longer rhythm than Yang activities like running. A common misinterpretation of Yin stillness is “passive” or “inactive”. But this misconception is due to our cultural bias to muscular, Yang activities. If nothing were happening in Yin exercise then it would indeed be a contradiction in terms. But tissues are being stressed in proper Yin exercise, particularly connective tissue.

The most common example of Yin exercise is traction. If someone’s leg were broken it would not be beneficial to rhythmically pull on the injured area. But gentle, steady, continuous traction might be absolutely necessary for healthy recovery by using yin yoga practice.

An even more common and less dramatic example of the Yin principle of prolonged stasis is orthodontia; braces on our teeth. Teeth are bone anchored in more bone and yet even they respond to yin yoga practice that we call “braces”. Bone is the ultimate Yin tissue of the body. If we were to exercise our teeth in a Yang way it would be disastrous.

Imagine an enthusiastic body builder taking what she learned from the gym and applying it to her mouth. If she had decided she was going to straighten her crooked teeth by rhythmically wiggling them back and forth in multiple sets it would not be long before her teeth fell out. Yang tissues should be exercised in a Yang way and Yin tissues should be exercised in a Yin way.

We will finish this article with a reminder of the Taoist conceptions of Yin and Yang. When we analyze things we are comparing them to something else. There is no absolute Yin. There is no absolute Yang. If we recall the Tai Ji symbol of spiraling half circles of Black and White we must remember that there is a black dot within the white spiral and a white dot within the black. This is to remind us that when we use language such as “Yang is rhythmic but Yin is not.” that this is not absolutely true. Yin has a rhythm but it is much longer than Yang. Likewise it is not absolutely correct to say “Yang is active but Yin is not.” There is activity in Yin but it is of a different type. It can be tedious to be meticulously accurate in our speech. One of the great benefits of Yin/Yang terminology is that we can express ourselves in terse, memorable ways but always with the understanding that this is not the final word. Like poetry; a deeper analysis might be necessary for different purposes.

 

To learn more about Paul Grilley, visit his website at www.paulgrilley.com 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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What is Yin Yoga?

Posted on July 11th, 2014 by Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

Conventional yoga wisdom holds that nothing prepares your body for hours of seated meditation as well as regular asana practice. But when I began to explore more intensive meditation sessions, I discovered to my chagrin that years of sweaty vinyasa and mastery of fairly advanced poses hadn’t made me immune to the creaky knees, sore back, and aching hips that can accompany long hours of sitting practice.

Fortunately, by the time I got serious about meditation, I’d already been introduced to the concepts of Taoist Yoga, which helped me understand my difficulties in sitting. I found that with some simple additions to my yoga practice, I could sit in meditation with ease, free from physical distractions. Taoist Yoga also helped me see that we can combine Western scientific thought with ancient Indian and Chinese energy maps of the body to gain deeper understanding of how and why yoga works.

The Tao of Yoga

Through deep meditation, the ancient spiritual adepts won insight into the energy system of the body. In India, yogis called this energy prana and its pathways nadis; in China, the Taoists called it qi (pronounced chee) and founded the science of acupuncture, which describes the flow of qi through pathways called meridians. The exercises of tai chi chuan and qi gong were developed to harmonize this qi flow; the Indian yogis developed their system of bodily postures to do the same.

Western medicine has been skeptical about the traditional energy maps of acupuncture, tai chi, and yoga, since no one had ever found physical evidence of nadis and meridians. But in recent years researchers, led by Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama in Japan and Dr. James Oschman in the United States, have explored the possibility that the connective tissue running throughout the body provides pathways for the energy flows described by the ancients.

Drawing on Motoyama’s research, Taoist Yoga weds the insights gained by thousands of years of acupuncture practice to the wisdom of yoga. To understand this marriage—and to use it to help us sit with more ease in meditation—we must familiarize ourselves with the concepts of yin and yang. Opposing forces in taoist thought, the terms yin and yang can describe any phenomenon. Yin is the stable, unmoving, hidden aspect of things; yang is the changing, moving, revealing aspect. Other yin-yang polarities include cold-hot, down-up, calm-excited.

Yin and yang are relative terms, not absolutes; any phenomenon can only be yin or yang by comparison with something else. We can’t point to the moon and say, “The moon is yin.” Compared to the sun, the moon is yin: It’s cooler and less bright. But compared to the Earth (at least from our perspective), the moon is yang: brighter, higher, and more mobile. In addition to being relative, a yin-yang comparison of any two objects depends on the trait being compared. For example, when considering location, the heart is yin compared to the breastbone because the heart is more hidden. But when considering substance, the heart is yang compared to the breastbone because the heart is softer, more mobile, more elastic.

Analyzing various yoga techniques from the perspective of yin and yang, the most relevant aspect is the elasticity of the tissues involved. Yang tissues like muscles are more fluid-filled, soft, and elastic; yin tissues like connective tissue (ligaments, tendons, and fascia) and bones are dryer, harder, and stiffer. By extension, exercise that focuses on muscle tissue is yang; exercise that focuses on connective tissue is yin.

It’s certainly true that whenever we move and bend our joints in yoga postures, both muscle and connective tissues are challenged. But from a Taoist perspective, much of the yoga now practiced in the West is yang practice—active practice that primarily focuses on movement and muscular contraction. Many yoga students like to warm up with asanas that infuse the muscles with blood, like standing poses, Sun Salutations, or inversions. This strategy makes sense for stretching and strengthening muscles; much like a sponge, the elasticity of a muscle varies dramatically with its fluid content. If a sponge is dry, it may not stretch at all without tearing, but if a sponge is wet, it can twist and stretch a great deal. Similarly, once the muscles fill with blood, they become much easier to stretch.

Yang yoga provides enormous benefits for physical and emotional health, especially for those living a sedentary modern lifestyle. Taoists would say yang practice removes qi stagnation as it cleanses and strengthens our bodies and our minds. But the practice of yang yoga, by itself, may not adequately prepare the body for a yin activity such as seated meditation. Seated meditation is a yin activity, not just because it is still but because it depends on the flexibility of the connective tissue.

The Joint Stretch

The idea of stretching connective tissue around the joints seems at odds with virtually all the rules of modern exercise. Whether we’re lifting weights, skiing, or doing aerobics or yoga, we’re taught that safety in movement primarily means to move so you don’t strain your joints. And this is sage counsel. If you stretch connective tissue back and forth at the edge of its range of motion or if you suddenly apply a lot of force, sooner or later you will hurt yourself.

So why would Yin Yoga advocate stretching connective tissue? Because the principle of all exercise is to stress tissue so the body will respond by strengthening it. Moderately stressing the joints does not injure them any more than lifting a barbell injures muscles. Both forms of training can be done recklessly, but neither one is innately wrong. We must remember that connective tissue is different from muscle and needs to be exercised differently. Instead of the rhythmiccontraction and release that best stretches muscle, connective tissue responds best to a slow, steady load. If you gently stretch connective tissue by holding a yin pose for a long time, the body will respond by making them a little longer and stronger—which is exactly what you want.

Although connective tissue is found in every bone, muscle, and organ, it’s most concentrated at the joints. In fact, if you don’t use your full range of joint flexibility, the connective tissue will slowly shorten to the minimum length needed to accommodate your activities. If you try to flex your knees or arch your back after years of underuse, you’ll discover that your joints have been “shrink-wrapped” by shortened connective tissue.

When most people are introduced to the ideas of Yin Yoga, they shudder at the thought of stretching connective tissue. That’s no surprise: Most of us have been aware of our connective tissues only when we’ve sprained an ankle, strained our lower backs, or blown out a knee. But yin practice isn’t a call to stretch all connective tissue or strain vulnerable joints. Yin Yoga, for example, would never stretch the knee side to side; it simply isn’t designed to bend that way. Although yin work with the knee would seek full flexion and extension (bending and straightening), it would never aggressively stretch this extremely vulnerable joint. In general, a yin approach works to promote flexibility in areas often perceived as nonmalleable, especially the hips, pelvis, and lower spine.

Of course, you can overdo yin practice, just as you can overdo any exercise. Since yin practice is new to many yogis, the indications of overwork may also be unfamiliar. Because yin practice isn’t muscularly strenuous, it seldom leads to sore muscles. If you’ve really pushed too far, a joint may feel sensitive or even mildly sprained. More subtle signals include muscular gripping or spasm or a sense of soreness or misalignment—in chiropractic terms, being out of adjustment—especially in your neck or sacroiliac joints. If a pose causes symptoms like these, stop practicing it for a while. Or, at the very least, back way out of your maximum stretch and focus on developing sensitivity to much more subtle cues. Proceed cautiously, only gradually extending the depth of poses and the length of time you spend in them.

The Yin Difference

There are two principles that differentiate yin practice from more yang approaches to yoga: holding poses for at least several minutes and stretching the connective tissue around a joint. To do the latter, the overlying muscles must be relaxed. If the muscles are tense, the connective tissue won’t receive the proper stress. You can demonstrate this by gently pulling on your right middle finger, first with your right hand tensed and then with the hand relaxed. When the hand is relaxed, you will feel a stretch in the joint where the finger joins the palm; the connective tissue that knits the bones together is stretching. When the hand is tensed, there will be little or no movement across this joint, but you will feel the muscles straining against the pull.

It’s not necessary—or even possible—for all the muscles to be relaxed when you’re doing some Yin Yoga postures. In a seated forward bend, for example, you can gently pull with your arms to increase the stretch on the connective tissues of your spine. But in order for these connective tissues to be affected, you must relax the muscles around the spine itself. Because Yin Yoga requires that the muscles be relaxed around the connective tissue you want to stretch, not all yoga poses can be done effectively—or safely—as yin poses.

Standing poses, arm balances, and inversions—poses that require muscular action to protect the structural integrity of the body—can’t be done as yin poses. Also, although many yin poses are based on classic yoga asanas, the emphasis on releasing muscles rather than on contracting them means that the shape of poses and the techniques employed in them may be slightly different than you’re accustomed to. To help my students keep these distinctions in mind, I usually refer to yin poses by different names than their more familiar yang cousins.

The One Seat

All seated meditation postures aim at one thing: holding the back upright without strain or slouching so that energy can run freely up and down the spine. The fundamental factor that affects this upright posture is the tilt of the sacrum and pelvis. When you sink back in a chair so that the lower spine rounds, the pelvis tilts back. When you “sit up straight,” you are bringing the pelvis to a vertical alignment or a slight forward tilt. This alignment is what you want for seated meditation. The placement of the upper body takes care of itself if the pelvis is properly adjusted.

A basic yin practice to facilitate seated meditation should incorporate forward bends, hip openers, backbends, and twists. Forward bends include not just the basic two-legged seated forward bend but also poses that combine forward bending and hip opening, like Butterfly (a yin version of Baddha Konasana), Half Butterfly (a yin version of Janu Sirsasana), Half Frog Pose (a yin adaptation of Trianga Mukhaikapada Paschimottanasana), Dragonfly (a yin version of Upavistha Konasana), and Snail (a yin version of Halasana). All of the forward bends stretch the ligaments along the back side of the spine and help decompress the lower spinal discs. The straight-legged forward bends stretch the fascia and muscles along the backs of the legs.

This is the pathway of the bladder meridians in Chinese medicine, which Motoyama has identified with the ida and pingala nadis so important in yogic anatomy. Snail Pose also stretches the whole back body but places more emphasis on the upper spine and neck. Poses like Butterfly, Half Butterfly, Half Frog, and Dragonfly stretch not only the back of the spine but also the groins and the fascia that crosses the ilio-sacral region. Shoelace Pose (a yin forward bend in the Gomukhasana leg position) and Square Pose (a yin forward bend in the Sukhasana leg position) stretch the tensor fascie latae, the thick bands of connective tissue that run up the outer thighs, and Sleeping Swan (a yin forward-bending version of Eka Pada Rajakapotasana) stretches all the tissues that can interfere with the external thigh rotation you need for cross-legged sitting postures.

To balance these forward bends, use poses like Seal (a yin Bhujangasana), Dragon (a yin Runner’s Lunge), and Saddle (a yin variation of Supta Vajrasana or Supta Virasana). Saddle Pose is the most effective way I know to realign the sacrum and lower spine, re-establishing the natural lumbar curve that gets lost through years of sitting in chairs. Seal also helps re-establish this curve. Dragon, a somewhat more yang pose, stretches the ilio-psoas muscles of the front hip and thigh and helps prepare you to sit by establishing an easy forward tilt to the pelvis. Before Savasana (Corpse Pose), it’s good to round out your practice with a Cross-Legged Reclining Spinal Twist, a yin version of Jathara Parivartanasana which stretches the ligaments and muscles of the hips and lower spine and provides an effective counterpose for both backbends and forward bends.

The Flow of Qi

Even if you only spend a few minutes a couple times a week practicing several of these poses, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how different you feel when you sit to meditate. But that improved ease may not be the only or even the most important benefit of Yin Yoga. If Hiroshi Motoyama and other researchers are right—if the network of connective tissue does correspond with the meridians of acupuncture and the nadis of yoga—strengthening and stretching connective tissue may be critical for your long-term health.

Chinese medical practitioners and yogis have insisted that blocks to the flow of vital energy throughout our body eventually manifest in physical problems that would seem, on the surface, to have nothing to do with weak knees or a stiff back. Much research is still needed to explore the possibility that science can confirm the insights of yoga and Traditional Chinese Medicine. But if yoga postures really do help us reach down into the body and gently stimulate the flow of qi and prana through the connective tissue, Yin Yoga serves as a unique tool for helping you get the greatest possible benefit from yoga practice.

Read more about Paul Grilley and his Yin Yoga and Anatomy of Yoga DVD’s and online courses: http://www.pranamaya.com/teachers/paul-grilley
This post was originally posted on yogajournal.com

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What is Yoga? A Talk with Paul Grilley

Posted on April 22nd, 2014 by Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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We recently had a chance to ask Paul Grilley a few questions about his understanding of yoga and how that gets expressed in his own practice. We would love to hear how his answers resonate with your practice or teaching.

 What is Yoga? 

Yoga is a collection of techniques that yogis have found effective for calming the physical, emotional, and cognitive dimensions of our existence, what the ancient texts traditionally refer to as the “three bodies” of soul encasement. When we calm the restless activities of these three bodies, the soul can realize its own limitless nature.

How do you weave that definition into your teaching? 

I try to emphasize the functional approach, the why we practice asana and pranayama rather than just the how. If we simply practice something by rote without reflecting on its purpose, we have no way of judging whether our practice is effective or if it should change.

How do you bring this into your own practice?

I constantly compare and contrast different ways of accomplishing a given purpose. I try not to lapse into an unexamined mechanical practice. For example, when should I hold a bandha during breathing practices? Is it useful or distracting? We all have to ask this sort of question many times before reaching an accurate answer because we’re never exactly the same two days in a row. We can’t draw useful conclusions just by trying something once or twice.

How has your understanding of yoga’s true meaning evolved since you began teaching?

I comprehend more clearly that each of our three bodies is a particular combination of energy and consciousness. Some yoga techniques emphasize clarity of awareness and others emphasize energy movement, but, ultimately, the goal is the same.

What is the biggest misconception about yoga that you would like to change?

There is no one-size-fits-all yoga practice, not physically, not emotionally, not energetically, not philosophically. There is no “best type” of yoga either. Different forms of yoga suit people at different levels of their development. We should avoid growing emotionally attached to a particular school of yoga because our needs will change over time. The goal of yoga transcends the varied techniques of yoga, just as the goal of good health transcends the particular medical practices of a given time and place.

 

Use the Spring Promo code RENEWAL to receive $5.00 off your total order at www.pranamaya.com for Paul Grilley DVD’s and online courses expires 4/25/14

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