In yoga, we often pay special attention to the spine. We do spinal twists, spinal flexions and extensions and spinal movement of all kinds. The spine is the epicenter of our being, and when the spine is aligned, so is the mind.
You may have heard it said that you are only as young as your spine is flexible. Your spine is built to support you in all movements. The primary goal of the spine is to withstand stress, and it can do that best when in a neutral position. The secondary goal of the spine is to allow for a wide range of movements.
The spine plays a vital role in the state of our physical and psychological health. The spine is part of the central nervous system, which receives and sends messages, through the peripheral nervous system, to the rest of your body.
When the spine is not aligned — often due to our modern, busy lifestyles — much of the stress that it is supposed to handle must be picked up by the surrounding connective tissues and fascia, causing pain and discomfort. Yin yoga targets the connective tissues and fascia, making it the perfect practice to soothe the spine.
Yin yoga involves holding poses — often grounded rather than standing — for an extended period of time. The practice allows the spine to rest and rejuvenate, encouraging all of the physical, psychological and energetic purposes of the spine to come into alignment.
Kassandra Reinhardt serendipitously stumbled upon a yin yoga class, thinking she had signed up for a vinyasa class. Over 13 years later, she is still in love with the practice and the physical, mental and spiritual benefits she reaps from it. She is the creator of Yoga with Kassandra, a wellness platform featuring over 750 yoga videos, plus she has authored Yin Yoga: Stretch The Mindful Way, and most recently Year of Yoga: Rituals for Everyday and Every Season.
Reinhardt explains that in yin yoga, practitioners pay special attention to the energetic pathways in the body regarded as meridians. Many of these meridians can be found along the spine. “Often in a yin yoga practice, we’re working to stimulate those meridian pathways by compression and release,” she says. We can use different yin methods throughout the day to pulse healing energy through the spine and into the whole body.
Morning Yin Yoga
Kali Basman blends Buddhist psychology with yin and restorative yoga in her classes, teacher trainings, retreats and workshops internationally. She recommends cat-cow in the morning. “A fluid oscillation from spinal flexion to spinal extension stimulates Qi flow to course through the vertebral column and juice up the connective tissues that interweaves through the spinal extensor,” she describes.
“Morning is proactive — what is my day going to look like, how can I best support my body,” Reinhardt notes. Take a look at what you’re going to be doing during the day, how you slept, and move in a way that fits.
Midday Yin Yoga
Spinal twists can prove beneficial if you need a midday pick-me-up. “Spinal twists — axial rotations — are regenerative not just to the spine but to the vital organs, particularly kidney, liver and spleen, which benefit from the cleansing action, much like wringing out a dishcloth,” Basman shares.
Reinhardt agrees that spinal twists are energy boosters and adds that inversions, such as rag doll, can be invigorating as well. “When it comes to designing a yin yoga practice, you have to look at what your lifestyle is like,” Reinhardt says. She mentions that it’s vital to find a balance between yin and yang — after assessing your lifestyle, you can decide if a yin practice or yang practice (vinyasa, hatha, etc.) is best for you, although most people benefit from a mix of both.
Evening Yin Yoga
Basman explains that holding a pose for a minimum of three to five minutes, allowing the ground to become the main source of support for the skeleton, is the yin method for calming the body and mind. “Forward bends like a butterfly fold or child pose, where the brain sinks below the heart, soothes the tone of the brain and softens the joints into relaxed stillness,” Basman says.
Reinhardt emphasizes that yoga is for everyone. “Yoga does not have to be long or complicated to be effective,” she says. Even if you only have a few minutes, commit to one yin yoga pose in the morning, on your lunch break or before bed, and show your spine some love.
Basman expresses, “The discipline of yin yoga awakens you to a realm of stillness where you get to experience the Self … heart rate slows, the joints soften and the unstressed and infinitely wise and creative subconscious emerges.”
Featured image by Jessica Hodgson.