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Yin, Restorative and Meditation

Yin Yoga for “The Gap”

In meditation “the gap” is described as the silent space between thoughts. It’s a deeper layer of consciousness that for many of us, myself included, can be hard to find because of the layers upon layers of thoughts, memories, and judgments that seem to run on an endless loop. Brain stuff can be challenging to work with because we give our thoughts and emotions so much power. But, as with any sort of training, the more you practice, the easier it is to drop into a calmer, more spacious way of being.

Yin yoga offers a direct route to the gap, with opportunities for many mini meditations within a 60-minute class.

Finding the Gap

The gap is a simple concept to understand, but applying the practice requires that we relearn stillness. We’re masters of distraction; skilled at running from ourselves. The first step is to create conditions for the mind to be still. Physical stillness is the rock star of the yin practice, so check!

The second step is to recognize the gap on an experiential level. To get there, simply focus on these 2 anchor points during your practice:

  1. Breath
  2. Sensation
  3. Breath

When we become conscious of the breath, we are present in a way that allows us to be an observer rather than a doer. Conscious breathing can pause or at least slow the process of thinking. We’re fully awake, training the mind to watch the body’s own natural rhythms. If you’re anxious or restless, try diaphragmatic breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing can trigger your body’s natural relaxation response. When you breathe deeply, you can slow your heartbeat, lower your blood pressure, and calm your nervous system. Too much might make you sleepy. Find the right dose for the moment you’re in and be willing to play with the breath throughout your practice.

Sensation

The comforts and distractions of modern-day living make it easy to be completely disconnected from our bodies. When we focus on sensation in a yin pose, we can reacquaint ourselves with the flesh and bone of the physical body, and the subtle vibration and current of the energetic body. Because a key ingredient
to a yin practice is time, make sure that you set yourself up in a way that you can stay and be still. Props can decrease pressure in the joints and allow for a more relaxing experience. Once you’re situated, observe sensation that’s close to the skin, and sensation that’s deep. Notice what’s speaking the loudest and notice subtle sensation. Keep going inward and investigate what’s there. Pain is a one-way ticket out of any pose. See if you can distinguish discomfort from pain, and restlessness from a real need to shift.

With all this focused awareness on breath and sensation, you might have forgotten about the gap entirely. That’s great! It means you probably fell right in. Each time you practice this way notice the part of you that notices. This is what meditation is all about. We remove the layers of self (the ego) to get to our true essence. Some might call this the soul – I like to think of it as home.

“Discover inner space by creating gaps in the stream of thinking. Without those gaps, your thinking becomes repetitive, uninspired, devoid of any creative spark, which is how it still is for most people on the planet.” — A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle

Mindfulness and Yoga Explained: 3 Minute Mindfulness Meditation

By Dr. Rashmi Bismark M.D. for Yoga Medicine®.

Dr. Rashmi Bismark M.D. explains the deep connection between mindfulness and yoga. When yoga is used as a way to live life more meaningfully, we naturally infuse the way we relate to ourselves and others with the care of mindfulness. Rashmi also shares a 3 Minute Mindfulness Meditation.

Find the original video on Yoga Medicine’s Youtube channel.

Why Flexible People Can Still Benefit from Yin Yoga

Senior Yoga Medicine® teacher, Rachel Land, shares four ways that even the most flexible yogis can benefit from yin yoga.

Yin yoga is commonly equated with passive stretching, which is perhaps why some people see it as an unhelpful practice for more flexible people. If the aim of yin yoga were merely to increase range of motion, I might agree. Fortunately, however, yin has much more to offer than flexibility gains.

There are four other potential effects of yin that even the most supple students can benefit from.

1. Collagen Synthesis

Yin targets the connective tissue, or fascia, that surrounds, encapsulates, connects, and interpenetrates the bones, muscles, organs, nerves, and blood and lymph vessels. Fascia is adaptive, constantly responding to the demands we place on it.

So rather than aiming to stretch fascia, yin poses subject it to subtle but sustained “stress”—including compression and shear, or rotational force, as well as stretch. This seems to stimulate specialized cells within the fascia, called fibroblasts, to lay down additional collagen fibers in the direction of the stress. Collagen fibers give our soft tissue its structure, strength, and capacity to connect the parts of the body into a unified whole.

This adaptive process is not unique to fascia—most of us are familiar with the idea that strength training makes our muscles stronger, or that cardiovascular training makes our heart and lungs more efficient. So for flexible students, instead of making their already supple tissues weaker, yin can actually encourage their fascia to become stronger and more resilient; the key is to set up in yin poses in a way that creates a gentle, sustained sensation rather than a deep stretch.

To do butterfly pose in a way that prioritizes subtle but sustained “stress” over a deep stretch, a flexible student might practice with knees propped with blocks, and hands on the floor with arms straight to support the spine.

2. Hydration

Subtle stress on our fascia has multiple flow-on effects, including temporarily squeezing fluid out of our fascial layers. As discussed above, it also stimulates fibroblasts, resulting in collagen synthesis, and the production of a chemical called hyaluronic acid. Water-loving hyaluronic acid attracts a rush of water molecules from surrounding tissue back into the fascia, initiating a process of rehydration that outlasts yin practice by hours.

Visualize a sponge submerged in water: Squeezing, twisting, and pulling on the sponge drives out residual fluid, creating space for fresh water to fill it up again.

Good hydration is vital to the healthy function of fascia for two key reasons:

• Hydration yields better glide between fascia layers, allowing for free movement and circulation between body surfaces and structures and reducing the potential for irritation and adhesion.

• Water is incredibly resistant to compression, so that when our tissues are well-hydrated they are stronger and more resilient to life’s demands. An easy way to visualize the structural strength of a fluid-filled system is to imagine a plant wilting from lack of water, its stems bowing under the weight of its leaves—but as soon as you water that plant you’ll see it stand tall again.

The gentle compressive forces of a twist can initiate a process of rehydration that outlasts yin practice by hours.

3. The Relaxation Response

Physiologically, yin practices have the capacity to balance our autonomic nervous system (ANS), which governs unconscious or involuntary body processes like heart rate, breathing, pupil dilation, and muscle tension. The ANS has two arms. The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) triggers the fight or flight response, priming us to handle perceived threats with quick and decisive action. The parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) governs the relaxation response: It is ideally the dominant force during daily life—diverting blood away from the muscles to the digestive, reproductive, and immune system organs.

Few would dispute that modern life is very yang—emphasizing movement and action, and exposing us to constant stimulation. The frantic pace of life today means that the SNS is far more active than our biology intended it to be, and many of us are seeing that imbalance reflected in our physical and mental health.

Yin yoga allows us the time and space to find the nourishing stillness required to downregulate the ANS. When we prop ourselves in yin poses in a way that allows us to truly rest, we might feel our vigilance, heart rate, and blood pressure lower while our immune, digestive, and reproductive functions improve.

Students with large ranges of motion won’t feel stress on their fascia in all positions. But if they simply settle into stillness they can still benefit from the soothing impact on their nervous system.

While a very flexible student may not feel a big stretch in bananasana (a.k.a. supine half moon pose), by resting there in stillness, their nervous system can still benefit greatly.

4. Energy Flow

The same way a road map and a weather map show completely different views of the same terrain, the Western view of the physical body comfortably coexists with the Eastern model of an energy body. The energy body referenced in yin comes from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and is composed of life force, or qi, which is thought to flow through specific channels called meridians.

According to TCM principles, the physical stress created by yin poses also stimulates the flow of qi through the meridians. Poses that compress the abdomen could be viewed as supporting healthy digestion by compressing our abdominal organs and by nourishing the stomach meridian. Poses that lengthen the back seam of the body not only gently stress the thoracolumbar fascia and hamstrings but also support the soothing and introspective qualities of the bladder meridian.

We in the Western world may not be as familiar with the energy body as we are with the physical body. However, we don’t have to be able to see or understand electricity in order to grasp its effects when we switch on a light. Likewise, we don’t have to fully understand Traditional Chinese Medicine to know that we feel different after yin yoga; even the most flexible students can still benefit hugely from its capacity to nurture good flow of qi.

Caterpillar pose, propped, is a great way for flexible students to feel nurtured and turn inward in practice. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, this pose supports the introspective qualities of the bladder meridian.
The key to reaping these broader benefits, especially for students with extensive range of motion, is to follow three guiding principles in each pose:

• REDUCE YOUR DEPTH. Rather than coming to your usual endpoint, approach each pose slowly enough to stop where you first feel sensation. If you’re anything like me, that will be an enormous reduction in the depth of the pose—meaning that you’ll stay closer to 50 percent of your full range of motion. Unlike in restorative yoga, the aim is to feel some sensation, but the key word is: some.

• FIND SOMEWHERE YOU CAN RELAX. Once you’ve found your new version of the pose, take time to set yourself up so that your muscles can relax as completely as possible. That may involve using props to fill the gaps between your body and the floor, or leaning into the support of your arms or a wall. It could even involve an alternate version of a pose, like lying on the floor with your legs up a wall instead of doing a seated forward fold.

• STAY IN STILLNESS. Fascia, the target tissue of yin practice, is highly adaptive— constantly responding to the demands we place on it. Its response, however, is slow and gradual. To target our slow-reacting fascia we need to stay in the same subtle, relaxed shape for at least a couple of minutes.

There’s no doubt that yin yoga can help those who would like a little more mobility. But it also has the potential to maintain well-hydrated, elastic, and resilient soft tissue, rebalance the nervous system from the constant stimulation of modern life, and regulate the flow of energy. Even the most flexible students can realize these benefits by practicing yin with a subtle approach—not going as deep, finding a shape they can relax into, then staying patiently still. The key, as with any yoga practice, is not in what we do but how we do it.

Photography: Andrea Killam

5-Minute Power Boosters for the Office

Diane Malaspina, a Yoga Medicine® E-RYT 500 instructor and Therapeutic Specialist, discusses the benefits of a regular meditation practice and how it could help boost energy, fight fatigue and enhance mood.
BY MELISSA RUDY FOR SPARKPEOPLE.

Maybe it happens mid-morning, as the minutes tick like molasses toward lunchtime. Or perhaps it’s after lunch, as your full belly lulls your tired brain into an unproductive stupor. It might even strike during the last hour of your shift, when it’s too early to clock out physically, but it seems too late to get your mind focused on a new task.

We all succumb to the workplace slump now and then. The key to combat it is to find quick and easy power boosters to keep you energized and on track until it’s time to wind down and head home.

Talk a short walk.

A quick five- to 10-minute walk provides a change of scenery and has an energizing effect, notes Hillary Cecere, M.S., RDN for Eat Clean Bro. “Studies have shown that taking a short walk can result in an improved mood, more energy and even decreased food cravings,” Cecere explains. Plus, she says taking a walk outside offers even more benefits from exposure to sunlight, which is thought to increase levels of serotonin—a hormone that stabilizes mood and increases focus—in the brain.

Fuel up with a small power snack.

Instead of eating a large lunch and consuming foods that are high in refined sugars, Cecere says it’s best to stick to small meals and snacks that contain high-fiber whole grains, veggies, lean proteins and healthy fats to maximize energy levels.

As a bonus, when you prepare a special snack, you can look forward to it and set aside time to enjoy it, notes psychotherapist Dr. Kathryn Smerling. “It’s a little bit of a break, or recess, to look forward to, like when you were a child,” she says. “Plus, snack time can foster a bit of creativity and create an opportunity for social time.”

Drink plenty of water.

By keeping a water bottle at your desk, you’re more likely to stay hydrated, energized and on task. “Dehydration can cause fatigue and leave you feeling sluggish,” warns Cecere. “If you’re unsure whether you’re drinking enough water, check your urine. It should always be light yellow or clear. If it’s not, up your water intake.”

Take a power nap (if possible).

When you’re struggling to keep your heavy eyelids open long enough to draft an email or parse a spreadsheet, tat’s your circadian rhythm telling you to take a nap, notes fitness and nutrition coach Jill Brown. If you’re fortunate enough to have that as a viable option, stop fighting that natural impulse and step away for a quick 20-minute snooze.

Do an energy breathing exercise.

If napping is more dream than reality, Brown suggests “energy breathing” as the next best energy booster. Sit up tall or stand, breathe in deep and slow from your nose, and exhale fast from the mouth. Repeat at least 10 times, or for a full minute. “This technique increases oxygen to the body quickly,” explains Brown. Better yet, follow that up with a 10-minute walk, also focusing on that breathing pattern to circulate oxygen through your muscles.

Clean your workspace.

Piles of papers, dusty surfaces and generally disorganized spaces can bog you down and serve as a subconscious distraction. Take a break from your screen to clean and organize your workspace. “Less clutter results in more productivity,” notes Cecere. “I often find that when my space is clean, my mind is clear.” Plus, just the act of standing and physically straightening your surroundings will give your brain a jolt of energy.

Do some calf raises.

Health coach Cheryl Russo swears by this exercise as a quick pick-me-up. Stand behind a chair and place your hands on the back of it, then lift your heels off the floor and push up through the ball of your foot, then lower back down. “This move improves circulation in the lower extremities and energizes fatigued legs,” Russo points out.

Do a quick yoga sequence.

Russo shares some of her favorite energy-boosting yoga poses:

  • Standing mountain pose: Stand with your legs hip distance apart and your back straight. Roll your shoulders back so your chest is open and the crown of your head reaches toward the ceiling. With a big exhale, raise your arms overhead and interlace your fingers, reaching up out of your rib cage. Lean toward the right and left. Repeat for a few rounds.
  • Standing tabletop position: Hinge forward until your back is parallel with the floor, gently placing your hands on the back of a chair or on your thighs. Stay here for a few breaths.
  • Cat/cow (standing): Start in the standing tabletop position. For the cow pose, roll your shoulders back, let your belly and chest release toward the floor and inhale deeply. On the exhale, round out your back, draw your navel toward your spine and lower your head toward the floor (cat pose). Switch back and forth a few times.

Do a five-minute bodyweight circuit.

When you’re feeling sluggish, a mini workout can do wonders for energy levels, with the bonus of burning some extra calories. Bertus Albertse, founder of Body20, suggests this five-minute exercise routine to increase blood flow to the muscles and also to harmonize your left and right brain hemispheres for better problem-solving skills, coordination and overall productivity, while releasing the feel-good hormone serotonin. Perform each move for one minute, taking breaks as needed.

  • Wall Squats: These isometric holds activate the glute and leg muscles.
  • Standing Lunges: These improve blood flow for better circulation, while increasing the heart rate and metabolic processes.
  • Plank: This move activates the core/stabilizing muscles for better posture and back support.
  • Pushups: This exercise engages the upper body muscles while also activating the stabilizers for improved posture.
  • Triceps Dips: Use your desk or chair to dip your way to toned arms while increasing the blood flow to your fingers.

Take a meditation break.

Instead of taking a coffee break, try a meditation break.“Meditation elicits a calming effect on the nervous system, and also contributes to mental clarity and focus,” says Diane Malaspina, Ph.D, Yoga Medicine® therapeutic specialist. “Endorphins are released during meditation, which naturally boosts energy, wards off fatigue and enhances mood.”

You don’t even have to leave your desk to squeeze in a quick meditation. Start by sitting tall and making sure the hips and legs are comfortable. Close your eyes and follow your breath. After a few moments of centering your mind on your breath, begin to count each inhale, with the goal of maintaining attention on your breath for 10 consecutive inhales. If your mind wanders and you lose count, start again and repeat until you can maintain focus on the breath for 10 straight inhales, Malaspina suggests.

Nick Carrier’s Best You Podcast Interview

Nick Carrier interviews Megan Kearney for his Best You Podcast.

The Power of Meditation

Learn the 4 keys to finding your joy, learn the power of meditation, and the importance and necessity of building your own self awareness.

Megan Kearney is one of thousands of Yoga Medicine teachers across the globe who are rigorously educated in a fusion of anatomy, physiology, and biomechanics with he traditional practice of yoga.

In this episode, Megan goes into some of the tough experiences her and her husband have had. She talks about sleep deprivation and it’s link to suicide and so much more!

Learn more about Megan at www.megankearneymovement.com and more about Yoga Medicine and how it might be able to help you at www.yogamedicine.com.

Please leave a 5-start rating and review if you enjoyed this episode!

Click here to listen to the Best You Podcast with Megan, and also check out the podcast on Apple PodcastsFacebook and Instagram!

Try These 4 Restorative Yoga Poses to Relax Your Body & Mind

Senior Yoga Medicine® teacher and therapeutic specialist, Allie Geer, explains why the power of restorative yoga is not to be underestimated.

As a teacher and practitioner of restorative yoga I often come to wonder how I ever got by without this practice. More than ever, students are turning to this form of yoga as a way to alleviate stress.

Stress in small doses can be a very adaptive, natural, and healthy experience for your body. However, we run into trouble when the body becomes chronically stressed.

Restorative yoga provides us with tools and techniques to help us better manage the symptoms of stress and chronic stress.

When we learn to cope with stress, we can support our body’s natural rhythms and cycles. Restorative yoga encourages the body’s innate capacity to heal.

The ability to relax is truly a learned habit, and must be practiced over time and with patience. The first time you try restorative yoga, you might struggle to get comfortable. You might fidget and move around throughout class. Just know that this is OK.

Sometimes, the biggest hurdle is giving your body permission to rest. I also encourage you to get curious and to notice the effects the restorative yoga poses have on your body, breath, and even your heart rate.

The Benefits of Restorative Yoga

Restorative yoga is a practice that effects the body from the inside out. It targets our nervous system, our digestive system, and also has a direct impact on all the internal systems within our body.

It helps restore our body’s natural capacity for health by targeting the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is a branch of the nervous system that regulates our body’s ability to rest, digest, and heal.

When we can balance the nervous system and activate the parasympathetic response. This response will help us manage the symptoms of stress and fatigue.

Restorative Yoga: Here’s What You Need to Know Before You Get Started

Unlike other styles of yoga, restorative yoga is a passive and deeply receptive practice. Typically poses are held anywhere from 5-25 minutes. Sometimes, it includes the use of yoga props to set the body up to be as comfortable as possible.

There is little to no muscular activity. The goal is not to stretch or stimulate our tissues. Once we settle into a pose, we stay. We become a witness to our internal environment within our body.

If you are new to restorative yoga, try the following sequence. The props suggested include a strap, a bolster, two blocks, and four blankets. However, if you don’t have the suggested props, you can always modify with scarves, towels, pillows, couch cushions, and even large books in lieu of the blocks.

The goal is to rest and set your body up so that you give it permission to just be, relax, unwind, and nourish from the inside out.

This short sequence is one of my go-to sequences whenever I need a system reboot and overall the class could take you anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. It’s up to you how much time you can carve out.

The longer you can hold, the better. Try setting a gentle timer or just come out of the pose when you feel ready.

Try These 4 Restorative Yoga Poses to Relax Your Body and Mind:

Before you begin your practice, take a few moments to ground. Find a comfortable seated position that will allow you to feel the weight of your sit bones dropping into the earth.

Then, take a moment to welcome the breath into your body. Begin to observe the breath in its natural state.

Take three vocal sighs out through your mouth for three exhales. If possible, try to sit for a few moments just observing your breath and sensations within your body without the need to change, interpret, or shift anything. Linger in the exhalations.

1. Legs on the Bolster


Suggested props: 1 blanket, strap, bolster, 2 blocks, or a wall

This gentle inversion massages your heart and improves blood flow and circulation. It helps to calm your mind and nervous system. It also alleviates soreness due to muscle aches and pains in the legs and feet.

Let’s try it:

  • Take two blocks and set them towards the end of your mat on the medium height
  • Place the bolster on top of the blocks, like you are making a table
  • Loop your strap, and slowly come down on to your back. Place your legs on top of the bolster so that the calves are fully resting on top of the bolster with the legs at about a 90-degree angle
  • Place the strap around your mid-thigh to allow your hips to feel fully relaxed and supported
  • Additionally, for extra comfort place a blanket under your head and perhaps one on top of your belly. Stay in this pose anywhere from 5-20 minutes

Once you arrive into the posture allow a few moments to settle in. Welcome your breath into your body and begin to visualize fatigue, tension, and stress slowly draining out of your body starting at your feet.

Take your time transitioning out of the posture. Making mindful, easy movements arriving back to a seat. You can also modify this posture by elevating your legs on a wall instead of a bolster.

2. Elevated Prone Twist

Suggested props: 4 blankets, 2 blocks, 1 bolster

Twists, and this twist in particular, offers gentle stimulation for the digestive organs, liver and spleen. It can help alleviate tension in the muscles of the back and hips and gently stretch your intercostal muscles between your ribs to enhance your breathing.

Let’s try it:

  • Start by placing one block on the medium height and one on the lower height. Place your bolster on top of the blocks so the bolster slopes downward
  • Place a blanket in front of the bolster. Sit on the blanket with your right hip next to the bolster and the knees stacked
  • Place a blanket in between your knees. Place a blanket on each side of the bolster to support your arms
  • Begin by sitting upright and connecting to the breath, feeling the pelvis drop into the floor. Slowly rotate your torso towards the bolster and recline down on top of it
  • Switch sides


Settle in and stay for 5-10 minutes before switching sides. Allow the props to support the body. To modify, this pose can also be done without using the blocks for elevation.

3. Supta Baddha Konasana or “The Goddess”

Suggested props: 4 blankets, 2 blocks, 1 bolster

Supta Baddha Konasana softens your shoulders and relaxes your chest, abdomen, and pelvis. It can be helpful during menstruation, menopause, and pregnancy.

Let’s try it:

  • Keep the same prop set up as the previous pose with the bolster and blocks elevated and the blankets to each side
  • This time, sit in front of the bolster with the sacrum as close to the edge of the bolster as possible. Bring the soles of your feet to touch and let your knees open wide as if you were making a diamond shape with your legs
  • Slowly recline down onto the bolster and tuck the rolled blankets beside you under your hips

Should you need more support, add another blanket under your head and neck and a blanket to cover for warmth. Option to add an eye pillow for your eyes. Stay in the pose anywhere from 5-20 minutes.

To modify, adjust the height of props to personal comfort.

4. Supported Savasana

Suggested props: 4 blankets, 1 bolster, optional strap

Savasana seals your practice and allows your entire body to relax by inviting it to find a deeply restful and supportive state.

This pose encourages rest and repair of tissues and helps ease stress, anxiety, tension and insomnia while balancing your parasympathetic response in the nervous system.

It is important to take the time to set up Savasana to provide maximum amount of comfort for your body.


Let’s try it:

  • Try setting up in Savasana by laying down with a bolster under your knees, a rolled blanket under your ankles, and a rolled blanket to support the curvature of your neck
  • Support for your neck is key here to really tap into the parasympathetic response

Get the most out of the pose by adding the weight and support of a sandbag or pillow on top of your belly. Rest in Savasana anywhere from 5-25 minutes. Feel your body fully supported and landing onto the earth. Give your body permission to relax and be at ease.

Do You Feel Relaxed After These 4 Restorative Yoga Poses?

Restorative yoga is a practice that nourishes the body from the inside out. It is a practice of non-judgment. It is a practice of curiosity and tuning in to your body’s internal state.

Restorative yoga taps into our body’s natural capacity to heal and maintain a healthy state of balance. I hope this practice helps you feel deeply rested, supported, rejuvenated, and restored.

Rest is best, especially when we are feeling tired, stressed, and overwhelmed. May this practice be of benefit. Namaste Yogis!

Want more Restorative Yoga with Allie?

Take her 32-Minute Restore class on YA Classes

***

Find the original article on Yogi Approved.

Healing the Mind, Body, and Spirit After Addiction

By Cassidy Webb for Yoga Medicine.

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