We’ve all had days when we’ve been irritable, angry, or just in a bad mood. Maybe we snap at our kids or our partner, and feel remorse—only to snap at them again the very next minute. Or maybe we feel anger and frustration deep inside, but have no way of expressing it, so it continues to boil away in our very core.
Most of us already know that yoga can help lift our mood. With Yin Yoga, however, we can tailor our yoga practice to target certain emotions by embracing a meridian-based approach to practice—focusing on the organs and their associated emotions, as well as on clearing the energetic pathways to allow chi (vital energy) to flow through these areas more smoothly. Proponents of this approach say that it can benefit us both physically and mentally.
In the practice below, we’ll be addressing the liver meridian, associated with both anger and kindness. Traditional Chinese Medicine (the philosophy in which Yin Yoga is rooted) holds that when chi is blocked along the liver meridian, anger, irritability, and frustration can arise—emotions you might experience in a traffic jam or upon encountering a messy kitchen after having spent hours cleaning it up.
The flip side of anger is kindness. If we can recognize that we are not our anger—that we are just identifying in that moment with the state of anger—then we can co-exist with our anger, and kindness can emerge. The irritability becomes like a storm passing through, and we realize (thanks to that mindfulness) that we don’t have to react to it.
If we can recognize that we are not our anger—that we are just identifying in that moment with the state of anger—then we can co-exist with our anger, and kindness can emerge.
Keep this in mind as you proceed with the following Yin Yoga sequence. It may help you in coping with any anger and irritability that arises, and to access the inverse emotion of kindness.
Meditation (Five minutes) Come into seiza (the Japanese term for a quiet sitting pose equivalent to hero’s pose), and breathe and meditate for about five minutes. You may wish to place a folded blanket underneath the knees, shins, and feet for cushioning. A block, bolster, or folded blanket under the hips and/or a rolled blanket or sticky mat behind the knees might also provide some comfort and support.
Consider an internal mantra sequenced to the breath: As you breathe in: “I am now aware,” and as you breathe out: “Letting go of emotions that do not serve me.”
Toe Squat (Two minutes) From seiza, tuck the toes under (all of them, even the baby toes), resting your weight on the balls of the feet. Do your best to bring the feet and legs together. You can facilitate the pose with any of the props you used in seiza. If it still feels too intense, lift up into a high kneeling position until you can ease back into the pose. And if you are in pain, come out! Whoever coined the phrase “no pain, no gain” was not a yinster.
Toe squat opens the feet, including the toes, and strengthens the ankles. This pose is a good counter to the compressive force of shoes that bind our feet and toes together, and in addition to opening the liver meridian by compressing the front of the ankle, it provides a wonderful stimulus for all the meridians of the lower body.
Ankle Stretch (One minute) Come out of toe squat by shifting your weight forward and untucking your toes. You may keep a blanket or sticky mat under the knees, but remove any other props. Then, while keeping the weight grounded down through the tops of the feet and ankles, lean back slightly, fingertips on the floor behind you, and lift the heart up toward the ceiling for a very gentle backbend. Your knees will likely rise off the floor.
To come out, bring your hands to the floor in front of you, and tuck the toes under. Lifting the hips and knees, step forward about 12 inches, first with one foot and then the other. Root your feet into the floor and rise up to mountain pose.
Dangling (Three minutes) Stand with feet hip-width apart and knees soft. Fold forward, rounding the back at the end of the fold, and clasp your elbows with opposite hands (or rest your elbows on your thighs if that feels more appropriate). Keep the legs bent to avoid too much muscle involvement. This pose stimulates the urinary bladder and liver meridians.
If you aren’t feeling any sensation in the low back or hamstrings, try reaching behind your legs to clasp your wrists or forearms.
Squat (Two minutes) From dangling, bend the knees a bit more, and heel-toe the feet out until they’re mat-width apart, with the toes pointing out at 45 degrees. Then drop the hips down into malasana (garland pose)—a natural counterpose for dangling, and one that’s also great for stimulating the liver meridian.
Bring the palms together into anjali mudra, pressing the elbows into the inside of the knees while the knees press back. Lift the heart and the gaze. If the heels don’t touch the floor, place a blanket underneath them.
Repeat Dangling (Three minutes) and Squat (Two minutes) To come out, place the hands on the floor in front of you, and lift your hips. Heel-toe the feet back together until they’re hip-width apart, and then dangle once again—this time attempting to straighten the legs a bit more. Hold for three minutes, and then take malasana again for two minutes.
When you come out of malasana the second time, sit back, extend your legs out in front of you; place your hands on the floor behind you, lean into them, and shake out the legs one at a time. Then move into child’s pose for one minute.
Tadpole (Two minutes) and Frog (Three minutes) Begin in child’s pose, with arms extended out in front of you. Bring the knees out wide, but keep the buttocks reaching toward the heels. Hold here in tadpole pose for two minutes.
Then lift the hips, and come forward until the hips are about in line with the knees; allow the pelvis to sink toward the floor.
Stay here in half frog, or see if you can turn the feet out and separate the heels until the shins are parallel for full frog with ankles flexed.
Whether you’re in full frog or half frog, hold for three minutes. To come out, move into child’s pose for one minute.
Sleeping Swan (Three minutes, plus one-minute counterpose on each side) From child’s pose, come onto your hands and knees. Move the left knee toward the left wrist, and inch the right foot back until the right leg is extended into swan (aka pigeon).
Allow the pelvis to sink down (if it is higher on one side and uncomfortable, tuck a blanket or bolster under the higher hip for support, or tuck it under the lower hip to level the pelvis). The left knee should be happy—if it is not, bring the left foot closer to the left hip. Once the knee is content, work the left shin toward parallel with the top edge of the mat. The right leg may be straight or bent, as in deer pose (pictured below).
If your front shin is parallel with the top edge of your mat, flex your foot. If your front shin is on a diagonal, keep your foot pointed and your ankle neutral. Keep your hips releasing down toward the floor, and then fold forward, supporting yourself on your hands or forearms.
You can also release your torso completely over the front shin or a bolster. Stay here for three minutes. Then tuck the back toes under, and lift into downward dog for one minute. Repeat on the other side.
Dragon Cycle (One/two/two/one minutes, plus one-minute of counterposing on each side) From down dog, step the right foot forward between both hands, and drop the left knee down into a low lunge, or baby dragon. Keep your weight above the left kneecap (not directly on it), or place a blanket under it to alleviate pressure. You can place the hands on blocks if they don’t comfortably reach the floor.
Hold for one minute, and then lift the torso, and place your hands on top of your right thigh for dragon flying high. Hold for two minutes.
Move into dragon flying low by bringing both hands to the floor inside the right foot. Walk the right foot out to the right a few inches (perhaps turning it out 45 degrees if that feels more appropriate for your body). Rest here, or come down onto the forearms (either on the floor or on blocks). Work on releasing the hips down and forward.
Stay here, or practice winged dragon, rolling onto the outer edge of the right foot and allowing the knee to fall open to the side. Hold either variation for two minutes.
Next, with the entire right foot planted on the floor, place the right hand on top of or inside the right knee, and gently push it out to the side, keeping the left hand or forearm in place on the floor or block. Rotate the torso so that the heart is shining toward the sky. Hold here in twisted dragon for one minute.
Then move into down dog for 30 seconds and child’s pose for 30 seconds before repeating on the other side.
The dragon cycle deeply stimulates the liver meridian. It may be because of this that people can become quite grumpy in dragon. This can be a good thing, because emotions are brought to the forefront as chi is unblocked along these pathways, allowing us to learn how to be with our anger without being dominated by it. That said, be prepared for a few groans when moving into the dragon series!
One Knee Bent Reclining Twist (Four minutes on each side) From child’s pose, roll onto your back. Squeeze the right knee into the chest, and extend the left leg. Draw the right knee across the body and lower it toward the left side, laying the left hand on the outside of the right knee for gentle weighting. Ground the right shoulder into the mat, and relax into the twist. After four minutes, draw both knees into the chest to release the sacrum and lumbar spine, and then repeat on the other side. Draw both knees into the chest.
(Five minutes) Melt into savasana for five minutes. If thoughts intrude, simply note that the mind is wandering. Return the focus to the breath and the internal mantra: As you breathe in: “I am now aware,” and as you breathe out: “Letting go of emotions that do not serve me.”
It can be enormously empowering to be able to co-exist with a strong emotion like anger, rather than letting it engulf us. In practicing this sequence, remind yourself that while awareness of anger is helpful, we do not need to react to it. We can simply let it pass by without doing emotional damage.
So enjoy those mighty dragon poses!