When you can’t decide between yin and yang, there’s a way to do both in a single practice. It’s like having sweet and savory in the same morsel, and we all know how amazing that can be. Or, if you feel like flowing gently without and you’d prefer a minimum of down dog, this sequence is great as a go-to.
The practice begins with a few yin poses to target the connective tissue while the body is cold so that the muscles don’t “eat up” all the stretch (generally a key thing to keep in mind with yin). The yang movements that follow complement the yin sequence; they serve as counterposes, helping blood, lymph, and chi to flow throughout the body. The yang poses are not so vigorous as to conflict with the yin poses; rather, they build on the increased range of motion initiated by the yin poses. The result is a flowing sequence that will leave you feeling balanced.
Before You Begin
Have two blocks and a blanket handy. The yin prelude takes about 10 minutes. The first time through the yin-yang flow, you will be holding certain poses for a longer (i.e., “yin”) length of time, so each side will take about 11 minutes to complete. On subsequent cycles through the yin-yang flow, skip the yin prelude and don’t hold the poses in the flow for time: This results in each side taking about one minute or slightly longer, depending on how much time you spend moving in and out of the poses and holding them.
Relax in an easy, seated pose that feels optimal for your body. As this is a balanced practice, focus your breath on achieving equal inhales and exhales. Sense each side of your body and note any similarities and differences. Set an intention to seek balance in your mind, body, and emotions. Where and when you discover imbalance, bring the equanimity of your breath to the area and visualize unifying the two sides.
Yin Prelude (do only once)
From your seated position, move into butterfly with your heels one to two feet away from your hips so that your legs make a diamond shape. Sit on the edge of a bolster or folded blanket if that feels better in your hips and/or knees. Become aware of sensations in your body. You may already be experiencing a stretch in your hips or low back—if so, find your physical and mental stillness and breathe.
If you’re not yet feeling a stretch, allow your pelvis to tilt toward the floor and fold forward until you do, walking your hands forward and letting the weight of your arms in front of you gently assist you in the process. If it's comfortable for you, allow your spine to round and your head to drop. You can rest your forehead on a block if you’d like.
Stay for five minutes. To come out, lengthen through your spine as you walk your hands back to your hips to bring your torso to vertical.
Cross your ankles and bring your palms forward onto the mat, stacking your shoulders over your wrists. Arrange your knees hip-width apart, uncrossing your ankles, and bringing your feet in line with your knees and your knees under your hips. Tuck your toes under and then walk your hands back to come into a wide squat (malasana, or “garland pose”) with your knees and toes pointing in the same direction. If feet parallel is not optimal for your body, turn your feet out to a 45-degree angle and/or bring your feet wider than hip-width apart. Your heels can lift off the mat, or you can place a folded blanket under them. You can also sit on a block if you’d like.
Bring your hands to meet at your heart center, or place the blocks in front of you or next to your hips for support. Lift your heart away from your tailbone. Hold for two minutes.
Bring your feet hip-width apart and parallel, and start to lengthen your legs by pressing into your feet and lifting your hips toward the ceiling, allowing your spine to release and round forward. You can clasp your elbows with opposite hands or rest your elbows on your thighs. Keep your knees bent slightly.
If you aren’t feeling a stretch, try clasping one of your wrists with the opposite hand behind your legs while still rounding your back slightly. Stay for three minutes.
To come out, place your hands on your hips, lengthen your spine, and rise to a standing position.
Stand with your feet hip-width apart, reaching the crown of your head toward the ceiling. Externally rotate your arms so that your palms face forward. Take five deep breaths here.
Dragon Flying High
Step your right foot back into a low lunge, resting your right knee on the mat or a folded blanket, and keeping your right toes tucked. Stack your hands on your left thigh. Reach the crown of your head toward the ceiling so that your torso is vertical. Release your hips toward the mat until you feel a sensation of stretch in the front of your right thigh. Your left knee may go past your left ankle.
Stay for two minutes if this is your first pass through, or two breaths if it’s a subsequent repetition.
Place your hands on the mat on either side of your left foot, and lift your right knee off the floor. Then raise your hips as you lift your left leg back and up to the ceiling in our yin-yang version of three-legged dog: three-legged dragon. Distribute your weight equally between both hands and keep your shoulders and hips square. Stay for two breaths.
Bend your left knee in toward your chest, and then extend your left leg out to the right side, bringing the outer edge of your left foot to the floor. Root into the outer edge of your left foot and the inner edge of your right foot. Inhale and lift your right hand off the mat, reaching it up to the ceiling. Open your heart to the right side. Stay for two breaths.
From dragon belly, lower your hips down to the floor, sliding your legs apart slightly more as you come to a seated position. Bend your left knee and draw your left heel toward your pelvis, keeping your right leg straight (but keeping your right knee and ankle soft and relaxed). Walk your hands out in front of you and fold forward, stopping when you feel a stretch. Allow your spine to round. You can keep your head lifted or allow it to drop.
Stay for three minutes your first time through, two breaths subsequently. To come out, lengthen your spine as you walk your hands toward your body to return to vertical.
Half Butterfly Twist
Twist to face your right leg. With one hand on either side of your leg, walk your hands forward and fold forward over your leg, stopping at your yin "edge" (the place at which you experience a tangible sensation of stretch, but not the most extreme stretch you’ve ever felt); allow your spine to round.
Stay for three minutes your first time through, two breaths subsequently. Then bring your torso upright and face center.
Half Butterfly Circles
Place your left hand behind your left hip with your fingers pointing away from your body. Inhale and lift your hips off the ground, circling your right arm to the left, back, and around to the front, exhaling as you release your hips back on the floor and your right arm completes its circle. Repeat for a total of five circles and breaths.
Three-Legged Dragon to Transition to Lunge
Come onto your left knee, with hips and shoulders square to the top of your mat, right leg extended behind you with toes tucked under, and your hands to the floor on either side of your left knee.
Inhale and lift your hips as you draw your left knee up into your core.
Then extend your left leg back and up into three-legged dragon.
From three-legged dragon, step your left foot forward to the top of your mat to come into a lunge.
From lunge, inhale and windmill your arms up to shoulder height, turning your hips, shoulders, and whole body to face the right side of your mat, and spinning the sole of your right foot to the floor. Your legs should be about three feet apart. Turn your toes out 45 degrees so that your feet point away from each other (toward opposite corners of your mat). Inhale to lengthen your arms and hands away from each other, palms facing forward.
Exhale to bend your knees and draw your elbows into your sides for goddess pose (a wide squat).
Do this a total of three times, ending in goddess. Then internally rotate your right leg, spinning onto the ball of your right foot as you turn your left foot to point toward the top of your mat; allow the rest of your body to follow, as you come to face front again in a high lunge.
Bring both hands to the mat on either side of your left foot for baby dragon, releasing your right knee to the mat, toes tucked under. Stay for two minutes your first time through and two breaths on subsequent rounds.
Then lift your right knee off the mat and step your right foot to the top of your mat in line with your left foot, coming into a standing forward bend.
Bend your knees and lift your hips to the ceiling as you did previously in dangling.
Take five breaths before placing your hands on your hips and hinging up to mountain pose.
Repeat the flow on the other side. Remember: The first time through the flow hold the poses for the longer amount of time. On subsequent repetitions, take a more yang-style approach and hold those poses for only a few breaths (as indicated). Repeat as many times as you would like, making sure to do the same number of repetitions on each side.
When you've completed your final repetition, come into the savasana position of your choice. Pause to notice your energy and the blood flowing through your body. Notice any feelings of openness, tightness, release, or closure. Begin to release any holding in your muscles or other tissues. Feel supported by the ground and let go of any effort. Let your inhales flow into your exhales without direction or manipulation. Stay for five minutes or longer.
The Practice at a Glance
Photography: Andrea Killam