The day they removed the (rarely used) barre from my yoga studio, I cheered. Not that I have anything against barre classes; in fact, I used to teach them. But with that piece of equipment gone, I had pure, unadulterated access to one of my favorite props—the wall.
I love using the wall to facilitate balance, inversions, resistance, and play. But most of all, I love the wall for Yin Yoga. The wall can make Yin even more accessible for people with a variety of mobility ranges.
Here is a five-pose sequence you can use with assistance from the wall.
Butterfly Against the Wall
Sit with your back against the wall. Bring the soles of your feet to touch, heels about 12 to 18 inches from your pelvis. Let your knees fall open to the sides. You can place blocks under the thighs or knees to ease tension in the groins.
The wall provides support for the back, which is nice, regardless of whether or not you have any back problems or whether or not your back is rounding. Feel the sensation of the wall gently supporting the back of your head and your shoulder blades. Feel your sitting bones rooted into the floor. Allow your jaw to release, your gaze to soften, and the back of your neck to be long. Scan your body for signs of any resistance, holding, or tension. Consciously release into these areas. Stay for five to ten minutes.
Bend your knees into your chest and turn to sit sideways with one hip next to the wall. Roll onto your backside and reach your legs up the wall. Allow your knees and ankles to soften. In this position, the sacrum may be lifted off the floor. If that feels safe for your body, it’s fine to remain here. If you feel your low back would benefit from more support, place a bolster or folded blanket under your hips and right against the wall. Or, if you feel restricted by tight hamstrings, you can move your hips farther away from the wall to allow your sacrum to rest on the mat (this can be a great option for those with tight hamstrings).
While holding this pose for five to ten minutes, we can work to open the three main energy channels—the sushumna, ida and pingala nadis. This will allow prana, or chi (life force), to flow unobstructed. One way we open the channels is by mentally circulating chi via the following method. Start by exhaling. With empty lungs, inhale and use your awareness to visualize life force energy flowing down from your throat to your heart, and then down to the base of your spine. On the exhale, imagine your breath traveling from the base of your spine up to your heart. Use a five-count breath on the inhale and the exhale. Continue to inhale to the base of the spine and exhale back to the heart.
Figure 4 at the Wall
If you’re using a prop under your hips, you may wish to remove it. From caterpillar, bend your right knee, flex your right foot, and place your right ankle above your left knee. Start to bend your left knee by sliding your left foot down the wall. Move slowly until you feel a stretch in the right outer hip. You may be able to slide your left foot down until there’s a 90-degree bend in your left knee, which may result in the left knee being drawn in very close to the chest—if this does not feel optimal, move your body farther away from the wall to give your left knee more room.
Use your hand to gently push your right knee toward the wall to deepen the stretch in your right hip and allow for unencumbered breathing. There is a good chance that your sit bones will be lifting off the mat here, and you can remain in this position if this feels fine for your low back; if you feel any tension or discomfort, however, move farther away from the wall to allow your sacrum to rest on the floor.
Stay for three to five minutes. To come out, slide your left foot back up the wall and uncross your legs. Shake your legs out, and then change sides.
Dragonfly Facing the Wall
Release your legs to the floor by bending the knees, rolling onto your side, and then swiveling up to face the wall, sitting about two feet away from it. Open your legs out into a wide V with the inner edges of your relaxed feet gently braced against the wall. Start with your hands about six inches behind your hips, fingers pointing backward. Gently lift your heart toward the ceiling. Scan your body for sensation: If you feel a stretch here, stay and breathe; if you need more stretch, tilt your pelvis forward and stack your hands on the wall with your forehead resting on them, bending your elbows out to the sides.
Alternatively, you can rest your forehead on a bolster leaning pillar-like against the wall. Stay for five minutes.
To come out of dragonfly, bring your hands behind your knees to bend them one at a time and draw them together as you scooch away from the wall. Turn so that you’re sitting about three feet from the wall, with one side of your body parallel to it. Place the soles of your feet on the floor, slightly wider than hip-width apart. Drop your bent knees side to side in windshield wipers for one minute, and then lie down on your back with extended legs.
Reach your outside arm out into a T. Lift the outside leg straight up and take it across your body until the sole of your foot is braced against the wall at the level at which you feel a stretch in the outside hip. Use the wall as resistance to find an appropriate degree of stretch. You can direct the foot to more of a diagonal reaching from hip up toward chest level on the wall, with your foot creeping up as high as your shoulder. Those with tight hips can either keep their leg at 90 degrees, or move their foot closer to the ceiling (but still on the wall)—perhaps even bringing their entire body closer to the wall. Work on opening the chest toward the sky and melting the outer shoulder into the ground. Stay for five minutes and then switch sides. Hug both knees into the chest.
A reclining pose is one option for savasana. You could also end the practice similar to how you began by taking a comfortable seated position with your back supported by the wall. Allow your body to surrender to the wall and the ground, finding a place of relaxation and ease. If there is any sensation of stretch or tension in this seated pose, however, choose the reclined savasana position for a more complete sense of release. Remain here for five minutes.