A yin yoga class can feel wonderful, providing both relaxation and deep release. However, there may be some yin poses that are inaccessible to you or your students, whether because of injury, limited range of motion, or something else. This prop-supported practice is designed to allow more yogis to access yin poses and to find their yin “edge,” which means achieving a sensation of stretch without crossing the threshold into pain.
Because you can adjust the support in order to customize each pose for your body, using props and modifications makes available a full spectrum of sensation, regardless of your range of motion (or your students’). While some people may have a full spectrum of sensation available to them without these props, as a yin teacher I’ve learned that the modifications described below—and the use of props in general—are particularly helpful for allowing a wider range of students to benefit from the practice of yin.
As you practice the sequence, imagine sensation as a dial with gradients. Approach each pose slowly, gradually turning the dial to increase the intensity until you find your edge—and dialing down the intensity as you need to by easing out of the pose. Slowly increase sensation by going deeper if at any point you are no longer feeling your edge.
This sequence is approximately an hour long, though the exact duration will vary depending on the time you take for counterposes, transitions, and savasana.
Basic Relaxation Pose With Inclined Bolster
To set up for the opening pose, place a block on its medium horizontal setting about six inches from the back edge of your mat. Then place a second block a couple of inches away from the first block, closer to the middle of your mat, at its lowest horizontal setting. Lean a bolster over the blocks to form a ramp so the bottom end rests approximately in the middle of your mat. Sit right in front of the bolster, and ease your way back onto the bolster as if it were your very own yoga chaise lounge. Your head should be supported by the bolster. You can place your hands on your belly or rest your arms alongside your body; your legs can be extended or bent.
With your front body open, take deep three-part yogic breaths—inhaling to expand the belly, then rib cage, then chest, and exhaling from the chest, then rib cage, then belly. After five minutes, press your palms into the ground or mat, engage your core, and lift your head, shoulders, and torso off the bolster. Sit in a comfortable position for a couple of breaths to enjoy the aftereffects of the pose.
Twist on Inclined Bolster
3 minutes each side
Turn to face the left side of your mat and snug your left hip up against the edge of the bolster, with both legs bent and arranged for optimal comfort. You may want a blanket under your knees or ankles. As you twist to the left, place your left hand and forearm on the floor on the left side of the bolster and your right hand and forearm on the floor on the right side. Ease your belly and chest down onto the bolster, resting your left cheek on the bolster.
Stay here for three minutes, taking deep breaths, expanding your right side body, and noting any sensation of stretch around your right hip. Then press into your palms to ease away from the bolster and turn to face front. Repeat on the other side. After three minutes on that side, come back to face front.
Wide-Legged Bent-Knee Fold
Turn to face the long side of your mat and place your bolster in front of you. Bend your knees and place your feet wider than hip-width apart (about as wide as the short edges of your mat) and about two feet away from your hips. Stand the bolster up between your feet so that it leans toward you. Fold forward, anteriorly tilting your pelvis and keeping length in your lower back. Rest your forehead on the top of the bolster and let your thoracic spine round.
If you don’t experience your edge here you can straighten your legs (like upavistha konasana), lower the bolster, or choose not to use it.
To come out, slowly reach up through the crown of your head to lift away from the bolster, gently unfurling your spine. Straighten your legs if they are bent, pointing and flexing your feet and toes as a brief counterpose.
Come onto your belly, legs extended, tops of your feet and pelvis pressing into the mat. Place the bolster under your chest, letting your forearms rest on the floor in front of the bolster
Check for a mild sensation of compression in your low back. If it’s too intense, remove the bolster, bend your elbows out to the sides, and rest your forehead on stacked hands or fists.
If you don’t experience sensation in supported sphinx, you could remove the bolster and adopt a traditional, unsupported sphinx pose with the forearms on the floor. You could also use the bolster under the forearms themselves for still more intensity.
Another option for more intensity is to bend your knees and allow your heels to drop toward your glutes.
After five minutes, remove the bolster (if using) and release onto the mat, forehead supported on stacked hands, elbows out to the side.
Supported Tadpole or Frog
Place your hands under your shoulders and gently press up into tabletop. You may wish to turn to face the long edge of the mat so that your knees have more padding. Place the bolster lengthwise with one end between your knees. Release your hips toward your heels and your torso onto the bolster for supported child’s pose.
Remain here, or, to move into supported tadpole, lift up your torso and move the bolster farther forward. Bring your knees wider and lift your hips and shift them forward, so they’re about in line with your knees. Bring your big toes to touch, and check in here to see if you have found your edge.
For more sensation, move into supported frog: Separate your feet, turning them out and flexing them, and adjust so that your shins are parallel to each other, knees in line with ankles.
You can turn your head to one side or, if you need to shift the bolster farther back to support the pelvis or hips, rest your head on a block placed in front of the bolster. Blankets or towels under your knees or ankles can alleviate discomfort. You can dial the sensation up or down moving hips closer to or farther from heels.
To come out, press back up into tabletop, cross the ankles, and move into a relaxed seated position, shifting the bolster forward as necessary.
Come into a seated position. Place the bolster horizontally about a third of the way down from the top of your mat, so that when you lie down it will support your low to mid back, with the top of the bolster in line with the tips of your shoulder blades. The crown or back of your head can rest on your mat or the back of your head can rest on a block on its lowest setting. You can release your arms into a T or cactus shape or place your hands on your belly. For more sensation and stretch, reach your arms to the floor overhead. Your legs can be extended or bent.
Stay here for five minutes, practicing the three-part yogic breath instructed in the opening pose.
3 minutes each side
Roll over onto your right side so the bolster is under your right armpit and the right side of your rib cage. Bend your knees to the side so that you come into a fetal position. For a more relaxing pose, cross your arms over your chest. To deepen the stretch, extend your right arm on the floor and rest your head on your right bicep. Your left arm can either rest along the side of your body or you can reach it overhead, bringing your left and right palms together.
Play with straightening your left leg and reaching through your left toes, with the right knee bent, and even reaching your left leg back on a diagonal.
Stay for three minutes. To switch sides, come into a fetal position on your right side and roll over to the left side, adjusting your position on the bolster as necessary. After three minutes, use your hands to press up and come up to a comfortable seated position.
Some of my students have dubbed this pose “bolster bliss”! Place the bolster horizontally under your thighs and then bend your knees, letting them fall open to the side and bringing the soles of your feet together—your feet should be about one and a half to two feet away from your hips. Use your hands to ease yourself down onto your back. You can rest your hands on your belly or alongside your body on the floor.
Double Knee Supported Twist
3 minutes each side
Use your hands to guide your left leg to stack on top of the bent right leg in a double-legged twist to the right. You can open your arms into a T or place your right hand on the outside of your left thigh. Feel free to adjust the bolster to achieve more support or to fill in any nooks and crannies.
As you inhale, visualize opening your heart up to the sky. As you exhale, visualize rooting your left shoulder into the earth. After three minutes, engage your core and use your hands, one on either side of your legs to guide and assist both bent knees over to the left for three minutes on that side. After three minutes, use your hands to bring your legs back to the center and then extend your legs.
5 to 20 minutes
Arrange your props so that your body feels completely supported. Some people love a bolster under bent knees, while others may prefer to return to the basic relaxation pose at the beginning of this practice. An extra-long savasana will be particularly restorative, so if you have the time, do allow yourself the indulgence!