Yin Yoga Sequence for Low Back Pain

yin yoga sequenceIf you are not familiar with a Yin Yoga sequence, we are going to show you how to do it with a gentle sequence for low back pain.  Before you begin, here’s a little bit of background on the style.  Yin Yoga is an extremely slow-paced, passive style of yoga asana practice which can not only alleviate pain, but also teach you the art of mindful relaxation.

It differs from other more active styles in a few ways. In a Yin practice, you are not concerned with alignment or activation of muscles, but rather you are focused on finding your sweet spot in a pose. Your sweet spot is that juicy place in the pose where the stretch is just enough tension to feel good, but not so much tension that you feel stress.  Your sweet-spot monitor is your breath. If you are in the pose and find that your breathing becomes irregular, then you are too deep and need to back out just a bit.   Instead of asking you to activate in the pose, Yin says relax in the pose. This relaxing of your body often happens in a slow, wave-like motion – something you can become aware of as you breathe and sink deeper into the pose.

Because it engages the relaxation response in your body, a Yin sequence can also prepare you for a deep meditation practice.  To get the full benefit of the Yin poses, you are asked to stay in the pose from 1-5 minutes, and sometimes even 20 minutes, at a time and to focus on your breathing.  When you sync your breath and awareness this way, you become more attuned to the effects of each pose. This kind of focus is what gives Yin Yoga its meditative quality.  It is really helpful to set a timer for each pose – something with a gentle ringtone on it. This frees the mind from wondering how long you have been there and allows you to more fully focus on the pose and your sensations.

The Sequence

If you have tight hips and hamstrings, then you probably also have low back pain. Releasing the hips and hamstrings in a Yin practice will also release the associated tension in your spine.

Dangling

yin yoga Benefits

Stretches the hamstrings and lower spine.

Light compression in the neck.

Coming into the Pose

  1. With your feet firmly on the ground and hip width apart, gently fold forward, bending your knees if you have tight hamstrings or a bad back.
  2. Clasp your elbows with opposite hands.
  3. Now just hang out.
  4. Breathe deeply through the nose and exhale through the mouth.
  5. Pay attention to the sensations you feel.
  6. Spend anywhere from 1-3 minutes.
  7. Roll up slowly.

Squat

yin yogaBenefit

Opens the hips.

Stretches the connective tissue around the ankles.

Releases tension in the low back.

Coming into the Pose

  1. From the standing position above, squat down and bring your arms in front of you in prayer position.
  2. Slightly push your inner thighs into your elbows to create more stability.
  3. If your ankles are too restricted to keep your heels on the ground, use a folded towel or blanket underneath them. Eventually, you won’t need it.
  4. Spend about 1-3 minutes.
  5. Place your hands on the floor and come into a gentle forward bend to come out of the pose.
  6. Drop down onto all fours and sit back for the next pose.

Butterfly

yin yogaThis pose is a more relaxed variation of bound angle pose.

Benefits

Stretches your lower back.

Stretches the inner thighs.

Stretches the hamstrings.

Coming into the Pose

  1. Draw the soles of your feet together, then slide them away from you.
  2. Allow your back to round as you fold forward until you find a comfortable place to let your head dangle.
  3. Place a bolster on your thighs for support if you need to.
  4. Rest your hands on your feet or on the floor in front of you.
  5. Adjust your feet closer to your groin for more of an inner thigh stretch.
  6. Adjust your feet further from your groin for more of a hamstring stretch.
  7. As you breathe deeply, inhaling and exhaling through the nose, see if you notice the subtle openings in your outer hips and lower back. The more they open, the more you will sink into this pose.
  8. Notice any thoughts or feelings you have and see if you notice also how your body responds to those thoughts.
  9. If this pose causes pain in your back (pain, not a deep stretch), you can do it lying back.
  10. Hang out here for 3-5 minutes.
  11. Use your hands to walk yourself slowly and gently out of this pose.
  12. Point your knees toward the ceiling and rock them back and forth as a counter pose.

Dragonfly

yin yogaThis is a modified wide straddle position.

Benefits

Opens hips, groin, and hamstrings.

Coming into the Pose

  1. From your seated position, open the legs into a v-position – as far as they will go, giving you a good stretch, but not a strain.
  2. Gently fold forward, supporting yourself with your hands, eventually working your way down to the floor – someday, if not today.
  3. Stop at the first sign of a good stretch and start paying attention to your inhale and exhale.
  4. See if you notice yourself sinking deeper into the stretch on the exhale.
  5. Inhale and breathe into any tension and exhale to release.
  6. If this hurts your knees, engage your quadriceps (top of the thigh muscle).
  7. Use a bolster behind your hamstrings if they are over-tight.
  8. Sit on a cushion if you need it to fold forward.
  9. Take about 5 minutes here.

Adding the Side Stretch

  1. On an inhale, walk yourself up.
  2. Exhale and gently twist your body to one side.
  3. Inhale deeply and on an exhale, fold forward over that leg.
  4. Stay here from 2-5 minutes, adding the arm up and over to increase the side stretch.
  5. Again, stay mindful of the slight changes in your body as you sit in these poses.  The more you stay connected to your body, the less likely you are to overstretch and injure yourself.
  6. Come out of the pose supporting yourself with your hands.
  7. Switch and do the other side.
  8. Gently bring your legs together, lean back on your hands, and shake out your legs.

Caterpillar

yin yogaThis pose is a variation of a forward bend. The main difference is that you are not concerned with keeping your spine straight, but rather with finding a comfortable place to relax and breathe.

Benefits

Stretches the hamstrings.

Stretches the spine.

Aides digestion.

Coming into the Pose

  1. Allowing your back to round, fold forward until gravity starts to draw you down into the pose.
  2. Add cushions or bolsters – under your butt and behind your knees – to give you support in this pose.
  3. If you stand a lot during the day, try this pose with your legs up the wall.  This helps increase the circulation in your legs.
  4. Stay here at least 3-5 minutes, longer if you can.
  5. Go with the natural releasing patterns of your body, following it with your breath – inhaling into the tension and exhaling to release the tension.

Again, pay attention to any thoughts or emotions that arise. You are just noticing what arises, not trying to change anything.

Sleeping Swan Pose

yin yogaThis pose is related to Pigeon Pose. Again, the difference is that you are not so much focused on alignment as you are to what you are feeling.

Benefits

Gentle hip opener:  front hip of the extended leg; outer hip of the bent leg.

Coming into the Pose

  1. Come into an easy cross-legged position, one leg in front of the other.
  2. Slowly stretch the leg closest to your groin straight out behind you.
  3. Keeping your weight back into your hips, slowly begin to lower yourself down, stopping to hang out wherever you feel the first stretch.
  4. As you feel your body start to open, sink deeper and deeper until you can rest on your elbows and eventually on the floor.
  5. Hang out on one leg for 5 minutes.
  6. Gently walk yourself back out of the pose.
  7. Do the other side.

Reclining Twist

yin yogaBenefits

Gently stretches the side body.

Gently opens the sacro-iliac joint.

Stretches your outer low back.

Coming into the Pose

  1. From your seated position, lie back.
  2. Bring your knees into your chest.
  3. Open your arms out to the sides.
  4. Drop your knees to one side.  If your knees are higher, your upper back will get more stretch. If your knees are lower, your lower back will get the stretch.
  5. Slowly and mindfully play around with your arm and leg positions until you find a sweet spot.  As you do this, notice how the different positions affect your body.
  6. Hang out for 1-5 minutes.
  7. Repeat the stretch on the other side.

To Deepen the Pose

  1. Draw only one knee into the chest and using the opposite arm, take that knee across the body to the other side.
  2. Eventually try and straighten the leg.
  3. Moving your head from side to side, notice what this does to the stretch.
  4. To come out of the pose, draw your knees to your chest and rock from side to side.

Shavasana

yin yogaShavasana puts a seal on the end of your practice and gives you the time and space to be present with the sensations pulsing through your body.  Setting a timer for Shavasna will give you the space to really fall into the pose.  Set it just long enough for you to get comfortable, but not long enough for you to fall asleep – unless you are going to bed after your practice.

Incorporating in a Yin Yoga practice in your daily life will not only benefit your body, but it will also benefit your mind and spirit.