The rigorous and disciplined practice of Ashtanga yoga was first developed in Mysore, India and introduced to the west in the 1970’s by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. The practice consists of six series of Ashtanga yoga poses:
Primary: known as yoga chikitsa, or yoga therapy, this series of Ashtanga yoga poses centers around forward bends.
Second/Intermediate: known as nadi shodhana, meaning nerve cleansing, this series focuses primarily on back bends.
Advanced A, B, C, and D: known as sthira bhaga, or strength and grace, these series emphasize arm-support and arm-balancing postures.
Each series is traditionally practiced six days a week and in a specific order each time. When taught in the original style of Mysore, India, a yogi practices at their own pace and is only given a new pose/series when they have mastered the previous poses. For anyone who craves discipline and structure in their practice, ashtanga yoga poses are a great place to start! Below is your complete guide to the Ashtanga yoga poses of the primary series.
A Complete Guide to All Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series Poses
The Primary Series – Yoga Chikitsa
For the cleansing and purifying effect it has on the body and mind, the primary series is referred to as yoga chikitsa, or yoga therapy. Traditionally taking 90 minutes to complete, the primary series is meant to build strength and flexibility in the body, relieve tension in the muscles, and heal and detoxify the body and nervous system. Like all ashtanga series, the emphasis on linking breath to movement and performing a vinyasa sequence to transition between postures are core features of the practice. The following is the sequence for the primary series of Ashtanga yoga poses:
Standing Sequence of Ashtanga Yoga Poses
Padangusthasana (Big Toe Pose)
Beginning the standing sequence with padangusthasana helps prepare the yogi for the forward folds that occur later in the series by stretching the hamstrings and calves, and strengthening the thighs. Like all forward bends, this pose has a calming effect on the mind which helps to relieve stress and anxiety. Additionally, the gentle pressure of the abdomen against the thighs stimulates the liver and kidneys and supports improved digestion.
Padahastasana (Hand Under Foot Pose)
Like its preceding pose, padahastasana increases flexibility in the hamstrings, while engaging the lower back. While in this inversion, the yogi also benefits from improved blood circulation to the upper part of the body, providing relief from mental and physical exhaustion. It is also thought to stimulate vata energy in the Ayurvedic tradition, leading to a light and airy energy in the body.
Trikonasana (Triangle Pose)
Moving into trikonasana, this pose supports increased strength in the legs, knees, ankles, arms, and chest as you keep the torso lifted against the pull of gravity. Keeping the chest open, you can also experience better breathing as the lungs are able to expand fully. The hips, groin, hamstrings, calves, shoulders, chest, and spine all receive a stretch as well.
Parivrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle Pose)
Similar to the previous pose, revolved triangle pose strengthens and stretches the shoulders, legs, feet, ankles, abdominals, hips, and spine. With the addition of the twist, the abdominal organs are stimulated, leading to improved digestion. This posture also provides an opportunity to improve balance.
Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose)
This posture begins to test the stamina needed for the rest of the Ashtanga yoga poses of the primary sequence. The emphasis on the lower body strengthens and stretches the legs, knees, groin, waist, and ankles. While the lower body is doing a significant amount of work, the upper body still receives a stretch in the spine and shoulders and an opening of the chest and lungs.
Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (Revolved Side Angle Pose)
This challenging standing twist also increases strength and stamina like the pose before it. The addition of the twist adds a new challenge for balance, while also stimulating the abdominal organs to improve digestion and aid elimination. Twisting is also thought to help detoxify the body by stimulating fresh blood flow through the internal organs. Shown in the above angle is a modification of this pose.
Prasarita Padottanasana A, B, C, and D (Wide-Legged Forward Bend Pose)
Like the first posture in the standing sequence, this pose provides the benefits of both forward folds and inversions, such as helping to calm the mind and provide relief from stress and anxiety. Prasarita padottanasana lengthens and stretches the spinal column and stretches the backs of the legs, helping to relieve mild back pain. A yogi can also find relief from neck and shoulder tension as the head is allowed to relax towards the ground. Four variations of the pose are practiced in this sequence: hands on the ground with elbows pointing back (A), hands placed on the hips and elbows pulled close together (B), hands interlocked behind back and brought towards the ground (C), holding the big toes, pulling the crown of the head as close to the ground as possible (D).
Parsvottanasana (Intense Side Stretch Pose)
This forward bend provides an additional challenge of balance which helps calm the mind and improve posture. In the full expression of the posture with hands in reverse prayer, the spine, shoulders, and wrists receive a deep stretch. Parsvottanasana also stretches the hips and hamstrings while strengthening the legs.
Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose)
Another balancing pose in the standing sequence, this posture stretches the back of the legs, opens the hips, and strengthens the legs and ankles. The challenge of standing on one leg also improves your sense of balance and challenges your concentration and ability to focus. The extension of the arm also provides an opportunity to open the shoulder.
Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana (Half Bound Lotus Standing Forward Bend Pose)
This forward bends adds the additional challenge of a deep hip opening and hamstring stretch by folding one leg into lotus position and standing on the other leg. By challenging your balance in this posture, you can strengthen your ability to concentrate. It requires a calm and centered mind to persist through the challenge of this posture, which can support an improved meditation practice.
Utkatasana (Chair Pose)
One of the most grounding postures of the standing sequence, utkatasana increases the heart rate and builds heat in the body quickly. This leads to a stimulation of the circulatory and metabolic systems. Additionally, this pose strengthens the ankles, calves, thighs, and spine while stretching the shoulders, shins, and Achilles tendons which can be therapeutic for flat feet.
Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I Pose)
Named after a mythological Hindu warrior, Virabhadra, this posture captures the fierce intensity and powerful nature of this warrior. This deeply grounding and energizing pose builds focus, power, stability, stamina, balance, and coordination. As it increases circulation throughout the body, all the muscles get warm to help prepare for the upcoming seated sequence of Ashtanga yoga poses.
Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II)
Like the previous version of this pose, virabhadrasana II enhances strength, stability, stamina, and concentration. It strengthens and stretches the legs and ankles as well as the groins, chest lungs, and shoulders. This posture is also believed to be therapeutic for sciatica, flat feet, and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Seated Sequence of Ashtanga Yoga Poses
Dandasana (Staff Pose)
Dandasana leads the seated sequence of Ashtanga yoga poses as it is the foundational posture for all seated poses, including twists. This pose strengthens the upper back, chest, and abdomen, and helps prepare the body for deeper poses. Sitting in dandasana gives you an opportunity to focus on improved posture and alignment, as well as calming and steadying the mind before beginning the rest of the primary sequence.
Paschimottanasana A, B, and C (Intense West Stretch Pose)
For ancient yogis facing the sunrise as they practiced, this forward fold towards the sun would stretch the entire back, or “West” side of the body. These variations all stretch the spine, shoulders, hamstrings, and pelvis while stimulating the liver, kidneys, ovaries, and uterus. The calming effect of these forward bends can help relieve stress and soothe headaches and anxiety. The pose includes three variations including grabbing the big toes (A), grabbing over the feet (B), and grabbing the sides of the feet (C).
Purvottanasana (Intense East Stretch Pose)
Also known as upward plank or reverse plank, this Ashtanga yoga pose builds strength and flexibility, and acts as a counter-pose to the forward folds practiced immediately before. Named for the stretch on the front side of the body, or “East” side, practicing purvottanasana can challenge and improve your balance, calm the mind, increase energy, and reduce fatigue. This front-body opener can also counteract the effects of slouching caused by working at a computer, driving, and other forward-facing actions.
Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana(Half-Bound Lotus Forward Bend Pose)
This intense forward bend increases flexibility in the hip and knee joints and stretches the shoulders, hamstrings, calves, and spine. The position of the heel pressing into the abdomen in this pose also benefits the digestive system by stimulating the liver and spleen.
Trianga Mukhaikapada Paschimottanasana (Three Parts Forward Bend Pose)
The three parts, or limbs, referred to in this pose are the feet, knees, and buttocks. The translation of mukha (face), eka (one), and pada (leg or foot) corresponds to the face touching the straight leg. This pose improves flexibility in the spine, hamstrings, hips, and knee joint. Believed to also open the manipura (solar plexus) chakra, this pose activates one’s personal power. By tapping into this chakra, the yogi can feel an increased sense of confidence.
Janu Sirsasana A, B, and C (Head-to-Knee Pose)
Janu sirsasana and its variations help calm the body and mind, helping to relieve stress and anxiety. Each version of the pose deeply stretches the spine, shoulders, hamstrings, and groins, while stimulating the liver and kidneys and improving digestion. The pose includes three variations in the ashtanga practice: foot of the bent knee is placed against the inner thigh with the heel close to the groin and outer edge of the foot flat on the floor (A), similar foot position to A but sitting on the heel of the bent knee foot (B), and sole of the foot again placed against the inner thigh but the foot pointed downwards with the ball of the foot on the floor (C).
Marichyasana A, B, C, and D (Marichi’s Pose)
This group of ashtanga yoga poses is dedicated to the sage Marichi, which can be translated from Sanskrit to mean “ray of light”. In Hindu mythology, Marichi symbolizes power, wisdom, and the cosmic force of creation. The A and C versions of the pose have one leg straight on the ground while either folding forward or twisting the torso. The B and D versions include folding the bottom leg on the thigh of the bent leg, and performing the same forward fold or twist with the upper body. These poses all stretch the spine and shoulders, calm the mind and body, and massage the internal organs to improve digestion.
Navasana (Boat Pose)
One of the most well-known core strengthening poses in yoga, this pose also strengthens the hip flexors and spine while developing concentration and stamina. To remain in this balancing pose, one must stay focused, internally aware, and calm. Within the body, this pose is believed to stimulate the kidneys, thyroid, prostate glands, and intestines. As the internal organs are stimulated, digestion also improves.
Bhujapidasana (Shoulder Pressing Pose)
This arm balance strengthens the shoulders, arms, and wrists, while stretching the abdomen, thighs, arms, and shoulders. Bhujapidasana also challenges and improves balance and concentration. Practicing this posture is also thought to nourish the thyroid gland, control the heart rate, balance the nervous system, and regulate metabolism.
Kurmasana (Tortoise Pose)
Like a tortoise withdrawing into his shell, this pose allows your mind and senses to turn inward. As the mind quiets in tortoise pose, you prepare yourself for meditation while also relieving stress. Practicing this posture lengthens and releases the spine, and helps to relax the neck, head, and shoulders. Additionally, it improves the functioning of the digestive and respiratory systems and refreshes and rejuvenates the body.
Supta Kurmasana (Sleeping Tortoise Pose)
Similar to its preceding pose, this is one of the deepest forward folds of the primary series. One of the main benefits of this pose is the increase in blood flow to the heart and lungs. As a result, it is thought to be a beneficial pose for heart disease, asthma, and bronchitis. Supta kurmasana also opens the hips, pelvis, and lower back while strengthening the outer hips. This posture also provides lengthening and decompression for the spine, helping to relieve tension.
Garbha Pindasana (Embryo in the Womb Pose)
By pressing the heels into the abdomen, and applying the gentle pressure of the arms through the legs, the liver and spleen become purified in this posture. Additionally, this posture enhances diaphragmatic breathing and improves the strength of the pelvic organs. As you develop a sense of balance within the pose, it is also believed that the mind and soul become unified.
Kukkutasana (Rooster Pose)
Kukkutasana stretches the arms and spine while strengthening the shoulders, elbows, wrists, and joints. This balancing posture builds stability and can improve your focus. Rooster pose is also thought to activate the muladhara (root) chakra, which provides feelings of security and grounding, while also stimulating the digestive system, relieving menstrual discomfort, and reducing hip pain. Shown in the above image is a modification.
Baddha Konasana A and B (Bound Angle Pose)
This hip opener stretches the inner thighs, groins, and knees while helping to relieve symptoms of menopause and menstruation through increased blood flow to the pelvis. Two variations are included in the Ashtanga yoga poses of the primary sequence: back rounded and chin brought to the ground (A), and feet moved forward with forehead resting on the tops of the feet (B).
This pose stretches the hamstrings, calves, spine, pelvis, and groin. It also massages and stimulates the kidneys, which helps improve their ability to prevent waste build-up in the body. Additionally, this pose stimulates the abdominal organs, which helps with digestion and metabolism. Folding forward naturally draws the awareness inward, which calms the mind and provides relief from anxiety and fatigue.
Supta Konasana (Reclining Angle Pose)
Supta konasana is an inverted restorative pose that stretches the spine, legs, back, arms, thighs, and calves. It stimulates the thyroid gland, helping with metabolic problems, and also calms the mind to relieve stress and anxiety. This posture is thought to activate the vishuddha (throat) chakra, which improves communication and authentic expression.
Supta Padangusthasana (Reclining Big Toe Pose)
Reclining big toe pose stretches the hips, thighs, hamstrings, groins, and calves while strengthening the knees and relieving back pain and menstrual discomfort. Stretching the hamstrings in this pose is a valuable lesson in developing patience, relaxation, and surrender. As with any yoga pose, stretching beyond your limits is not the goal of a healthy practice. This pose requires listening to your body to respect its capabilities in the moment.
Ubhaya Padangusthasana (Double Big Toe Pose)
This challenging posture requires an excellent sense of balance, and works on strengthening and stretching the core. The hamstrings, calves, spinal cord, and shoulders all receive a stretch as well. Ubhaya padangusthasana challenges and improves coordination and concentration as you develop the mental and emotional focus required to hold the pose. This creates a calm and serene mind, and helps reduce stress and anxiety.
Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana (Upward-Facing Intense West Stretch)
In the Yoga Sutra text of Patanjali, the 8 limbs of yoga provide the yogi with a path to spiritual enlightenment. The fifth limb in this path, pratyahara, refers to a withdrawal of the senses. This practice holds a central position along the path as it acts as the bridge between the outer aspects of yoga such as postures and breath control, and the internal aspects of yoga such as concentration and meditation. This guide will help you get to know pratyahara and how to bring it into your practice.
What is Pratyahara?
Pratyahara is the conscious withdrawal of energy from the senses in order to gain mastery over external influences. In practicing pratyahara, we learn to withdraw from negative impressions (everything we take in through the five senses) and create positive ones. This could relate to the food we eat, the media we consume, or the people we relate to. The more we practice this, the more the mind is able to resist the negative sensory influences around it.
While our senses keep our mind engaged outward, pratyahara teaches us to turn inward. This shift is an essential component for successful meditation and is the difference between achieving a true state of inner awareness as opposed to simply sitting still.
Pratyahara: The 5th Limb of Yoga
Patanjali’s eightfold path of yoga is carefully structured so that each limb prepares the yogi for the next. Pratyahara holds a central place in the path and helps link the limbs both before and after it. These limbs include:
This eightfold path includes both an outer and inner dimension of yoga. The outer dimension speaks to living ethically, taking care of the body, and enhancing our vital energy. These ideas are represented in the first four limbs: yama, niyama, asana, and pranayama.
The inner dimension of yoga speaks to the true purpose of the practice: meditation and achieving higher states of consciousness. This purpose is represented in the final three limbs: dharana, dhyana, and samadhi.
Pratyahara acts as the bridge between these two dimensions. As a yogi cannot move straight from asana to meditation without first linking the body and mind, pratyahara provides the transition in the form of controlling the senses. It is at this point in the path that the mind begins to turn inward as the focus is withdrawn from the senses and the external environment. When the senses are brought under control and developed properly, successful meditation can be achieved.
Withdrawing from the senses can be a daunting task in an overly-stimulated world. Fortunately, there are techniques that can help us practice this important skill in preparation for a meditative experience. There are four types of pratyahara, each having its own methods: indriya pratyahara (control of the senses), prana pratyahara (control of prana), karma pratyahara (control of actions), and mano pratyahara (withdrawal of the mind).
Indriya Pratyahara (Control of the Senses)
Perhaps the most important type of pratyahara in today’s overstimulating world, indriya pratyahara helps us withdraw from sensory data that clutters our thinking. These techniques can help control the sensory input we receive from the external world:
Sensory Detox: One of the most straightforward ways to control the senses is to withdraw completely for a short time. Spending some time apart from all sensory inputs can help clear the mind. This can be as simple as sitting in meditation with our eyes closed or taking a retreat in nature away from the stimulation of everyday life. It could also include a media detox for a short time at regular intervals.
Yoga Nidra: Learning a practice such as yoga nidra can give you tools to cultivate pratyahara while in relaxation poses like savasana. Yoga nidra, also known as yogic sleep, allows you to practice a state of consciousness between sleeping and waking as you are guided inward through a withdrawal of the senses.
Sensory Deprivation Tanks: While the modern world can contribute to our sensory overload, it also provides new methods for helping us navigate it. Trying a sensory deprivation tank, or float tank, can give you a helping hand in experiencing complete sensory withdrawal.
Shanmukhi Mudra: This yogic hand gesture represents closing the six gates of perception: the eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. By doing this, we allow attention and energy to move inward. To practice shanmukhi mudra, place hands in front of the face with the elbows pointing outward in line with the shoulders. With the thumbs, close the ears. Close the eyes and lightly touch the inner corners of the eyes with the index fingers. Place the middle fingers on either side of the nose. The ring fingers are placed above the mouth, and the little fingers below the mouth. Practice for 5-10 minutes either in preparation for meditation or immediately after pranayama when prana is energized.
Prana Pratyahara (Control of Prana)
Because prana (life force energy) drives our senses, scattered prana leads to scattered senses. Learning to control the breath allows us to harmonize its flow and neutralize the senses. Also the fourth limb, pranayama techniques are the most effective way to keep our prana strong to control the senses. Some popular techniques include:
Nadi Shodhana Pranayama (Alternate Nostril Breathing): This technique calms and centers the mind by balancing the left and right hemispheres of the brain. To perform this beginner practice, start by gently closing the right nostril with the right thumb. Inhale through the left nostril, then close it with the ring and little finger of your right hand. Open and exhale through the right nostril. With the left nostril still closed, inhale on the right. Close the right, then open and exhale on the left. Repeat 3-5 times.
Bhastrika Pranayama (Bellows Breath): This more advanced technique energizes the body and clarifies the mind. In bhastrika, both the inhale and exhale are powerful and equal in length. To practice this technique, rest the hands on the stomach to feel the movement as you inhale and exhale. Inhale through the nose and push the stomach out forcefully. Exhale through the nose and feel the stomach draw in rapidly. This breath should be quick and even.
Ujjayi (victorious breath): This calming style of breathing is performed by inhaling through the nose, and exhaling slowly through the nose while constricting the muscles in the back of the throat — similar to the feeling of trying to fog up a mirror. The resulting sound of the breath should mimic ocean waves.
See Also: We Love Dylan Werner’s Power of Breath program hosted on Alo Moves for guidance on several additional breathing techniques.
Karma Pratyahara (Control of Actions)
As we reach the final two types of pratyahara, we see the results of the work done in the previous two. Because our senses and mind instruct the motor organs (ears, eyes, tongue, skin, nose) to perform an action, controlling the senses in indriya pratyahara helps us control the motor organs. It is through these motor organs that we engage with the external world through right action and work. This includes:
Selfless Service: Also known as karma yoga, this principle is expressed by living a devotional life in service to a greater cause. We connect with our selfless nature and surrender the fruits of our actions. It is more about doing good than what is gained in return.
Asana Practice: Also the third limb, asana provides a method of controlling the motor organs such as the hands and feet. This control is a necessary component for seated meditation within our practice. Physical postures help focus our inner awareness and quiet the mind as our body becomes still.
Silence: The self-discipline and austerity of tapas (part of the niyamas in the second limb) offer us a disciplined approach to restricting the senses. By observing silence on a regular basis, for example, we are able to control our actions and motor organs leading to improved control over the mind.
Mano Pratyahara (Withdrawal of the Mind)
The most advanced form of pratyahara, this involves withdrawing the senses from their objects and directing them inward to the formless nature of the mind. Because of the difficult nature of achieving mano pratyahara, many yogis first practice the more tangible strategies of controlling the senses, prana, and actions to allow withdrawal of the mind to occur as result of these other forms of pratyahara.
After gaining increased proficiency in controlling the senses, prana, and action, we can begin to consciously withdraw attention from low vibrational and unwholesome ideas, concepts, distractions, and impressions and learn to redirect our awareness inward to the mind. As Breaking Muscle puts it, “It’s like retraining ourselves to eat wholesome mental food that fuels our highest nature rather than junk food.”
Dhyana, or meditation, is the seventh limb in the sage Patanjali’s 8 limbs of yoga. Outlined in the Yoga Sutra text, the 8 limbs were meant to provide yogis with a path to a meaningful and purposeful life. Each practice along the path aims to unify the mind, body, and spirit. The practice of dhyana holds an important place along this path to enlightenment. Below is an explanation of what it is and its significance within the 8 limbs.
What is Dhyana?
Dhyana refers to not only the act or practice of meditating, but encompasses a state of meditative absorption and contemplation in which a continuous and uninterrupted flow of concentration is achieved. One who has achieved a state of dhyana has the ability to move beyond the focus on a single object, and can actually merge with the object on which they are concentrating.
Dhyana leads us to a state of awareness and true consciousness that keeps us fully in the present moment. From this place, we are able to learn and discover our true nature, ultimately leading us to the goal of yoga: bliss and enlightenment.
Preparing for Dhyana
Patanjali’s eightfold path of yoga is carefully structured so that each limb prepares the yogi for the next. Achieving dhyana requires an understanding and practice of the limbs that come before it.
In order to prepare for dhyana, the yogi must first live by moral disciplines and observances (first and second limb), and then engage the body and mind through physical postures (third limb), breathing (fourth limb), and gradually withdrawing the senses so that attention may turn inward (fifth limb). When the yogi reaches the sixth limb, they begin the shift to an internal yoga of the mind. The work done in these first six limbs makes achieving dhyana possible. These techniques, practiced within the preceding limbs, can be particularly helpful in achieving meditative absorption as you reach the seventh limb:
1. Yama (moral discipline) – Practice the yamas: These are moral practices and guidelines. By embracing these values in life, you can come to your yoga practice from a more balanced place, which supports a more balanced mind in your meditation when you reach dhyana. The yamas include:
2.Niyama (moral observance) – Practice the niyamas: These important practices of self-discipline, observance, and spirituality ensure you can approach your entire yoga practice and dhyana with more discipline and reverence. They include:
3. Asana (body posture) – Practice yin yoga: Yin yoga primarily supports the connective tissue around the hips, pelvis, and lower spine. This makes it an ideal practice for preparing a practitioner to sit in the static position of meditation for longer periods. Incorporating this style of yoga into your asana practice will help you find more physical comfort during dhyana.
4. Pranayama (breath control) – Practice breath control: Breathing techniques help unify the mind and body as you prepare for meditation. Techniques such as nadi shodhana pranayama (alternate nostril breathing) calms and centers the mind by balancing the left and right hemispheres of the brain, while the more advanced technique bhastrika pranayama (bellows breath) energizes the body and clarifies the mind.
5. Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses) – Try yoga nidra: Withdrawing the senses is the bridge that helps us shift from the more external practices of yoga to the internal. Learning a practice such as yoga nidra can give you the tools to cultivate pratyahara while in relaxation poses like savasana. Yoga nidra, also known as yogic sleep, allows you to practice a state of consciousness between sleeping and waking as you are guided inward through a withdrawal of the senses.
6. Dharana (concentration) – Practice trataka: Training the mind to concentrate on a single point is an essential step in preparing for meditation. Trataka, or concentrated gazing, is a useful technique that is most often performed with a burning candle placed about two feet in front of you at eye level. The gaze is fixed on the tip of the wick without blinking. When you are no longer able to avoid blinking, close the eyes and visualize the flame in the third eye chakra (the spot of the forehead between the eyebrows). Stay focused on this inner image as long as possible. This technique can also be used with other external objects such as a flower or statue.
Dhyana: The 7th Limb of Yoga
The yogi experiences progressive stages of concentration as they move through the final limbs.
After training the mind to concentrate (sixth limb) on a single point of focus using a technique such as trataka, intermittent moments of focus become longer and more sustained. When the yogi experiences a sustained flow of concentration without interruption, they have achieved a state of dhyana (seventh limb), or meditative absorption. Dhyana is made possible by the preparation of the mind that takes place in dharana.
In the state of dhyana, the yogi becomes so absorbed in their meditation that they are no longer conscious of meditating. Thoughts, emotions, desires, and memories subside and the yogi becomes only aware of his/her existence, the mind, and the object of meditation. In dhyana’s state of effortless awareness, one is awakened to the inner self or soul, and the nature of existence.
While regular practice of the preceding limbs is the best preparation for achieving dhyana, there are several techniques that can set the stage for your work towards meditative absorption, including:
Practice regularity of time, place, and techniques. Creating consistency in your meditation practice helps condition the mind to be still.
Create a separate space for meditation. Having a dedicated space for meditation helps you focus on your practice by limiting the distractions of other spaces that are used for multiple tasks.
Meditate at dawn and dusk. If possible, meditating at dawn and dusk takes advantage of the time where day and night meet, allowing consciousness and nature to come together. Additionally, these are likely to be the times in which you are least distracted by the business of the day.
While the passive nature and slow pace of yin yoga might seem like beginner territory, the practice provides many opportunities to challenge even an advanced yogi. The long holds of yin yoga poses require stamina, endurance, and mental focus, while some of the poses themselves open the body to new limits. Below are several advanced yin yoga poses that show you yin isn’t just for beginners.
Advanced Yin Yoga Poses
An important principle in yin yoga is finding your personal edge both physically and mentally in a pose. The goal is to feel sensation in the body (which may be uncomfortable) without pushing past your limits (experiencing pain). As a result, many yin yoga poses have multiple variations so that you can adjust the pose to your needs. Advanced yogis will typically hold poses for 3-5 minutes or more by using props such as blankets, bolsters, or yoga blocks to settle into the posture. Try out these advanced yin yoga poses to find your edge and challenge your practice.
Like many backbends, camel can be difficult both emotionally and physically. Moving the spine in a different direction than normal, the vulnerability of exposing the heart, and the activation of the “fight or flight” response are all challenges that come with this pose. Finding stillness in these challenges can mentally and physically test even an advanced yogi. To come into camel, begin by standing on your knees and placing your hands on the hips. Keeping the hips pushed forward, arch your back and drop the head back if the neck is comfortable. Hands can drop back one at a time to rest on the heels. The full expression of this pose might require a shorter hold of 1-2 minutes due to the strength it requires.
2. Twisted Dragon
Twisted dragon targets many areas simultaneously including the wrists, shoulders, hips, spine, obliques, hamstrings, and the groin. Beginning in downward dog, step one foot between the hands and walk the front foot forward until the knee is right above the heel. Keep the hands on either side of the front foot. Drop the back knee, release the top of the foot and shin to the mat, and slide the leg backward as far as you can. For the twist, the same hand as front knee pushes the knee to the side, while the chest rotates to the sky. Be sure to repeat on the opposite side.
This intense hip and groin opener requires a great deal of mental focus as it is easy to transfer the tension of this pose to another area of the body (clenched jaw, tensing the shoulders, etc.) To come into the pose, start in child’s pose and slide both hands forward while separating the knees to be in line with the hips. Finally, separate the feet to be in line with the knees.
One of the most challenging poses in yin yoga, saddle is a deep quad stretch that can be very intense on the knees. Starting simply by taking notice of how the knees feel while sitting on the heels is a good first step. Any pain in this position indicates the need to discontinue the pose. If able to go fully into the pose, while still sitting on the heels, open the legs slightly so that you are now sitting between the heels. Lean back onto the forearms to create a small arch in the lower back, and eventually come down fully onto the back. Raising the arms overhead can open the shoulders, stretch the abs, and intensify the stretch in the hip flexors.
Because this pose puts a lot of pressure on the neck, it is better suited to advanced practitioners who have knowledge of proper alignment and body awareness. Starting by lying on the back, lift the hips and support them with your hands. Allow the back to round and your feet to fall over your head toward the floor. Position the weight of your body onto your shoulders and bend the knees toward the floor (resting next to the ears) for a deeper rounding of the spine.
This deep squat is an intense hip opener that challenges our normal day-to-day range of motion. Start by standing with the feet hip-width apart. Squat down and bring your arms in front of you, hands in prayer, and elbows applying gentle pressure against the knees or shins. Keeping the feet wide (hip width or more) works into the hips more deeply, while keeping the feet closer together works the ankles more. If you need some extra assistance, grab a block and place it beneath your sit bones.
7. Toe Squat
While the simplistic appearance of this pose may appear to be beginner level, it can bring up rather intense sensations since our toes and ankles do not typically get as much attention in our practice as the rest of the body. As a result, this pose might require you to start with a 1 minute hold (working up to 2-3 minutes) as opposed to 3-5 minutes like many other poses in yin yoga. Starting in tabletop, tuck all 10 toes under and then gently walk your hands back toward the knees. If you can comfortably sit all the way up, you can simply rest the hands in the lap. This pose offers a perfect opportunity to practice steady breathing as the intensity builds.
With so many styles of yoga to choose from, knowing where to start can be a challenge. If you’re just starting out, one style worth exploring is yin yoga for beginners. Characterized by a slow and gentle pace, as well as passive poses, yin yoga provides the beginner yogi a great opportunity to get their yoga practice off the ground. This introduction to yin yoga for beginners will help you learn how this practice can help you begin your yoga journey.
What is Yin Yoga?
Yin yoga is a restorative-style practice consisting of poses primarily performed while seated or lying down. These poses generally target the connective tissue of the hips, pelvis, and lower spine. The practice was originally introduced to the west in the late 1970’s by martial arts champion and Taoist yoga teacher, Paulie Zink, and further developed and spread by Paul Grilley and Sarah Powers.
Yin yoga is characterized by extended holds of postures that typically range from 2-5 minutes to allow the connective tissue to be stressed appropriately. Props such as bolsters, blocks, or blankets are often used in the practice to aid the practitioner in staying more comfortable for longer holds, to keep the muscles relaxed, and the pose passive.
The name yin yoga calls attention to the eastern philosophy of yin and yang, which acknowledges that all things exist as opposite and complementary principles in nature such as dark-light and old-young. Each pole of these opposites is of equal importance, and as one increases, the other decreases. In order to achieve harmony, a balance between the two must be reached. Like restorative yoga, yin yoga represents the stable, immobile, soft, passive, and cool nature of the yin principle. Our busy lives and more intense styles of yoga and fitness represent the changing, mobile, strong, active, and warm yang characteristics.
Three major principles shape yin yoga:
Find Your Edge: This principle speaks to coming into a pose to fit your appropriate physical and emotional edge. Yin yoga requires a delicate balance of feeling sensation, but not going beyond your limits into pain. Pushing the body as hard as possible is not the goal of a yin practice. Over time, you will learn how to navigate the depth your body requires.
Be Still and Soft: While several adjustments might be needed to find and settle into your edge, a goal of yin yoga is to stay as still as possible in a pose without moving (with the exception of alleviating pain if necessary). Once settled into a posture, softening the muscles allows you to get into the connective tissue of the body as you practice. Unlike other forms of yoga that require you to engage the muscles, yin yoga requires you to relax them.
Hold for an Extended Time: While most yin yoga classes involve 2-5 minute holds, learning to listen to your body will help you find the appropriate length of time for you. As a baseline, beginners may benefit from starting with 1-3 minutes, while advanced practitioners may aim for 3-5 minutes or more — even up to 10, 20, or 25 minutes!
By following these principles within the practice, a beginner yogi is allowed the time and space to learn their body’s needs and how to relax and soften into a pose without the pressure of keeping up with a faster pace style of yoga.
Benefits of Yin Yoga for Beginners
Yin yoga not only provides many physical, mental, and emotional benefits, but it creates a strong foundation for other styles of yoga that may become a part of your later yoga journey. Some benefits of yin yoga for beginners include:
Knowledge of Props: The use of props offers beginner yogis the opportunity to learn how to assess the need for support and helps build knowledge of how to use props in other styles of yoga.
Emotional Resilience: Extended holds in yin yoga give us the time and space to explore our feelings and emotions as they come up in each pose. Over time, you can eventually learn how to sit with uncomfortable emotions as they arise and work through them. Through this, you will be better equipped to face challenges in other parts of your practice or personal life.
Improved Focus: Yin yoga provides an almost meditative quality as you settle into each pose and maintain focus on the experience. No matter your style preferences, focus is an essential skill to progress in your practice. Yin yoga can help you cultivate this improved concentration as you begin to explore meditation or other kinds of yoga.
Reduced Stress: The practice of yin yoga is the perfect complement to our yang-style activities, and can help bring harmony and balance to our bodies and minds. The stillness you cultivate in each pose allows you to find refuge from the stress and pressure of everyday life, and instead creates a sense of calm and peace.
Heightened Body-Awareness: Finding your edge in a pose, making small adjustments, and being able to effectively assess and use props helps you get to know your body better. As your learn your body’s unique anatomical needs, you will have a greater understanding of which poses are easier or more challenging, and how long a hold should be. This knowledge can be carried in to other styles of yoga.
Increased Range of Motion: Taking care of the connective tissue around the joints allows you to relieve joint stress and safely open them to their healthy limits. As you release tension in the muscles and lubricate and protect the ligaments and joints, the body functions better allowing you to keep practicing and progressing.
Low back pain is not uncommon in today’s sedentary world as we lose flexibility and mobility in the back through sitting and poor posture. To help relieve some of this pain and improve overall mobility of the spine, these 8 yin yoga poses will help stretch all the areas that contribute to a healthy back: shoulders, chest, abs, obliques, hamstrings, glutes, and hip flexors.
8 Yin Yoga Poses to Relieve Low Back Pain
Traditionally, yin yoga poses are held for 2-5 minutes to stretch the body’s connective tissue. Props such as bolsters, blocks, or blankets can be used to meet your body’s needs and abilities while helping you stay more comfortable in a posture over a longer period. As you relax into these yin yoga poses, you will allow your back to release and melt away tension in your lower back.
1. Supported Child’s Pose
From a kneeling position, place a bolster or stack of blankets between your knees. Lower the torso onto the bolster or blankets and rest your cheek on it. You can place your arms on the ground or wrap them around your prop(s). A gentle stretch should be felt in the lower back.
2. Reclined Butterfly Pose
Begin by lying on your back with knees bent. If you need some extra support, lay back with a blanket beneath your back. Allow the thighs to gently open towards the ground as the soles of the feet come together. Arms can rest out to the side at a 45 degree angle with palms up, or on the lower stomach. A yoga block can be used under each knee if you need extra support to relax into the pose. You should feel a gentle release in the lower back.
3. Melting Heart Pose
Begin in tabletop position. Begin to walk the hands forward and allow the tailbone to move up towards the ceiling while keeping the hips lined up over the knees. Let the forehead rest on the floor as you stretch the arms towards the top of the mat. Let the chest sink down towards the floor, feeling a gentle arch and stretch in the back.
4. Sphinx Pose
Lie face-down on the floor with legs extended, hip-width apart. Press the tops of the feet into the mat and spread the toes. Bringing the arms forward, rest your elbows directly under the shoulders with forearms on the floor, parallel to each other. Pressing the forearms into the floor, lift your head and chest off the floor. Keep the pubic bone pressed into the floor and legs engaged while you roll the outer thighs slightly toward the floor to help lengthen the low back. Keep the elbows tucked into your sides, drop the shoulder blades down your back, and draw the chest forward.
5. Thread the Needle
Beginning in tabletop position, slide your right arm underneath your left arm with your palm facing up. Let your right shoulder come all the way down to the mat and rest your right ear and cheek on the mat. Keep the left elbow lifting and hips raised. Let the upper back broaden while softening and relaxing the lower back.
6. Supported Bridge Pose
Lie flat on your back with arms by your sides and palms down. Bend your knees and place your feet hip-width apart with heels close to your sitting bones. Press down into your feet and hands and lift your hips off the mat. Place a block below your sacrum (the triangular bone at the bottom of your spine) to minimize stress in your back. Hands can stay by your sides or be clasped underneath the body to release extra tension in the shoulders.
7. Supported Caterpillar
Begin in a seated position with legs extended. Place a bolster, pillows, or folded blankets on top of your legs. Bring your arms straight up over your head, reaching toward the ceiling. Inhale and draw your spine up long. As you exhale, begin to come forward, hinging at your hips. Rest your torso on the bolster, pillow, or blanket and relax the arms along the side of your legs.
8. Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose
Begin by sitting sideways next to a wall, with the wall on your left. Gently swing your legs up the wall as you roll onto your right side and then your back. Use your arms to adjust your position and keep your buttocks against the wall. Allow your arms to relax down on either side of you with palms facing up. To release even more tension in the low back, you can add a heavy block or light sandbag to the top of your feet by bending your knees (keeping your feet flexed) and placing the block or sandbag on the soles of your feet before carefully straightening your legs again.
The niyamas are a set of five self-discipline practices or observances within the 8 limbs of yoga. The fourth of these five niyamas is svadhyaya, or self-study and inner exploration. Using this principle in your yoga practice and life can lead to a better understanding of yourself and stimulate personal growth. This introduction will help you learn how to use the practice of svadhyaya to deepen your self-study.
The Sanskrit word svadhyaya can be translated as sva (self, or the human soul) and adhyaya (inquiry or examination). It can refer to the study of sacred texts such as the Yoga Sutra, The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, or the Bhagavad Gita, as well as the practice of studying the self. Svadhyaya encourages us to turn inward to observe and study our actions, reactions, emotions, and habits in order to learn about our true nature.
Along with two of the other niyamas, tapas (self-discipline or internal fire) and ishvara pranidhana (surrender or devotion), svadhyaya comprises part of Patanjali’s threefold practice of kriya yoga, or the yoga of purification and action. Patanjali believed that by purifying the body, mind, and spirit through these three niyamas, obstacles would be removed and the yogi could experience clear perception.
There are many ways to use the principle of svadhyaya within our yoga practice and daily life to deepen our self-study. No matter how you choose to engage in your inner exploration, the main goal of svadhyaya remains the same: to foster a deeper understanding of our true nature.
When we know and understand ourselves better, we are able to identify our needs, anticipate obstacles that are likely to get in our way, and position ourselves to succeed. Through a cycle of Study, Reflect, and Apply, we can identify the unconscious patterns that influence our experiences and find ways to improve all areas of our life while learning from our mistakes. The following are ways that you can use svadhyaya in your practice and life.
An important part of self-study is learning new information. Reading, listening to information about the yoga practice, and observing our daily actions are all sources of new learning. Here are a few examples of how to incorporate study into your day:
Sacred Texts: Texts like the Yoga Sutra, The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, or the Bhagavad Gita allow us to recognize our experiences as universal so that we may develop greater compassion for ourselves as we go through them. The universality of these experiences can give us insight into the human condition and how we embody it.
Online Articles: Since today’s busy world does not always allow for in-depth study of the sacred yogic texts, online articles on yoga are a great way to supplement your learning about your yoga practice or personal growth.
Books on Self-Discovery/Realization: If you want to stay with one topic over a longer period of time, a book about self-discovery can be a useful tool to study your actions, reactions, emotions, and habits. Daring Greatly by Brene Brown is a great choice to examine your relationship with vulnerability, and Emotional Agility by Susan David can help you learn how to navigate your emotions. Looking for additional titles? Check out these 5 mindfulness books.
Podcasts: Another option for busy lifestyles is listening to podcasts. Easy to listen to during a morning or evening commute, podcasts span a wide range of topics and can help you think about yoga or personal development in new ways. To get started, try the Happier podcast with Gretchen Rubin which explores happiness, habits, and human nature, or Tiny Leaps, Big Changes with Gregg Clunis which discusses our day-to-day behaviors that determine the results in our lives. This list of personal growth podcasts will give you a few more options to check out.
Breath Observation: One of the most basic and primary observations we can have is that of the breath. The speed and depth of our breath gives us clues about our current state. Rapid and shallow breaths can indicate stress and anxiety, while slow and deep breaths can indicate ease and relaxation. We can also expand this study to any of our physical experiences such as tension in the body, emotional responses, and pain. All provide valuable information about ourselves.
To achieve clear perception as Patanjali intended, collecting information must be followed by active reflection. Setting time aside to learn from the information you study is essential in knowing how to apply it later. The following options are some ways that you can create space for this important practice:
Meditation: Taking time to meditate after learning new information can give you space to think about how it resonates with you and how you might apply it to your life circumstances and situations.
Yoga Debrief: After your yoga practice, debrief your experience. Explore the way you entered or left difficult poses. Do you see a connection with how you approach challenging situations in life? Where did you hold tension? What thoughts ran through your mind during your practice?
Journaling: If you prefer thinking through writing, having a dedicated time to journal each day can help you reflect on your yoga practice as well as your everyday experiences. Some powerful ideas to consider include: Did I speak from a place of compassion today? How did I react in times of stress? What behaviors did I engage in when I felt stressed/peaceful?
Solitude: Spending time alone in nature or a sacred space can provide you with the chance to reflect on things you have learned through observation and study without distractions.
After studying and reflecting, applying what you have learned is what will help you grow in your yoga practice and life. With that growth, you will continue to learn more about yourself and go deeper into your self-study practice. While the application of knowledge will be very individual to what you study and observe in yourself, here are a few practices that can support you as you put your learning into action:
Self-Compassion: As Ekhart Yoga points out, “the practice of svadhyaya requires… ahimsa (non-violence) which reminds us to look upon ourselves without judgment or criticism.” As we study, reflect, and apply, we need self-compassion in order to allow space to confront the uncomfortable, make mistakes, and learn from them. Striving for improvement rather than perfection is a perfect way to show compassion for where you currently are.
Mindfulness: A mindfulness practice such as observing the sights and sounds as you walk in nature is a great lesson in staying present so that you can more accurately study your experiences in moments throughout the day.
Mantra Repetition: The sacred mantra “om” is thought to connect us to our true nature. Using this mantra during your yoga or meditation practice, or anytime throughout the day, is a reminder to connect your observations of self to your practice. This sets the stage for continued learning and reflection.
In the 8 limbs of yoga, the niyamas represent a set of 5 self-discipline practices to help us lead an ethical life. The last of these 5 niyamas is ishvara pranidhana: devotion or surrender. This practice can refer to either surrendering to a higher power, or to our higher self. It appears last in the 5 niyamas, as it is considered the most challenging to achieve. This introduction to ishvara pranidhana will help you explore how to practice devotion and surrender in yoga and everyday life.
What is Ishvara Pranidhana?
Simply put, ishvara pranidhana connects us to something bigger than ourselves. Whether it be a higher power or higher self, divine or universal energy, collective consciousness, or nature, this principle asks us to surrender and devote ourselves to something greater.
Ishvara pranidhana requires us to move beyond our egos and discover the eternal nature of our true self as opposed to the changeable nature of our mind and body. As we direct energy away from selfish desires and offer our actions to the divine and humanity, we begin to acknowledge the universal connection of all things. We see the divine in all beings, which helps us lose feelings of separateness and move towards oneness.
In addition to being one of the 5 niyamas, ishvara pranidhana is part of the Indian sage Patanjali’s threefold practice of kriya yoga along with the other niyamas, tapas (self-discipline) and svadhyaya (self-study). Kriya yoga is the yoga of purification and action. Patanjali believed that by purifying the body, mind, and spirit through these three niyamas, obstacles would be removed and the yogi could experience clear perception.
Learning to Surrender
Learning to surrender can be an uncomfortable and challenging experience. Letting go can make us feel vulnerable because we are used to controlling things, and can feel exposed when we shed our ego. In some cases, surrendering is difficult simply because it requires us to do nothing when we are used to always doing something.
No matter the challenges, the act of surrendering can free us from our conditioned patterns, habits, and limitations. Like any part of yoga, ishvara pranidhana takes practice to overcome the difficulties. To help you in learning this art, here are several ways to honor the principle of surrender:
Follow instructions. On a basic level, following the directions of a yoga teacher, a mentor, or a guide can be examples of surrender. Rather than letting our ego decide what we should do, following directions requires us to put our own thoughts and judgments aside to surrender to another’s wisdom.
Surrender to your body’s needs. While we may desire the physical benefits of an intense yoga workout, ishvara pranidhana teaches us to move beyond selfish desires. To serve a higher purpose, we must realize at times that our body needs nourishment and rest. Surrendering to what your body needs, whether it be a restorative yoga class, a long walk, or more sleep allows you to stay connected to the bigger picture of yoga.
Surrender to a posture. We can practice the art of surrender in any pose. By spending a few extra breaths in the posture, releasing control, and accepting whatever comes up physically and emotionally, we experience surrender.
Devote/offer your practice. By embracing the idea of ishvara pranidhana, we can begin to see our daily yoga practice not just as something that benefits ourselves, but as a way to stay healthy and vibrant so we may contribute to the world at large. Try devoting your practice to the greater good by standing in mountain pose and practicing anjali mudra (the gesture of offering) at the start of your practice. In this way, you surrender your own expectations and desires for your practice.
Practice sun salutations. While we may be used to thinking of sun salutations as simply a warm-up, this sequence has a deeper meaning that embodies the ideas within ishvara pranidhana. Sun salutations are a devotional offering to the sun, and they allow us to surrender our individual place in the world to connect to a bigger picture. As The Art of Living explains, sun salutations allow us to practice gratitude for what we receive from nature, feel connected to and a part of nature, and recognize the connection of all people as we share the same sun.
Practice savasana. Savasana, or corpse pose, can often become an afterthought in a yoga practice as we rush to get back to our neverending to-do lists. Instead of cutting this pose short or skipping it altogether, commit to increasing your time here. This pose is all about letting go, and is great practice for surrendering fully into a state of presence. This posture allows you to become more aware of your true essence as you release the patterns, emotions, and ideas that clutter your mind.
Try bhakti yoga. Known as the yoga of devotion, bhakti yoga includes devotional practices such as selfless service, mantra meditation, chanting, and prayer. Bhakti yoga aims to help the practitioner reach a state of bliss through a devotional surrender to the divine.
Volunteer in your community. Volunteering in your community is a great way to surrender your ego and devote yourself to the idea of humanity as a whole. In service, you stay connected to the concept of oneness.
Practice letting go. While not always the easiest task, when we practice letting go of expectations and control, we can achieve ishvara pranidhana. When we complete a project at work, we can let go of any expectations of praise or reward. Even with something as simple as our morning commute, we can notice when we lose patience with traffic and redirect ourselves to acknowledging that we have no control.
Tapas, or self-discipline, is one of five niyamas in the 8 limbs of yoga. In addition to self-discipline, tapas in yoga also refers to an internal fire, or purifying through heat. Whether the literal heat of a sweaty yoga class, or the internal fire of passion and courage, tapas represents the discipline needed to overcome obstacles in our path to growth. This introduction to the third niyama will help you learn how to stoke your internal fire in order to enhance your yoga practice and everyday life.
What is Tapas in Yoga?
The word tapas in yoga is derived from the root Sanskrit verb “tap” which means “to burn”, and is often associated with “fiery discipline” or “passion”. It has also been referred to in English as “heat”, “spiritual austerities”, or “internal fire”. To understand the principle of tapas in yoga, two popular interpretations are worth exploring:
Self-Discipline: Tapas cultivates the discipline and commitment we need to improve any area of our life as well as release patterns that no longer serve us. It teaches us to find the motivation to accomplish things and stick with them even when they become challenging. One important distinction to make when it comes to tapas, though, is that discipline does not equate to difficulty. Tapas is more about consistency in moving forward rather than pushing to extreme limits. While it certainly takes discipline to complete a rigorous ashtanga yoga class each day, sometimes discipline is recognizing that the body needs a break with a restorative class.
Austerity: Yoga Chicago notes that in practicing the austerity of tapas, “we make a conscious choice to withstand some deprivation without complaint, attachment or aversion. We commit to temperance, a method of developing moderation.” Through accepting sacrifice, we can learn to get comfortable with discomfort in our personal growth journey, and develop the determination needed to face and overcome great challenges.
Each of these interpretations overlap with each other and help us achieve the ultimate goal of tapas: burning away physical, mental, and emotional “impurities” that may stand in our way of achieving knowledge of our true self.
In addition to being an individual practice, tapas is included with two other niyamas, svadhyaya (self-study) and ishvara pranidhana (surrender or devotion), in Patanjali’s threefold practice of kriya yoga, or the yoga of purification and action. Patanjali believed that the practices of body discipline, mental control, and meditation within these three niyamas would purify the body, mind, and spirit. This purification would remove obstacles, allowing the yogi to experience clear perception.
Tapas in Practice
With many layers of meaning in the practice of tapas, there are a number of ways in which it can appear in yoga and daily life. Some days, tapas in yoga may involve commiting to a physically demanding practice, while on other days it may mean finding the self-discipline to simply make it to the mat. From something as simple as going to bed on time or refraining from alcohol or unhealthy foods, tapas helps position us where we need to be in order to continue moving forward. Here are several other ways that tapas can be observed in your yoga practice and life:
Challenge yourself. While tapas does not require us to always push past our limits, there are times when discipline means attempting poses that we usually avoid or sitting in meditation for an extended period of time. By training ourselves to confront things we find challenging, we build confidence and perseverance.
Adapt to change. Another layer of meaning in the principle of tapas is the ability to withstand the heat of friction. This friction can appear in the form of discomfort that comes with change. Whether it’s a new job, a move, or a new or ending relationship, change can leave us feeling disconnected and anxious. Engaging in consistent practice of things like yoga, meditation, journaling, or spending time in nature can help you process your responses to life changes.
Strengthen your core. The core is the location of the solar plexus chakra, which, like tapas, governs our sense of self-confidence, inner strength, willpower, and self-discipline. Unsurprisingly, fire is the element of this chakra and helps builds heat throughout the body. Strengthening your core taps into this energy of the solar plexus chakra, as well as the elements of tapas.
Take small steps. Because tapas is about the discipline of consistency, taking simple and small steps is a great way to stoke your internal fire and create change. Rather than trying to embark on hour-long yoga sessions every day, for example, you can start with a simple and doable two-minute practice. When you can find consistency with that over a long period of time, then you can try five minutes, ten minutes, and so on. Each small step provides the discipline needed to create a bigger change in your habits.
Embrace simplicity. Looking at the way we utilize our space can help us consider the idea of austerity in tapas. Eliminating clutter and letting go of things that no longer serve us helps rid ourselves of excess and develop a less material approach to life so that we create space for spiritual development. Even examining how we overcommit ourselves to things that do not serve us reflects the principle of tapas.
Originally founded by martial arts champion and Taoist yoga teacher, Paulie Zink, yin yoga is a restorative practice consisting of various seated and supine poses that generally target the hips, pelvis, and lower spine. Yin yoga is characterized by extended holds of postures that typically range from 2-5 minutes to allow the connective tissue to be stressed appropriately. Props such as bolsters, blocks, or blankets are often used in the practice to aid the practitioner in staying more comfortable for the longer duration of a pose and to keep the muscles relaxed. This introduction will help you get to know all the ins and outs of how long to hold yin yoga poses.
How Long to Hold Yin Yoga Poses For
While most yin yoga classes involve 2-5 minute holds, learning to listen to your body will help you find the appropriate length of time for you. As a baseline, beginners may benefit from starting with 1-3 minutes, while advanced practitioners may aim for 5 minutes or more — even up to 10, 20, or 25 minutes! The 3-minute mark, however, might provide some of the primary benefits of yin yoga.
Holding yin yoga poses for 3+ minutes:
As yin teacher Dina Amsterdam explains, “It’s around the 3-minute mark that synovial fluid, our joints’ natural lube, is stimulated and released into the connective tissues being worked, making them more supple and agile.” These longer holds of yin yoga poses not only allow this physical change to occur, but provide other mental and emotional benefits such as:
Improved focus: Yin yoga provides an almost meditative quality as you settle into each pose and maintain your focus on the experience. This leads to improved concentration which can benefit your actual meditation practice.
Reduced stress: In today’s busy world, there are not many opportunities to be still. Yin yoga poses allow you find that stillness and quiet as you melt and relax into each pose. You will leave the practice feeling less stressed and more refreshed.
Reduced pain: Because this practice helps restore the body, it can help alleviate pain as you release and ease tension in the muscles and lubricate the ligaments and joints.
Heightened self-awareness: The extended holds in yin yoga give us the time and space to explore our feelings and emotions as they come up in each pose. They also allow us to get to know our body better as we make continuous adjustments for our anatomical needs and find our personal edge in each pose.
Increased range of motion: Taking care of the connective tissue around the joints allows you to relieve joint stress and safely open them to their healthy limits.
Holding yin yoga poses for under 3 minutes:
There are instances when you might find yourself needing a shorter hold of yin yoga poses, especially as a beginner. These common experiences are worth paying attention to in your practice:
Emotional discomfort: Holding yin poses for longer periods of time can bring up many physical sensations in the body, and as a result, many emotional reactions as well. A goal of the yin practice is to eventually learn how to sit with these uncomfortable emotions, but it might feel overwhelming in the beginning stages of your practice.
Your practice style: Yin yoga requires a delicate balance of feeling sensation, but not going beyond your limits. It is about finding your own physical and emotional edges in the pose. Holding a pose for an extended time just for the sake of competition or pushing the body harder is not the goal of a yin practice. If you are used to always practicing with intensity, or even not challenging yourself at all, a shorter hold can help you learn how to navigate the balance between the two.
Your individual anatomy: Each body is different in its structure, which will determine which poses are easier or more challenging and how long a hold should be. Some people may find release in a shorter amount of time, while others may require longer.