It’s winter and if you’re like most people, you’re probably not feeling your best. However, you may have come across someone who always has incredible energy no matter how cold or gloomy it is outside. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, this means that the person has an abundant supply of health energy that is circulating adequately. Healthy qi can make a person calm, optimistic and centered.
However, the converse is also true. When you’re feeling sluggish, tired, and irritable or have low back pain, headaches or poor digestion, this may be a sign of unhealthy qi. Yin yoga is an intense, restorative yoga technique that helps you smooth out your energy crimps safely and effectively.
But What is Qi to Begin With?
Qi, pronounced “chee” is typically defined as a life force that is derived from the air you breathe and the food you ingest. Therefore, healthy qi can equate to healthy metabolism. All common ailments, emotional and physical, arise from poor metabolism. When your qi is continually flowing without any obstruction, all chemical and physiological processes inside your body work harmoniously, leaving you feeling upbeat, energetic and free of any negativity, pain or discomfort.
The Best Yin Yoga Poses for Healthier Qi
Our modern-day lifestyles are plagued with prolonged periods of sitting, processed, refined foods as well as environmental pollution. This can cause qi to stagnate or become obstructed, leading to health issues such as stress, pain, tension and irritability or anger. All these factors can cause pain to settle in the joints. Yin yoga’s long-held poses gently relax your joints, helping you restore your normal flow of qi and create stronger energy pathways.
The following are some excellent yin yoga poses designed to revive and strengthen your qi:
The butterfly pose effectively targets the kidney, liver, spleen and bladder meridians. Stimulating these meridians can have a cooling effect on your mind and body, which helps you feel calmer and more relaxed. This is particularly beneficial if your qi has been stagnant for a while.
To perform the butterfly pose, sit on your yoga mat and bring the soles of your feet together. Form a diamond between your heels, knees and hips. If you feel any stress, try placing a block beneath each knee. Fold forward, letting your head hang. Hold for 3 to 5 minutes. You should feel some stress in your inner legs, outer hips and spine.
The saddle pose targets the stomach and spleen meridians, thereby elevating your digestion and ultimately, having a rejuvenating effect in your mind and body. When you get deeper into your backbend, you compress your lower back more, stimulating your kidney meridian as well. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, your kidneys are the foundation of your energy, which also support your digestion by deriving wholesome Qi from the raw materials you consume.
To perform the saddle pose, sit on your heels. Distance your knees enough from each other so that you’re still comfortable. Lean backward as you extend your back and slowly land on your hands or elbows. You can rest your back on a prop, if it feels more comfortable. Hold for 3 to 5 minutes. You should feel a sensation in your front thighs and lower back.
Like the saddle pose, the sphinx pose also targets your kidney meridian, which helps your body recuperate from stress when your energy is especially low.
To perform the sphinx pose, lie down on your belly with your elbows bent. Bring your elbows and hands shoulder-distance apart, keeping them slightly in front of your shoulders. Face your palms down and distribute your weight evenly across your forearms. Loosen your feet, thighs, belly and buttocks. Let your shoulder blades draw back and down. Hold for 3 to 5 minutes.
If this pose feels to intense, try placing a bolster under your armpits or keeping your elbows forward.
Twisted Roots Pose
The twisted roots pose stimulates the gall bladder meridian, the urinary bladder meridian, as well the heart-lung pathways when you place your arms up. Targeting these meridians balances your body, creating a calming and relaxing effect. Rotating the spine also releases tension in your lower back, helping you recover from low back pain.
To perform twisted roots, lie supine on your mat and hug your knees in towards your chest. Cross your right leg over your left leg and rest your arms on your sides, forming a T shape. Gently allow both knees to drop to the left, keeping your right shoulder on the floor as much as possible. You can use a prop if you are unable to fully drop your knees to the floor. When you get comfortable, turn your head to the right and breathe into the right side of the body. Relax as you exhale. Hold for 3 to 5 minutes and switch sides.
If you practice yoga or go to a class you may well hear the term ‘8 limbs of yoga’ mentioned. This can initially be confusing and is often not explained to newcomers. The 8 limbs of Yoga described in the Yoga Sutras of the great Sage – Patanjali is a set of core principles, that overarch everything we do and should be seen as a guide to living a spiritual and meaningful life that brings as closer to our True Nature.
Let’s look at the eight limbs of yoga and what they mean.
The Eight Limbs are:
Think of Yamas as your moral compass, a set of rules by which you should live. There are five Yamas, which in Sanskrit are called Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya and Aparigraha. Which translate to nonviolence, truthfulness, non-stealing, chastity/fidelity and non-coveting.
Niyamas further explain how to take an active place in the world that brings you self-discipline and causes no harm. Cleanliness (Saucha), contentment (Santosha), willpower and self-discipline (Tapas), surrender to the divine (Ishvara Pranidhana) and self-study and scripture study (Svadhyaya).
This is a term you might also hear more commonly used. Asana refers to the poses in yoga, the different exercises your teacher will run through with you. The word itself means seat and refers to the tradition of sitting near your teacher in order to be able to learn.
In yoga, this is the limb that refers to the physical breath. While breathing is an unconscious response, in yoga we take it to a conscious exercise and learn to control and deepen your breathing which in turn will aid the body in many of the functions it performs.
In familiar terms, this is the practice of meditation. It is the time you set aside to sit quietly and focus on internal awareness and clearing of the mind. A time to leave the stress of the day at the door and sit in quiet reflection while learning to see beyond yourself.
The practice of intense focus sometimes referred to as visual meditation. Focusing wholly and entirely on one thing, perhaps a candle flame or a deity. Again this is designed to quiet the mind and train the mind to be still and focus. This is a good practice as you will find the benefits again fall into real life.
Perhaps better known as the flow state this is another peaceful, meditative state which brings a keen awareness. Have you ever experienced a time when you were so lost in the moment that time passed, you forgot to eat, you were just absorbed in the moment? That is Dhyana.
Referred to as the state of ecstasy, Samadhi is the state of transcendence that connects you to the device, the universe and the feeling that all things are at one with each other.