As maturing athletes, one of the first things we notice is an increased feeling of tightness pretty much from head to toe. Although there is the argument that a certain amount of tension is desirable for athletes, ie, running economy and efficiency or absorbing load, greater mobility is going to keep us active longer, and don’t we all want to improve our longevity in sport and adventure?
Yin yoga focuses on maintaining the health of our connective tissue, namely the fascia. A single, interconnected web, fascia is inherently strong and flexible, but with age, under or over-use, poor hydration, inflammation or physical (and emotional!) trauma can lose its pliability causing weakness, pain, restriction of movement and poor blood flow. The tissue surrounds muscle, bones, nerves and blood vessels helping to keep everything connected and supported while transmitting force from bone to muscle and allowing those muscles to slide smoothly alongside each other. When the tissues are overly stressed, more and more fibers (collagen) are laid down, which is good at first but eventually results in thick, rigid fascia which is not beneficial for mobility.
A Yin practice usually consists of just a few poses held for several minutes, allowing a gentle release in the connective tissue. Instead of engaging the muscles as we are often asked to do in an active “Yang” practice like Hatha or Vinyasa yoga, this passive practice requires relaxation and letting go, relying on gravity or gentle pressure from our own body to encourage the tissue to lengthen.
A Yin practice can be used in conjunction with manual manipulation to revive overworked, unhealthy fascia. Try spending 3-5 minutes softening into the following asanas a few times a week. This sequence is a good opener for hips, groin and psoas.
Half Frog (Ardha Bhekasana)
Lie face down, arms folded, forehead or cheek on forearms. Bend right hip and knee so your thigh is at a 90 degree angle to your torso, and shin at 90 degrees to your thigh. Allow your hips and groin to sink toward the floor. Just let the weight of your body gently fall into the floor while relaxing back, buttocks, hips.
Repeat with left leg.
Half Bound Angle (Ardha Baddha Konasana)
Place a folded blanket or pillow under sit bones so you can comfortably sit tall with legs straight out in front without feeling as though your hamstrings are going to give, or as though you may fall backward. Bend right leg and place sole of right foot against left thigh. Extend from the hips and reach towards your left foot, placing hands on either side of left leg, however far they will comfortably go. Breathe in, exhale and fold forward over that left leg, let your spine round. Use a block or big pillow to support your head if you like. Release tension in the back of that left leg and through your back. Hold 3- 5 min and repeat with left leg bent.
Reclined Bound Angle (Supta Baddha Konasana)
Lie on your back and bring the soles of the feet together, letting the knees fall to each side, toward the floor. You are making a diamond shape with your legs. Try moving the feet closer or further from the groin to find a spot where you feel a bit of stretch, or tension, but not discomfort. Let arms relax at your side, palms up, or place one hand on belly, one on heart. Release any tension in the buttocks and lower back. Just let gravity pull those knees down. Stay for 5 min breathing deeply from the belly.