Today in part two we will discuss the liver (yin) and the gallbladder (yang) meridian lines. The liver and gall bladder correspond to the wood element in Chinese medicine and it is said that people with a strong wood element have clear vision when setting goals, an ability to plan and execute decisions, and a clarity and decisiveness when arguing. I also want to discuss a bit more on the mental aspect of Yin Yoga to balance out the physical. Once you are comfortable with achieving the poses and can rest comfortably for some time in them it is time to extend the practice beyond just what your body is doing and feeling and begin to take mental inventory of the thoughts and emotions that arise.
What should I be thinking about while practicing Yin Yoga?
Nothing. Which is the hardest thing to focus on, to be honest. There is a very significant difference between empty thoughts and and empty mind. In meditation, empty thoughts are the distractions. The sound of traffic passing by. Self-consciousness. Impatience. Groceries. The ambient noise in our minds that we have become much too accustomed to. An empty mind is one that is void of thought and 100% present. This is a very difficult concept for many to think about.
For example, if I said to you right now to close your eyes and think about nothing for even a minute, could you? Try this experiment and see how long it takes before the first errant thought enters your mind. It might even be the thought of ‘is this nothing?’ which, unfortunately, isn’t. Yin Yoga is often also considered an exercise in practicing and developing patience because it requires us to hold these poses and try and maintain empty minds much longer.
The difficulty is human nature wants to classify and define every experience. We cannot simply let things be, which is the goal of meditation. We want to quantify and judge, when the goal of meditation is to pass no judgements.
Aside from the regular thoughts that bombard our mind, there will be more specific to your experience with Yin Yoga. More than just thinking about work or relationships or dinner, you will find that Yin Yoga, because of its structure and the way it stimulates certain body parts and emotions, adds a whole other set of thoughts to wrestle yourself free from.
First there are the physical thoughts. You will be tempted if in a group to look around. You will think about others and their poses. Why are some in deeper poses than you. Do you look silly or foolish. Should the pose be like x or y. This pose hurts. How much time is left. How much time has passed. Etc.
Do not judge what others do or look like when practicing and meditating. It is not your concern. Some are naturally more open or closed and so the bodies reflect that. Pass no judgements. Take the time in the beginning of each pose to be mindful and purposeful in setting up your pose and make no judgement of what you are able to do. Understand that Yin Yoga is about deep relaxation and gradual opening. If it hurts, back off. But do not be lazy. Keep mindful of the 80% rule. 80% of your edge to promote growth and progress but remain comfortable.
Then there are the mental obstacles. Insecurity. Frustration. As you try to think of nothing, which is an entirely new experience for you, you will get frustrated as thoughts enter your mind. Then you are not only trying to free yourself from the original thought, you are now also trying to free yourself from the thought about the thought! This can become a vicious cycle that spins out of control and completely uproots your practice.
You must allow your thoughts to be like clouds on the breeze. When practicing your meditation think of your mind as a large empty field. As a thought enters, do not focus or linger on it. Do not judge yourself for thinking. Like a cloud, do not concern yourself with where it came from or where it goes. Let it touch you briefly and do not attach yourself to the thought. Let it blow by. Attach no value to your thoughts. Eventually the thought will leave, like a breeze crossing over a field.
The liver is central to blood regulation and storage. Because it is the primary factory of the body, with its wide reaching functions, it is especially important to keep it balanced and working well. The liver is responsible for the distribution and regulation of chi. When the wood element is weak, people can feel indecisive and stuck. They may become more angry, arrogant, and/or short-tempered. Depression or long-term frustration can hinder the liver’s ability to distribute vital chi to the body, resulting in lethargy, exhaustion, and forgetfulness.
When the liver chi is stagnant, symptoms like paranoia, insomnia, nightmares, pale complexion, dizziness, and pale lips and nails may appear.
The gallbladder aids in digestion and absorption of nutrients and neutralizing of fats and acids. With gallbladder imbalance there is a tendency to be emotionally frustrated, resentful, and irritable. You may also have digestive problems and experience bloating or gas. A strong liver and gallbladder can prevent cramps, headaches, and migraines.
The liver and gallbladder are associated with spring, wind from the East, and the color green.
Frog Pose: Start in child’s pose and, while leaning forward, spread the legs apart while still sitting on your heels. Aids in digestion and opens up the hips, especially the abductors.
Sphinx Pose: Unlike in other forms of yoga, in Yin Yoga the legs are completely relaxed in the Sphinx pose and there is a natural, comfortable arch in the back from being completely held up by the arms alone.
Swan Pose: Provides stretching for the quadriceps and hip flexors along with a moderate backbend for compression. You should have one knee against your chest with the foot between the hands and the other leg extended straight back with the bottom of the foot facing to the ceiling. Note that you are NOT resting your back leg on the knee but rather right above it on the thigh.
Shoelace Pose: Also known as zipper. Great for opening the hips and decompressing the back if leaning forward is possible. Begin on all fours and then cross one leg in front of the other. Sit back in that position and try to keep the legs in their place. Knees should be directly on top of another and you should be flat on both sit bones, not leaning to one side. If necessary, use a prop to elevate the top leg and keep it parallel to ground.
Dragonfly Pose: From the top resembles a dragonfly with its long body and two sets of wings represented by the arms and legs. From a seated position spread your legs out to your sides and fall forward. Spread your arms out as much as you can and try to lean forward and lie flat. If needed, prop either your hips up to help the legs or your elbows up to help your arms.
Bananasana Pose: Lying flat with your buttocks firmly planted on the ground, begin to slowly move your arms and legs to the right. Do not twist or roll or allow any sit bone to rise up unevenly. As you approach your first limit and surpass it, slowly continue to reach further up and out to the right. Switch sides.
Reclining Twist Pose: Start by lying on your back. Roll to your right side and keep your right leg straight in line with you. Take the left leg and raise your thigh perpendicular to your spine and place it over your right leg. Your left arm will extend straight to your left side, twisting the body. Do this on both sides. Modified version as shown where both legs are thighs perpendicular to spine.
Corpse Pose: Lie flat on your back, with legs slightly apart, arms at your side, with palms up and fingers spread. Use this time to relax, focus on breath, and take a mental inventory of your body and mind. Reflect on any sensations that came up during yoga. What body parts responded well, what rebelled. What emotions are you stirring up in this long and mindful practice. Make no judgements. Allow everything to be.
Man: 38 Loneliness: 16