According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the body is powered by a vital, life-giving force called chi (or qi), that flows along specific pathways in the body. These pathways relate to key organs in the body, and if the flow is hampered on a particular pathway, it is believed that that particular organ system is suffering from excess, deficient or stagnant chi, which can often result in certain symptoms or maladies.
Certain yin yoga poses can help to clear the meridian pathways and this short sequence acts specifically on the liver/gallbladder meridian.
Disturbed liver/gallbladder chi can manifest as fatigue, headaches, poor vision, irritability, anger, arthritis and inflammation, muscle pain and weakness, rash decision making or indecision, cramping, dizziness and vertigo. Eating to many rich heavy foods, drinking alcohol and being exposed to toxins and chemicals can also weaken liver chi.
This sequence is particularly helpful after overindulging in too many fatty, processed meals; a night of drinking; during menstruation when the liver is working extra hard to process hormones; and when you are feeling tired, nauseous or a bit “blah” in general.
The following sequence of poses can all be held for a minimum of 3 minutes, but feel free to hold them longer if you wish. If you experience any pain in the joints, especially the knees, please come out of the pose. I have included variations and modifications in the descriptions of each pose if you are finding any of them difficult.
Begin by sitting straight up with the right leg drawn over your left so that your knees are stacked and your feet are drawing in towards your hips, and your hands can start off being at your sides. You may want to sit up higher on a cushion, block or bolster if that feels easier. Spend a few moments upright here, taking a few deep breaths and noticing how the pose feels. If you feel you are at your edge, simply stay here. If you feel you have some “room to move”, begin to walk the hands in front of you and lean forward from your torso, dropping your head and relaxing the neck and shoulders, until you find your new edge in the pose. Hold for 3 – 5 minutes. Repeat the opposite side.
VARIATION: HALF SHOELACE
If this pose is causing too much pressure in the knees, then straighten the bottom leg, stack the knees as closely as possible, and pull the top foot in towards the hip as much as possible. Lean forward if you wish. when coming out of the pose, press into the hands, engage the abdomen and draw up the spine vertebra by vertebra.
SPHINX OR SEAL POSE
Lie on your belly, and push up to rest on your elbows, which should be shoulder-width apart. if you want to, you may want to bring the palms of the hands together, or they can rest face down on the floor. Try not to slump into your shoulders nor lift up out of them. Relax your buttocks and legs and let your belly drape towards the floor. To come, out slide your elbows out to the side and lie down on your belly and rest there a few moments. Hold for 3 minutes.
If sphinx pose feels quite easy for you with not too much compression in the lower spine, you may want to deepen the pose by moving into seal. To begin, lie on your belly with your hands out in front of you. As you inhale, use your back muscles and slide your hands closer in towards your body until they are about 4 inches in front of you, and turn them out slightly. Keep your head upright and in line with your spine. If the sensations feel particularly strong, try engaging the buttock and leg muscles (or come out of the pose if there is any sharp pain).
This is a wonderful counter-pose for the spine after sphinx or seal pose. Come onto your hands and knees, shift your hips back towards your heels and bring the knees and feet closer together. Relax your head to the floor and have the arms either stretched out in front or resting behind you alongside your legs. Keep the belly nice and soft and relax into the pose. Hold for 3 – 5 minutes.
SLEEPING SWAN (PIGEON) POSE
From child’s pose, inhale and bring your left knee forward and place your shin and knee on the floor in front of and to the left of you left hip. If your left knee does not rest on the floor or you have a sensitive knee, place a blanket or pillow under your left hip for added support. Make sure your right hip is facing the floor, and spend a few moments with the head and spine upright, using the hands on the floor for support, to feel into the pose. If the pose feels intense enough for you here, stay here. If you feel you are not at your edge, lean forward and come down either on the elbows and drop the head, or you may want to come all the way down with your belly resting on the floor. Repeat the opposite side. Hold for 3-5 minutes.
For this pose, sit up and spread your legs as far apart as they can go. If they don’t go very far, you may want to bend your knees and place some padding underneath them, like folded blankets or cushion. Notice how it feels while sitting upright, and if you have some space in your body to move deeper into the pose, start to lean forward from the hips. if you want to, you can rest the forearms on blocks, cushions or bolsters, or you may be able to bring your belly close enough to the floor that you can rest your forearms on the floor. Breathe deeply and hold for 3-5 minutes.
PENTACLE (SAVASANA) POSE
To close your practice, it’s very important to rest and integrate the changes in your body for a few moments. Lie on your back with your arms out to the sides and your legs out wide, you may want support under the knees if you have a tight lower back. Tuck the chin in slightly, let the shoulders melt towards the floor and soften the belly. Stay focused on your breath and simply relax for several minutes.
Did you enjoy these poses? Want more yin goodness?