Although we intend to unravel ourselves in Yin Yoga poses, there are often unconscious tensions that cause us to resist the invitation to release. We sometimes unknowingly hold ourselves rigid to some degree or grip on a subtle level—whether physical, mental, or emotional. It’s these unaware spaces that Yin attempts to target. On those days when you feel yourself resisting in some way, adding a touch more support can make all the difference.
Relying on the wall as a prop offers the potential for an even deeper experience. With support from both the floor and the wall, we find it easier to let go and relax into the calm of non-doing. The wall holds on so we don’t have to, securely anchoring us in the shape of the pose so we can soften and better attend to the inner listening.
Because wall variations of Yin postures play with the traditional formula of asana and the orientation of your body to gravity, they can lead to surprising discoveries about how to access your most satisfying stretch for a particular body part. As you enter each pose at the wall, spend a little time exploring the nuances of sensation as you gently experiment with your positioning—legs a little wider, a slight rotation in the torso, even a subtle tipping of the pelvis one way or the other might be just the ticket to bliss. Once you find the position that’s best for you at that moment, settle in and allow gravity to take over.
7 Yin Yoga poses to try at the wall
This simple and accessible sequence requires only that you clear a space at the wall, gather a few props like a blanket and pillows or blocks, and get ready to release. You can linger in these poses for three minutes, five minutes, even 10 minutes. Follow the feedback you’re given by your body and let it guide you.
Butterfly Pose at the Wall
It’s helpful to come into this pose by sitting sideways at the wall with one shoulder and hip snugly against it. As you turn and lie down on your back, slide your legs up the wall, keeping your buttocks against it. There is no graceful way to accomplish this, although this approach is easier than trying to scoot closer to the wall once you’re already reclined.
Bring the bottoms of your feet together and let your knees fall open to the sides in the archetypal butterfly shape. There’s no rule that the soles of your feet have to stay together, so try bringing them a little apart. Allow your arms and hands to fall open at your sides or rest your hands on your belly.
Once you find the shape, take a few deep breaths and give yourself a moment to arrive. Welcome your thinking mind to drop back. If it’s comfortable for you, close your eyes. Start to shift your awareness to all the places your body is making contact with the wall and floor and notice how it feels to receive this support. Settle onto the ground beneath you, releasing the full weight and volume of your body to the pull of gravity. Let your edges continue to soften as you rest, breathing with the earth, until you feel ready to move again.
As you come out of the shape, take your time transitioning to the following pose. You might pause for a few moments in order to feel the emerging resonance of Yin energies within. Eventually, slowly roll onto one side.
Dangling at the Wall With Eagle Arms
Slowly make your way to your feet. Stand with your back a short distance from the wall and find a comfortable stance, legs hips-width distance apart or wider. Lean your pelvis back against the wall and let the wall anchor your sacrum down and in place. Wrap your right arm under your left like Garudasana (Eagle Pose) without forcing your palms to touch. Round your upper body as you lean forward and to your right.
As you dangle forward with the support of the wall, continue to tune into the sensations along your side and back. As tensions dissolve and your body feels ready to go deeper, you can lean further into the shape if it feels comfortable. Spend a few minutes here. (This pose is a combination of side-bending and forward folding and can help stretch the sometimes hard-to-reach Quadratus Lumborum in your back. You may choose to emphasize either the forward fold or the lateral bend, depending on what you need.)
Release and repeat the on the left. When you’re done, slowly let yourself release and return to standing. Take a moment to rebound before taking the following pose.
Sphinx Pose at the Wall
Lie on your belly with your knees bent and your shins resting against the wall. If you like, you can prop your upper body up on your forearms, a bolster, pillows, or a blanket. This pose is a backbend that gently opens the front of the body.
This is a gentle Yin backbend, so we allow the body to hang like a hammock to release the lower back. If you want to increase the sensation, elevate your knees off the floor with a bolster or folded blanket, or raise your upper body higher, so that you curve deeper into a U shape. Remember however that more isn’t always better in Yin yoga. The key is to find an appropriate level of sensation for your own body, a place you can easily breathe into the sensations and cultivate a meditative state.
As you settle into the pose, notice how it feels to be in this relationship to the floor. Although you may be leaning on your arms, you can scan through your body and become aware of other places you might be working unnecessarily. Loosen your jaw. Let your head lower toward the mat or support it with your hands or a block. Relax your glutes, your belly, your thighs, and your feet. Remain here for a few minutes. If at any time it feels like too much, adjust your positioning to create a milder backbend or come out of the shape.
Slowly exit by sliding forward onto your stomach for a neutralizing rebound with a flat back. If your body is craving a little movement, it’s also fine to come onto hands and knees and move your spine as in Cat and Cow or any manner in which you’re drawn to move.
Dragonfly Pose at the Wall
From lying on your back, come to sit sideways at the wall once again and slide your legs up the wall as you bring your back on the floor and your buttocks against the wall. Allow your legs to remain straight and as they slide out to the sides, away from one another, a comfortable distance. Your legs will be in a V-shape.
This Yin pose has a deeply restorative essence that targets the inner thighs and hamstrings. If you feel discomfort or tugging on the inside of your knees, bend them a little. At this point in the practice, you won’t be coming upright again, so give yourself permission to really melt here, layer by layer, on a pilgrimage downward and inward. As your body rests in this shape, simply witness what arises and drifts through your field of awareness. All parts of you that emerge can be acknowledged with compassion. Spend some time in this pose.
When you’re ready, use your hands to help bring your legs back together. Pause, release, and let your body rebound.
Shoelace Pose at the Wall
Remain on your back as you bend your knees and bring the bottoms of your feet to the wall so your knees are bent no more than 90 degrees. Keep your left leg in this position and cross your right ankle over your left knee. If you need, you can scoot yourself a little further away from the wall, but if you move too far, you may lose the stretch as the pressure from the wall will decrease.
Sometimes called Figure Four, this stretch targets the hip joint and gluteal muscles. Hip openers like this one can be intense, which is fine, as long as you’re not experiencing pain. Once you find the basic shape, try letting your pelvis tip a little from side to side until you find the sweet spot. You can also adjust the angle of your legs—some people will find their best stretch with the knees wide like a traditional Figure Four pose, and some prefer to bring the knees closer towards one another like reclining Gomukasana legs. Any variations of the archetypal shape will target the hips.
Keep tuning in to the feedback from your body. This really is the essence of the practice of Yin Yoga, this deep, deep listening as we slow down and come into relationship with ourselves. What is it that I need today? What is it that I really feel? As you spend more time with these postures you may find that your interpretation of sensation changes, and your ability to calmly enjoy even a more challenging hip opener grows. Linger on the first side before slowly switching to the other side.
When you’re ready to come out of the pose, slide your legs up the wall or draw both knees into your chest. If you need, come away from the wall and stretch or just pause before coming into the following pose.
Reclined Spinal Twist at the Wall
From lying on your back, bend your knees and draw them into your chest. Let them fall over to one side. Your torso rotates the other way, the arm and shoulder falling back and open, away from your knees.
There are many ways to adjust the twist to your liking. You might choose to cross one leg over the other instead of stacking two knees, keeping the bottom foot against the wall for leverage. You can also add support with props—placing a pillow or block between stacked legs or under one crossed leg, as pictured. Anywhere you feel you need a little more support, simply add a prop underneath such as a pillow, or folded blanket.
As time passes in the pose, continue to yield and permit your body to unwind towards the support of the floor. Stay with your deep and mindful listening. You might notice what kind of shift has taken place so far in your energetic tone, perhaps a growing sense of calm. Relax for three to five minutes before taking all the time you need to migrate to the other side.
We’re substituting Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose for a more traditional Savasana, but by all means, feel free to add an additional Savasana at the end if you wish. It’s a beautiful thing to do nothing and then rest afterward.
Lie on your back with legs up the wall. You might like to secure your legs with a strap as pictured, so they can effortlessly relax in this gentle inversion.
It’s time to let go and simply absorb the rewards of the energetic state you’ve established.
Let go. You are held and infinitely supported here. Infinitely connected. Infinitely sustained. Infinite.
Let go and trust that when you do, you will land on the ground of your own being.
About our contributor
Leta LaVigne is a Seattle native and the founder of yogaROCKS studio in Finland. She draws from a variety of traditions to craft intuitive yin and yang classes, gently guiding awareness through the body to the inner landscape. As a long-time student of Paul Grilley, Leta embraces a functional approach to teaching. Find her reflections on yoga, motherhood, and life as a transplant in the country of rye bread and reindeer at @leta_lavigne.
See also: More Yin Yoga Sequences