Inflammation is often the root of many health problems. In fact, if we are suffering from chronic pain (or fatigue, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, migraines, thyroid issues) there is a high probability we need to address inflammation. Yin yoga is a powerful healing tool that you can use to help you to put out the fire, and therefore effectively relieve pain.
Today there are many forms of yoga practiced that are active and yang like – they simulate and enhance the muscles for strength. Yin yoga, on the other hand, is about softening and surrendering. It targets the myofascia (the connective tissues) by holding the postures in a passive way that allows gravity to take us deeper into the poses. In this way we can stay longer in each posture, and if we are present in the moment while holding the poses, a deep calming and rebalancing occurs throughout our whole nervous system. This is a major factor in beating chronic pain and inflammation.
Where does inflammation begin?
Your body is a highly intelligent, integrated system in which all the organs are connected. Your nervous system and myofascia are two very important ways that energy and information travels throughout your body, connecting everything together. These two communication networks (nervous system and myofascia) can overtime become stressed due to either a lack of movement/sedentary lifestyle; or an accident or injury, or most commonly, continual overstimulation and stress that can cause your body to stay in fight or flight mode.
This fight or flight state is governed by the sympathetic nervous system and the longer you stay in this sympathetic state the more it will lead to a chain reaction of imbalances in the organs, such as increased stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, decreased immune system, acidity in the blood, and draining your kidneys of vital energy. Some early symptoms are a decrease in sex drive (sex hormones also keep you youthful), decreased ability to digest and metabolise food properly and, in extreme cases, leaky gut and a decreased ability to rest and sleep deeply. Eventually it leads to inflammation and chronic pain, as well as a host of other health conditions.
If we want to beat inflammation and chronic pain then we want the opposite of fight or flight. That is, we want to get out of the sympathetic nervous system state. The state that we want to be in is called the parasympathetic nervous system. If we get into this parasympathetic nervous system state, we can switch off stress hormones and restore balance in the internal organs, which will heal inflammation and chronic pain. We can achieve this with the help of specific yin yoga practices and a couple of simple lifestyle changes.
In traditional oriental medicine there are lines or meridians that energy and information travels along. These meridians each have an organ associated with it. Opening up the flow of energy in any one of these meridians helps to rebalance the particular organ that it is associated with. For example, if the kidney meridian is blocked then the kidney function will be impaired and eventually depleted. But when we hold the yin yoga postures associated with the kidney meridian we will allow the energy to flow again through this pathway and restore the health and vitality of the. Similar to acupuncture – but without any needles.
The following yin yoga postures to beat inflammation and pain will focus on eight different organ meridians (explained below). This list is arranged in ascending order of priority, so that you are working up to the last two postures, which are the highest priority. Stretching and opening up all eight of these organ meridians is very beneficial in combatting inflammation and pain. But the last two meridian organs, Gallbladder and Liver, are the most important to open up and balance. When overcoming inflammation and pain it is these two organs that are especially important to rebalance – not only because they are immediately affected by stress, but because together they play an essential role in breaking down food and cleaning the blood. So when they are compromised due to stress, the blood becomes acidic and this aggravates the tendons and ligaments.
Urinary Bladder – Half Butterfly Folded over the Straight Leg
Sit on the floor with both your legs stretched out, then tuck your left heel into your groin, keeping the right leg straight out in front. Inhale and lengthen your arms and spine upward, then exhale fold forward over your straight leg. It is very important to relax your head and neck. You can either let your head and your neck hang down and relax your head on your shin, or you can use a pillow or a block to rest your forehead on if it is more comfortable. Hold the posture for 4 – 5 minutes then swap sides.
The urinary bladder meridian helps to circulate the fluids around the body. These fluids need the energy of the urinary bladder meridian to lubricate and nourish the joints, muscles, connective tissues, and organs. If the energy of this meridian is stagnant it can contribute to inflammation and pain. This posture is effective at rebalancing the urinary bladder meridian.
Kidney – Seal Pose or Sphinx
Lie on your tummy. Bring your hands to the floor slightly forward and beside your hips. Turn your fingers to point outward a little bit and slowly press into the earth through your palms until your elbows are straight. Look forward or slightly downward making sure your head and neck are relaxed. If there is any strain on the lower back then take the feet wider apart. If it is not comfortable then you can modify the posture by coming down to the elbows, like a Sphinx. Stay in this posture for 2 – 5 minutes. Take childs pose afterward.
The kidney meridian helps to store a very deep energy that is known in oriental medicine as Jing, and in yoga it is known as Ojas. If this meridian is blocked then it can deplete the kidneys, leading to a lack of clean healthy water in the body. This in turn can cause inflammation and pain. This posture is an excellent way to strengthen and return balance to the kidneys. When they are strong, the kidneys are connected to the energy of courage, so if practiced regularly this posture will help you overcome the emotion of fear.
Stomach – Twisted Dragon Grabbing the Back Foot
Start in Downward Dog and take a big lunge forward with your right foot between your hands. Move your right foot forward until your ankle is underneath your knee and your shin is perpendicular. Place your left hand on the floor next to your right foot, then turn your chest to the right side and feel a gentle twist in your spine. Bend through your left knee and reach back with your right hand to clasp firmly your left foot. You should feel a stretch through the front of your left thigh. To go deeper gently press your hips forward and down and rotate your spine further so that you can look towards the back of the room. Stay in this posture for 2 – 3 minutes then swap sides.
In my own personal practice I use this posture regularly. I also recommend it to my students because I have noticed that even with a healthy diet it is VERY common for people’s stomach meridian to go out of balance. This can be due to rushing while eating, eating while stressed, eating late at night or overeating. If the stomach is out of balance then it will fail to break down your food properly, and this will stress out the gut leading to poor digestion and bloating, which is also a cause of inflammation.
Large Intestine – Dangling Pose with Fingers Interlaced and Arms Stretching Overhead
Start in Downward Dog for a few breaths, and then without lifting your head simply step your feet forward to your hands. Keep your feet at least hip width apart and take a few breaths just allowing your upper body to relax and hang down completely. Interlace your fingers behind your back and allow your elbows to straighten as much as possible. Stretch your arms overhead and feel how this opens up your shoulders and chest. It’s really important to focus on relaxing your head and your neck completely. Stay in this posture for 2 – 4 minutes.
The large intestines hold and eliminate solid wastes. If the energy in this meridian is out of balance then the bowels tend to get blocked. If a person suffers from constipation then they often have low energy and eventually it leads to inflammation and pain in the mouth, throat, and neck.
Small Intestine – Albatross Pose
Start on your hands and knees, then lower your forearms on to the floor and walk your knees back until you hips rest on the ground. With palms facing upward slide your arms in opposite directions until your chest is touching the ground. To get a proper stretch in the back of the arms and back of the shoulders you will need to have your arms high rather than low, kind of like your biceps are pressing against your throat rather than under your chest. Stay in this posture for 3 – 5 minutes then swap sides.
The small intestine is able to extract the valuable nutrients from our food. It also helps to transform valuable nutrients into a form that our bodies can use, and it delivers that into our blood stream. This organ is so extraordinary because, like the liver, it has so many subtle functions. For example, around 90% of your serotonin is created in your gut! Serotonin is an essential anti stress hormone. In fact there are many reasons like this that lead people to call the gut our second brain. So any stress will affect how well it functions, especially prolonged stress. If the stress is prolonged then the wall of the small intestines become weak and substances that would normally not get through to the blood stream actually leak into the blood. This creates massive amounts of inflammation. In extreme cases it is referred to as leaky gut disorder or irritable bowel syndrome.
Like the stomach meridian, I have often found it is very common for students to have the small intestine meridian out of balance. If we want to bring this organ back into balance then practicing this posture regularly will be very helpful.
Gallbladder – Swan
Start in Downward Dog, taking a few long, smooth, deep breaths and really relax your head and neck completely. Slide your right knee up to your right wrist, and as much as possible bring your right shin parallel to the front of your mat, so your right ankle is next to your left wrist. If your right knee doesn’t feel stressed then level your hips so that your weight is balanced and even and you’re not falling out to the right side. Then allow your hips to sink lower and lower to the ground. If you still want to go deeper you can slide your left leg back further down the mat, then fold forward. Stay in this posture for 3 – 5 minutes, then take a few breaths in Downward Dog and swap sides.
The gallbladder works together with the liver. It stores and excretes the bile that is created by the liver. Together with the liver, the gallbladder builds and controls the blood and our overall daily energy levels. A common sign that someone is suffering from weakness in their gallbladder is anxiety. When the gallbladder is strong you feel confident, clear and decisive. The acid in the stomach is neutralised by the bile from the gallbladder. If the gallbladder meridian is out of balance then bile will not be neutralised and the acidity in the body will build up making the blood pH too high. This will eventually cause a lot of inflammation and serious pain in the body.
Liver – Straddle
Sit on the floor with your legs stretched out in front. Spread your legs apart until they don’t go any further. Fold your upper body forward so your hands walk forward then rest the weight of your upper body on your elbows. Stay here or if you can go deeper without any intense pain then work your chest as close to the ground as possible. Stay here for 4 – 6 minutes then push down through your hands to lift your torso upright again, and slowly bring your legs back together. Lean back on your hands and shake your legs out.
Do not underestimate the incredible and essential role your liver plays in keeping you healthy. It is an amazing, hard working organ. The liver creates, stores, and regulates so many hormones and fluids. The liver’s vitality is important to all parts of the body. Imbalance in the liver meridian will lead to inflammation in the eyes, tendons and ligaments. Too much anger can also be a symptom. A healthy liver is associated with the quality of kindness.
Lifestyle guidance for beating inflammation
Drinking fresh, clean water is so essential to beating inflammation. Staying hydrated requires you to sip water regularly throughout the whole day, especially in the mornings. But the quality of the water is also really important. Regular tap water is full of chemicals like chlorine and fluoride. So having a really good quality water filter to take out such chemicals is really valuable for your health. Adding a couple of drops of organic apple cider vinegar to your clean drinking water also helps with hydration.
Top of my list for quelling inflammation is cloves, turmeric, ginger and rosemary. Cardamon and cinnamon are also noteworthy. All of these herbs are most effectively absorbed and utilised by the body when they are added to meals, whether it is in a smoothie, a curry or in a healthy dessert. Get creative with these healing spices.
Certain fats are excellent for cooling the fire. At the top of the list is krill oil, macadamia nuts, olive oil, hemp seeds, chia seeds and avocados. Some other sources of fats that rank reasonably highly are walnuts, whole flaxseeds (but only when they are freshly crushed before being used or blended in a smoothie) coconut oil and ghee.
Scientific research has shown that whenever you make bare skin contact with the earth there is a healthy flow of negative electrons into your body. This is often called Earthing. Earthing helps your immune system function optimally, it balances your nervous system, and it decreases the effects of stress on your endocrine/hormonal system. Most importantly, it significantly reduces inflammation and pain.
– I highly recommend avoiding meat. Small fish like salmon or sardines can be okay, but read meat is really inflammatory.
– Gluten is a very common allergen that creates a lot of inflammation for most people. It is found in so many processed foods, like pasta, bread, muffins, cakes, pizza, etc. Cutting it out can require reading labels and checking ingredients, but it is worth making the effort, and gluten free alternatives are becoming more and more common these days.
– Trans fats cause a significant inflammation response. Most fried oils and hydrogenated oils like margarine are definitely inflammatory and are worth avoiding.
– Refined or artificial sugars are harmful in so many ways – most refined and artificial sugars even create inflammation in the brain! And this is just one of many reasons to avoid eating products with refined or artificial sugars.
About the author:
Marcus Julian Felicetti teaches full 200 hour Hatha Yoga Teacher Trainings in Bali. He also teaches Yin Yoga Teacher Trainings. You can learn more about his work by visiting the Bodhi Yoga website bodhiyogateachertraining.com
All photos were taken in Bali at the beautiful Dragonfly Village resort in Ubud. To learn more visit the website dragonfly-village.com Photography by Nick Easton – @de_desa.photography