“You need to experience this to really know what Yin Yoga is all about. After you have experienced it, even just once, you will realize that you have been doing only half of the asana practice.”― Bernie Clark
In yin yoga, we often consider the lower body as the hip flexors, the quads, adductors, hamstrings and glutes but leave out the calves and the feet! The feet have a thick, dense, and sometimes troublesome, fascial band called the Plantar Fascia that connects your heel to your toes and beyond. We know that fascia is the web that connects everything in your body, from your head to your toes and everything in between so it makes sense that an area of the body that has a thick sheet of connective tissue could be the source of a lot of discomfort, tension and imbalance for other parts of your body. When you release some of the tension in your feet, especially the bottom/sole of your foot, the space created here can often unravel sticky spots up in your knees, hips, low back, and even shoulders!
Try this: Grab a tennis ball or something similar. Stand tall yet relaxed and when you’re ready, slowly tuck your chin towards your chest and start to roll down into a forward fold, stopping at your natural stopping point where you feel your muscles start to gently pull and speak to you - notice your depth (ie where do your hands come to). Then stand up and roll out the bottom of both feet with the tennis ball for about 30-60 seconds. Repeat your forward fold and notice how much difference there is, did you go further or reach lower this time? Standing up, massage out your feet one more time and do the same forward fold to notice the difference. Notice the depth and length you gained in this shape, in the rest of your body, by releasing the fascia of the foot.
In yin yoga, we have the opportunity to do things like toe and ankle stretch for a period of time that helps release and rejuvenate the parts of the body that are sometimes neglected. We must remember that it is not about pushing to the point of pain or going past our point of resilience because when we do, the body goes into protection mode and the fibres contract and tighten in order to hold things in place and where they are “meant to be”. By using props and support in shapes like butterfly, saddle, and caterpillar, you will notice that the body reacts to the support as a type of feedback and trusts that it can’t go any further and won’t become injured so it’s more likely to soften, release, and relax. In turn, once you remove the prop you most often notice that you can actually go deeper because more length and space has been created. The more space in the muscles and connective tissue of your lower body the less tension, tightness, and stress in the rest of your body.