Health & Beauty

A Yin Yoga Practice for Slowing Down and Feeling Your Emotions

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One of the many benefits of yin yoga is that it offers us a chance to slow down and sit with not only our physical tension but our challenging and uncomfortable emotions.

We store emotions in our bodies. When the sympathetic nervous system—our fight-or-flight response—is activated by a dangerous or stressful or emotional situation, the body experiences an involuntary physical and emotional response. This sometimes happens so quickly that we may not realize it has taken place.

When we don’t process these emotions, the biochemical and physiological effects can linger in the body, even after the perceived threat has passed. It’s a complicated process that happens over time, and although scientific researchers continue to explore how the body feels and stores emotions, it is not yet fully understood.

What we do know is that yin yoga helps us find stillness through long held stretches. By starting to listen to our bodies and quiet our thoughts, we can coax the body and mind into a space of quiet. As the body shifts into the parasympathetic nervous system, we find ourselves in a less tense and reactive emotional state. As we learn to experience nervous system regulation, we can begin to feel difficult emotions with less volatility and perhaps work through them.

We don’t always understand the cause of our emotions. We may not be sure why we’re angry, sad, or depressed. The answer could be that we need time and space, whether to allow emotions to surface or to dissipate. If you’re experiencing difficult emotions or trauma from past or current situations, you may want to seek therapeutic support as emotions arise rather than rely exclusively on yoga.

When the body is still, the mind often wanders, which can make practices like yin yoga challenging. If you experience this, bring your attention back to your senses and what’s happening for you in the moment. Take inventory of the way your body feels. Notice what’s happening in your mind. Be the observer.

Related: If You’ve Ever Cried During Yoga, You’re Not Alone

A Yin Yoga Practice for Slowing Down and Feeling Your Emotions

The following sequence of yin yoga postures is designed to help quiet the nervous system. Bring your attention to any discomfort, and rather than resist it, sit with it for a moment and create some space through your breath. Although part of the practice of yin yoga is sitting with mild discomfort, it is not intended to elicit pain, so feel free to adjust yourself to find a more comfortable position. Several of the poses include restorative options, which feature less stretch and more support.

Gather all the props you have available (blankets, bolsters, and blocks) and allow yourself about an hour for this practice.

Woman sitting on a yoga mat practicing deep, slow breathing for emotional calming and support

1. Abdominal Breathing

Lie down or find a comfortable seated position. Close your eyes if that feels comfortable. You have the option to place your hands on your belly or you can place one hand on your belly and the other on your heart.

Start by bringing your awareness to your breath. Often when we experience anxiety, our breath becomes very shallow and centered in our upper chest. I invite you to see if you can slow down your breath, which will help calm the nervous system. Bring intention to your navel as you inhale and breathe deeply into your belly, and then slowly exhale. Continue this breathing sequence for 3 minutes. See if you can feel the belly move as you inhale and exhale. Maybe you don’t quite feel it, and that’s normal. But try to connect to your breathing and notice if the quality of your inhalations and exhalations feel different as you practice.

Continue breathing at your own pace, simply noticing it. When you’re ready, return to your natural breath.

Woman lying on her back on a yoga mat with her knees bent and her feet together while practicing yin yoga
(Photo: Lua Briceno)

2. Reclined Bound Angle Pose

Feel free to practice Reclined Bound Angle with or without props. I prefer to rest my spine on a pillow or folded blanket, which helps make it a heart-opener in addition to a hip-opener. You can rest your arms alongside your body, palms up, although I like to place one hand on your belly and the other on your heart to truly tune into two parts of my body that are innately connected to feeling and storing emotions. Stay here for 5 minutes.

Woman practicing Sleeping Swan, the yin version of Pigeon Pose, on her yoga mat
(Photo: Lua Briceno)

3. Sleeping Swan

This pose, which is similar to Pigeon Pose, is one of the deepest hip openers we practice in yin yoga, and often one of the most physically and mentally challenging. Use as many props as you’d like so you can feel supported and find some ease in the pose. You might take a block or a folded blanket beneath the hip of your bent leg for support. You can also bring a block beneath your forehead, or a bolster, pillow, or folded blanket beneath your chest.

As you find your way into a version of Sleeping Swan that allows you to experience a stretch without any strain, embrace that feeling of support as an opportunity to be held. Feel safe to allow whatever needs to surface to do so. Stay here for 2 minutes. Repeat on the other side.

Woman practicing the yin yoga version of Child's Pose on a yoga mat
(Photo: Lua Briceno)

4. Child’s Pose

This pose is so accurately named. It allows us to curl up and embrace the virtues of being childlike. As we turn inward, we literally allow ourselves to become small. In this shape, we are allowed to just be, without the need to impress, act, or respond in any certain way. It is an invitation to be vulnerable and let our emotions flow freely.

This pose is often taken with wide knees to encourage opening in the hips. Bolsters, pillows, and folded blankets are helpful supports. Play around with different modifications to see what feels best in your body. You can bring a blanket beneath your knees for cushioning, take a bolster or pillow lengthwise beneath your chest for support, situate a pillow or folded blanket on your calves to support your bottom, or bring a pillow or folded blanket beneath your forehead. If you turn your head to one side, switch directions about halfway through the pose. Stay here for 5 minutes.

Woman lying on her back on a yoga mat with her legs up the wall
(Photo: Lua Briceno)

5. Legs Up the Wall

This pose is such a sweet release. A gentle inversion, it physically encourages the legs to let go of old energy, and mentally allows any heaviness that has come up during this practice to slip away.

Technically, the yin yoga version of Legs Up the Wall is practiced in the middle of the room with your legs extended toward the ceiling in what’s often called Waterfall. But the more familiar restorative version, in which you allow the wall to support your legs, can be a lovely element to include toward the end of any yin practice. You can try the pose with no props at all, or experiment with a bolster or pillow under the hips and a folded blanket under your head. You can also drape a blanket over your body for warmth as sometimes our body temperature lowers as we begin to relax more deeply.

Whatever you choose, once you’ve found your version of the pose, take a moment to observe, practice non-judgment, non-attachment (aparigraha), and self-compassion as thoughts or emotions surface. Bring your awareness back to your breath or the feeling of support beneath your body. Stay here for at least 5 minutes.

Woman lying on her back on her yoga mat in yin yoga
(Photo: Lua Briceno)

6. Savasana

The final pose is the most important piece of any practice. Any time we can foster complete stillness and disengage from the hectic pace of life, we do ourselves an invaluable favor. The mind needs stillness to process and reflect. It needs the absence of stimuli to make sense of all of the things it takes in each day. Savasana is where we integrate what has happened during our practice—and our life.

But as essential as Savasana is, it can be challenging to quiet our thoughts. Rather than spend your time here mentally making your grocery or to-do list, try to remain aware of what’s taking place in your body and mind. In the quiet and stillness, simply notice what comes up. It might be your only chance to remain present all day.

Find a comfortable position on your back, taking a bolster, pillow, or rolled blanket beneath your knees if that’s more comfortable, or any other variation that works for you. Try to stay here for 10 minutes, breathing naturally.

RELATED: What’s the Difference Between Yin Yoga and Restorative Yoga?

About Our Contributor

Lua Briceno is a writer, artist, and trauma-sensitive certified yoga and meditation teacher specializing in hatha and Yin yoga. She is passionate about helping students develop a functional yoga practice that is nourishing for all bodies and backgrounds. You can find her at