Breathwork for Ayahuasca: Part 3: Yin Yoga & Breathwork Practice to Use Before a Ceremony

Part 3- Yin Yoga & Breathwork Practice to Use Before Ceremony

Breathwork and Yin Yoga are powerful on their own, but their benefits can be amplified when thoughtfully combined. You may discover they become valuable and dependable allies in your plant medicine practice. The power of conscious breathing and self-enquiry through yoga is unparalleled.

In this article, we’ll explore how to intentionally interweave the deep stillness of Yin Yoga with mindful breathing to create a grounding and supportive pre-ceremony practice – one that helps to soothe your nerves, settle your mind, and clarify your intentions. These techniques and poses can help you drop into a deeper state of presence, and open your heart to receive the Spirit of Ayahuasca.

So, let’s dive in and find out how breathwork and Yin Yoga can come together to create a beautiful and relaxing pre-ceremony routine. Both practices are deeply rooted in ancient traditions and used for spiritual purposes, and are evolving with time.

Breathwork & Yin Yoga – The Perfect Combination

Breathwork & Yin Yoga: The Perfect Combination

By marrying introspective, meditative, and relaxation-inducing Yin Yoga poses that nourish the central nervous system, soothe the adrenals, and open the body (especially the heart), with the most supportive, stress-relieving breathwork techniques, you can create a grounding, nourishing, and centering practice that helps you slow down and readies you for the plant medicine journey and the long night that lies ahead.

5 Ways that Yoga and Breathwork Can Help You

5 Benefits of Combining Yoga and Breathwork

The combination of Yin Yoga and gentle breathing techniques can help to open your mind and awareness – promoting relaxation, reducing stress, and enhancing clarity. Here’s a run-down of how they achieve this:

1. Reduce Stress & Anxiety

Both practices activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps to reduce stress and anxiety you might be experiencing. This creates a calmer mental state, allowing for clearer and more open-minded thinking.

2. Enhance Your Focus & Presence

Holding deep, introspective Yin Yoga poses and breathing consciously encourages present-moment awareness and acceptance of present experience. This focus on the “now” can reduce mental clutter and distractions, leading to a more open and receptive mind, and can bring you into a state where you “do not fight what is”.

3. Increase Your Mind-Body Connection

Yin Yoga and conscious breathing techniques enhance the connection between the mind and body, allowing greater self-enquiry and self-awareness. This deeper understanding of the self can lead you to have more profound insights and a broader perspective.

4. Release Emotional Blockages

By working through physical tension and emotional blockages, Yin Yoga and breathwork can help you release stored emotions. This emotional release can free up mental space and open your mind to new ideas and experiences. Yin Yoga releases the fascia, where trauma and trapped emotions are energetically stored.

5. Balance Your Nervous System

Consistent practice of Yin Yoga  and breathwork helps balance your nervous system, creating a state of equilibrium that supports mental clarity and openness.

6. Create Heart Coherence

Specific Yin Yoga poses and breathing techniques can guide your focus into the heart, open your body to receive, and increase heart-brain coherence.

7. Anchor Your Breath

Breathing can serve as an ideal anchor point during the ceremony. No matter what, you will always have your breath!

8. Support Sitting for Long Periods

Yin Yoga supports sitting upright, which is crucial for receiving the shaman’s icaros. Breathwork can also help open the front of the body, so you are more open to receive energetic readjustments.

9. Boost Energy

Breathwork and Yin Yoga can help give you the energy to “go the distance”. Proper breathing circulates oxygen and energy and brings greater focus, as do Yin Yoga poses. Yin yoga is a good practice for accepting present experience, as poses are held for a long time,  and part of the practice is learning how to sit with discomfort to build our resilience.. Once you’ve worked with Ayahuasca I’m sure you’ll understand the relevance! 

10. Increase Physical Comfort

Yin Yoga improves flexibility and circulation; it can help you be more comfortable during long hours of sitting. It can help open your hips, spine and back.

11. Clarify Your Intention

Sometimes intentions do not become clear until pre-ceremony Yin Yoga and breathwork practice.

When Should I Use Yoga & Breathwork_

When Should I Use Yoga & Breathwork for an Ayahuasca Ceremony?

Yoga and breathwork are embodiment and mindfulness practices that can help you become more present and mentally prepared to work with Ayahuasca. 

Both are invaluable as a regular practice and especially in the days and weeks leading up to a ceremony to help to detoxify, purify, and prepare your body for what’s to come. 

Read more about it here in  Part 1: Breathwork for Ayahuasca – The Ceremony and Part 2: Breathwork & Ayahuasca: Your Guide to Preparation & Purification.

Can Yin Yoga & Breathwork Help with Integration?

Yes! Having a regular breathwork and yoga practice will stand you in good stead for plant medicine work, as both can help with processing and integration of experiences. You can learn more here in Part 4: Breathwork for Ayahuasca Integration.

Can I Use These Techniques Directly Before a Ceremony?

Yes, you can use these poses and breathing techniques just before an Ayahuasca ceremony while resting in the maloka or ceremonial space in the hours before the ceremony begins. 

They are especially helpful if you are feeling anxious and if it’s your first time working with Ayahuasca. Just make sure you honour your body and include lower back releases (ie hugging knees to chest, gentle twists) between poses or whenever you feel you need them.

New to Breathwork? 

If you are new to breathwork, you might also like to check out How to Get Started with Breathwork – a Beginners Guide, these live breathwork experiences, and this 7 Day Introduction to Breathwork (FREE!)  – a great place to begin!

Creating a Pre-Ceremony Practice

Breathwork is a tool for self-regulation. You can use your breath, consciously and deliberately anytime you put your mind to it, to reduce feelings of tension, overwhelm, and anxiety; to soothe pre-ceremony jitters, shift stuck energy, and ease into a state of greater openness, readiness, softness, and surrender, ready to work with Ayahuasca.

What is Yin Yoga
What is Yin Yoga?

Yin Yoga is a modern style of yoga that involves long holds in various seated and reclined positions, to stimulate the flow of life force energy (Chi, Qi, Ki) through the meridian system of the body. The long holds allow access to deeper layers of fascia and quiet the mind. It’s a simple practice with profound therapeutic benefits of longevity, vitality, flexibility, and more. 

Yin Yoga is based on ancient Chinese philosophies (TCM) and Taoist principles which state that there are pathways of energy that run through our bodies. By holding, softening, and deepening into poses, we’re able to release energetic blockages, allowing stuck energy to flow freely again through the meridian system, and therefore the organs and tissues. Often emotional and trauma release results from the release of physical and energetic tension.

There are four tenets of Yin Yoga:

  1. Find your edge – where you can feel the stretch but without straining. 
  2. Remain still – and practise stillness 
  3. Allow yourself to stay there for time – typically three to five minutes. 
  4. Muscles remain soft and relaxed – practice letting go. This is necessary to access the fascia/meridian.

Do NOT: Hold the poses if you experience pins and needles/numbness, or electrical type pain as this could indicate compression of a nerve. Be sensible and honour any past/present injuries you have.

A Way to Calm Fear & Deal With Ceremony Fatigue

Yin Yoga can be a calming, soothing, and contemplative practice and is often referred to as “as the yoga of being”, in contrast to more dynamic, or “yang” styles. Yin encourages non-striving, which makes it a particularly good practice to use if you’re feeling anxious, fearful, stressed, or depleted.

It’s quite normal to feel some trepidation when venturing into the unknown, and Yin Yoga helps to target the Kidneys which in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) are the seat of fear. It’s perfect for multiple ceremony retreats where “ceremony fatigue” becomes a very real thing as Kidney Meridian poses will also support the kidneys, central nervous system and the adrenals.

Sitting With Discomfort

Yin Yoga is a practice that can deeply test our resolve to stay because it often asks us to sit with discomfort and accept our present experience. We are invited to surrender resistance, soften, and then surrender again as we go deeper as the first layer of tension in the facia releases – all of which make it the perfect preparation for a ceremony experience!

We learn to generate stillness and surrender our resistance. We soften into the poses as best we can, allowing tension to be released from the connective tissues throughout the body as we hold, breathe, soften, and then soften even more. As fascia releases, trapped emotions stored in the body can also be released, and likewise, energetic blockages can also find their release.

This can directly benefit us in several ways in preparation for Ayahuasca ceremonies. We can be tested to sit with our discomfort – physical, mental or emotional – and an experience of having no control, which is sometimes only alleviated when we surrender. The more emotional blocks come into our awareness the more we can shine a light on them.

Whatever We Resist Persists!

There’s a saying in the world of plant medicine that “whatever we resist, persists” so learning to surrender is a huge part of the journey. Yin Yoga is a role play for the real thing, a place we can practise letting go, leaning in, releasing into our resistance, and building resilience. Added to that, by releasing stagnation in the body – mental, emotional, energetic, physical – we create more flow for the medicine to work in us.

“When consciously woven together, Yin Yoga and conscious breathing practices create a potent space for heart opening, embodiment, and mindfulness. Magic can unfold.”

Benefits of This Yin & Breathwork Practice
Benefits of This Yin & Breathwork Practice

By using these techniques, you can:

  • Get out of your head:  The longest distance is from the head to the heart! These techniques can help you move from the head down to the heart. Embodiment is important for this work.
  • Heart-Centred Openness: Be more heart-centred with an open attitude – the heart is a portal through which awareness, intuition, insights, and information flow.
  • Surrender and Trust:  Feel more surrendered and trusting of the process. 
  • Alleviate Anxiety:  Manage feelings around the unknown – breathwork and Yin Yoga can help you observe your feelings, realising you are not “them”, shining a light on what is presenting, and understanding that like everything, they will pass. 
  • Reframe Fear:  Create space in your mind – when there’s space, we can reframe fear as anticipation, and trepidation as respect. 
  •  Exit Survival Mode:  Breathwork and Yin Yoga give us space to pause, slow things down, allowing our system to reset. It becomes possible to self-regulate into a more relaxed state.
  • Release Blockages:  Energetic and emotional, from your system – this can impact the ceremony flow and help you get in touch with memories and emotions that have been locked inside, which you may wish to work on during the ceremony i.e., set an intention around.
  •  Physical Openness:  Physically open up so the shaman can access you. If you are hunched over or slumped forward, it’s harder for them to access your system.
  • Be Respectful:  When working traditionally, it is important to show respect by sitting to receive icaros, and to show respect for the shaman and the medicine. Lying down means either your feet or crown of head are the only part the shaman is singing to.
Try These 3 Breathwork Techniques in Your Yin Yoga Practice
Try These 3 Breathwork Techniques in Your Yin Yoga Practice

1. Coherent Breathing (Heart Coherence)

My favourite breathwork technique! Coherent Breathing is an amazing and valuable tool for Ayahuasca ceremony preparation as it can bring you to a place of inner calm, emotional balance, heart centeredness, positive feelings, and heightened presence. It can help facilitate a more receptive state from which to meet the medicine.

Benefits:

  • Improves Heart Rate Variability – Promotes emotional stability.
  • Reduces Anxiety and Stress – Induces a state of coherence between the heart and brain, fostering calmness.
  • Enhances Resilience – Improves the body’s ability to handle stress and recover from emotional upheaval.

How to:

  • Breathe in gently for a count of 5 and exhale gently for a count of 5, through the nose.
  • Focus on the Heart. Imagine the breath flowing in and out of the heart area.
  • Invite and create a sense of appreciation, gratitude, or another positive emotion.
  • Continue this cycle for the time you are in your Yin Yoga pose, maintaining a steady and even rhythm.
  • Great to use in the heart opening poses: sphinx, seal, reclined supported butterfly, heart opening bound twist. 
  •  Great to use in a seated position before you begin your Yin Yoga practice.

 

2. Nasal Breathing – Equal Length

Equal length nasal breathing helps balance the autonomic nervous system, promoting relaxation and reducing stress levels.

Benefits:

  • Increased heart rate variability (HRV) – Resulting in better emotional regulation & resilience to stress
  • Nasal breathing switches off the Survival Reflex – Mouth breathing keeps you in a stress state.

How to:

  • Gently close your mouth to focus exclusively on nasal breathing.
  • Inhale through your nose, counting to a comfortable length such as 4, 5 or 6 seconds.
  • Exhale for the same length as you inhaled.
  • Repeat the cycle, breathing softly.
  • Great to use in wide leg child’s pose, knees to chest or legs up wall.

 

3. Extended Exhalation Breathing

Extended exhalation breathing can induce relaxation and activate the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, promoting a sense of calm and reducing stress levels.

Benefits:

  • Calms the Nervous System – Activates the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting relaxation and reducing stress.
  • Enhances Emotional Balance – Helps to release stored emotions and promotes a sense of calm.
  • Improves Focus – Supports mental clarity and concentration.

How to:

  • Breathe in gently through your nose for a count of 4.
  • Slowly exhale through your mouth or nose for a count of 8.
  • If you are very anxious make the sound “aaahhhhh” as a sigh as you exhale.
  • Continue this cycle for the time you are in your yin yoga pose, focusing on extending the exhale longer than the inhale.
  • Great to use in the more challenging poses that target the hips: swan, dead bug.
Key Yin Yoga Poses for Ceremony Preparation
Key Yin Yoga Poses for Ceremony Preparation

These are the poses you might choose to combine, selecting 4 or 5 in total to use depending on your preference and your desired length of practice. Finish with the heart opening bound twist followed by knees to chest or legs up the wall, then rest for 10 minutes in savasana. 

Heart Meridian Poses

These poses help to open the front of the body, bring you into the heart centre, into connection, and help you feel more restful less agitated, and more present and receptive:

Heart Bound Legs Twist

Releases tension in the spine and opens the heart, promoting emotional release and balance.

Anahatasana (Melting Heart Pose)

Deepens the stretch in the chest and shoulders, opening the heart centre and encouraging surrender.

Supported Fish

Using a bolster or blocks under the upper back. Opens the chest and heart area, facilitating deeper breathing and emotional openness.

Kidney and Urinary Bladder Meridian Poses

These poses help nourish the nervous system, soothe overactive adrenals, and help deal with fear:

Reclined Supported Butterfly with Bolster Under Upper Back

Opens the chest, upper back and stimulates the Kidney meridian while providing gentle support. Opens heart, hips, releases lower back. * Also a heart pose.

Sphinx

Gently arches the back, stimulating the kidneys and opening the chest and heart simultaneously. * Also a heart pose.

Seal

Deepens the backbend to further stimulate the Kidneys and open the heart. * Also a heart pose.

Child’s with Knees Wide

Releases the lower back and spine, soothes the kidneys and adrenals, opens the hips, calms the nervous system.

Dead Bug

Releases the lower back and opens the hips, facilitating a release of stored tension.

Swan 

Targets the hips and lower back, releasing tension and fear stored in the Kidneys. Releases hips and lower back.

Caterpillar

Stretches the spine and hamstrings, targeting the Kidney and Urinary Bladder meridians. Releases the back.

Knees to Chest 

Calms nervous system, releases back. 

Legs Up the Wall

Calms the nervous system and aids in relaxation. Rests the heart.

Final Thoughts

By thoughtfully combining Yin Yoga and breathwork, you can create a grounding and supportive pre-ceremony practice that soothes your nerves, settles your mind, and opens your heart. These practices help prepare you for the deep introspection, emotional release, and physical demands of an Ayahuasca ceremony, allowing you to approach the experience with greater openness, trust, and surrender.

Whether you are a seasoned practitioner or new to these breathing and yoga techniques, incorporating Yin Yoga and breathwork into your preparation routine can enhance your ceremony experience and aid in the integration of your insights and healing. So, take a deep breath, settle into a pose, and let the magic unfold!

Anya is a yoga & IRest meditation teacher, breathwork instructor, divemaster and writer, ocean lover and solo adventurer.

She thrives on change and transformation, and spends part of her year working and living in the Amazon with indigenous doctors, learning about their system of healing, and helping to facilitate transformational retreats.

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