The cool-down is a great time to introduce and explore the mind-body connection. During this phase, the body and mind make the transition from intense physical and intellectual stimulation to a state of equilibrium. Promote this balancing effect by harmonizing yin and yang energies, and transform an ordinary cool-down into a holistic experience.
The concept of yin and yang—the interdependent, symbiotic nature of all things—adds an interesting mind-body perspective to the cool-down. Think of yin and yang not as opposites or absolutes but rather as dynamic and complementary qualities that reveal meaning and purpose in one another. All things possess and exhibit these qualities. Yin is dark, passive, downward, cold, contracting and weak. Yang is bright, active, upward, hot, expanding and strong. When applying the terms to the world of fitness, you could say that a cardio workout is yang and that stretching or range-of-motion training is yin; that muscle tissue is yang, while connective tissue is yin.
Most fitness classes are yang in nature, so you need to find balance by including some yin repose. The cool-down offers the perfect opportunity!
A sense of mindfulness and purpose is essential to the cool-down. Make a distinct shift from outwardly projected energy to inwardly directed energy. While participants stretch, coach them to scan their bodies for any residual tension or stress. Ask them to focus their attention on those sensations. After a brief period, expand the scan to include thoughts, moods or mind states. They will likely discover some interesting emotional counterparts to what they observe physically. In essence, this scanning exercise establishes the mind-body connection.
Continue to nurture this connection through conscious breathing (while cuing stretches). Instruct participants to breathe deeply through the nose on both the inhalation and the exhalation. Offer a challenge: Extend the breath to 5 seconds in each direction, with a brief pause at either end. Another helpful exercise is to make the exhalation twice as long as the inhalation (inhale 4 seconds, and exhale 8 seconds). The extended exhalation is calming and enhances the relaxation response.
For our purposes, a pose that applies tension to the muscle during the stretch is yang, and a more passive stretch targeting the fascia and connective tissue is yin.
Yang: From seated position on floor, extend legs straight, tilt pelvis forward, elongate spine, lead with chest, and reach heart toward feet. Keep torso erect as you fold forward. Hold for 3–5 breath cycles (“lengthens” hamstrings).
Yin: Fold torso forward, allowing spine to curve. Head, shoulders and arms hang heavily. Allow any muscular tension to release; soften knees. Hold for 10–20 breath cycles (“stretches” spine).
Yang: Sitting with soles of feet together in front of body, knees out, tilt pelvis forward, extend spine, press hands on feet and elbows on knees to gain depth, and descend with erect spine. Hold for 3–5 breath cycles (“opens” hips).
Yin: Fold torso forward, allowing spine to curve. Head and shoulders hang effortlessly, and arms rest on floor. Release any muscular tension. Hold for 10–20 breath cycles (“stretches” spine and sacroiliac joint).
Play with the notions of yin and yang as they relate to fitness components. Be creative, and explore the delicate balance between the strong, warming depth of yang and the soft, calm openings that yin creates. Observe . . . breathe . . . enjoy.