So, what is Yin Yoga?
Yin yoga… it goes from uncomfortable and maybe even boring at the beginning, to a sacred place of refuge as time passes. It is a still and meditative practice that moves us deeply, through sensation and breath awareness, into our autonomic state of rest and restore (the parasympathetic state). By bringing the physical body into specific poses, in stillness and for a prolonged time, we are able to create a significant shift not otherwise possible in our busy modern lives.
I believe this shift is experienced differently by everyone and felt most significantly in different places, however, the inevitability of a shift remains. With a steady, mindful and earnest practice, yin yoga is powerful to the point of transformation. This is no coincidence, but rather is rooted in the ancient wisdom of Yoga and Traditional Chinese Medicine. We are doing much more than stressing the tissues (fascia) of our bodies – we are enlivening our energy and rejuvenating our cells by targeting specific meridian lines (energy pathways in the body, also known in yoga philosophy as nadis).
“Our goal in life is not to become perfect, our goal is to become whole”
The meridian system of Traditional Chinese Medicine understands the body holistically in terms of chi (energy or prana), so by practicing yin yoga we are tapping into this complex and connected system. If we have deficient or stagnant chi, this practice will help us move back towards equilibrium – bringing back energy and feeling. As Pattabhi Jois expounded, ‘practice and all is coming’. Yin teaches us this ‘all’ isn’t just what we consider to be pleasant or good. This ‘all’ is exactly as he says – all the sensations, all the holding on, all the pain, fear, hurt and the peace, joy and openness. This is why yin yoga is so powerful. It is our tool to settle into that which is true – we are opened into satya (truthfulness), rather than falling victim to dvesha (avoidance).
The benefits of Yin Yoga
Through my practice and experience teaching yin I have got to know asmita (ego self) very well – I have been confronted by the incredible tightness in my hips that turned out to be more than just physical ‘stiffness’. Our minds and are bodies are inextricably connected – what we think and feel becomes lodged and manifested in the body unless it is acknowledged and observed. Yin taught me how to observe in a way that my vinyasa practice had never done. Coming for a place of yang energy – the active, firey side of the coin – arriving at a yin class – the soft, slow, quiet side of the coin – I didn’t know where to put myself. I felt hysterical while everyone else seemed peaceful. But as I came out of the postures, I felt this incredible lightness, like a weight had been lifted – and it was then that I knew I would keep coming back to yin.
“We don’t use our body to get into a pose, we use the pose to get into our body”
As the years have passed I have moved from student to teacher, although I will always remain a student as well. Teaching yin and having this skill in your repertoire is invaluable. It will teach you compassion in your approach to students, a depth of understanding into pranamaya kosha and manomaya kosha (the energetic and mental sheaths of the body). It will give you a fascinating insight into how our bodies are influenced by the central nervous system, as well as the role fascia plays in ‘stretching’. You will understand the important of modifications for people who are already very flexible versus those that are far less flexible. It will infiltrate into your teachings of other forms of yoga, especially meditation.
The most skilful way I have learnt to practice and teach is to honour each unique individual, the idiosyncrasies of their bodies, their skeletal structures and understanding that I do not know what is happening in their head space. We can learn so very much from our yin, both practising and teaching. The task is to show up and be present. To begin the act and art of surrender into what is and eventually learning to find peace within the discomfort and challenge of the postures.