The Underrated Power of Yin Yoga
Yin Yoga classes can be found in many studios around the world, often supplementary to a regular Hatha or Vinyasa practice. My personal experience both as a student and as a teacher of the practice goes a little deeper.
What is Yin Yoga?
Yin Yoga finds it's origins in both Chinese Taoist Yoga and Indian Hatha Yoga. It was brought to the West in the 70's by Paulie Zink. Today it is well known among the yoga community for its deep relaxing effect and as a great way to stretch out the connective tissue in our joints. For quite a while I never saw it for much more than this. The practice involves holding floor based postures for anywhere between two to seven minutes. There is no real rules to time limits but this is the most common time frame. You may be guided through meditations and breathing to keep your mind from drifting. Certain postures can pose quite a physical and mental challenge, especially if you are new to the practice. Other postures are more restorative. All the postures will offer some sort of deep stretch and release for the body and mind.
So Much More than Stretching
How often do you truly slow down?
In truly human fashion, we have even turned yoga into a strenuous sport. Our constant need to be moving and doing something has led to higher and higher rates of stress related illness and injuries. Our mental health statistics are frightening. Yin Yoga could be the answer we've been looking for. It is an incredible blend of movement and stillness, allowing for deep meditation without having to sit still for to long. As each posture is held, you are challenged to find stillness while all your stress and tension is released from the joints. This tension may have been there for years. For most of your life you may have been walking around, holding onto some long forgotten memory or minor frustration that is now making you ill. This illness could be in the form of anger or anxiety with no apparent cause. Yin is the medicine. As you find stillness and work through the stretch, you face these tensions head on. The process probably wont build rock hard abs but it might just change your life.
I like to visualise the practice in three stages. The order may vary but typically each pose will take you through a physical, mental and then emotional challenge. First you stretch your body. You feel the physical resistance in the connective tissue. This may be uncomfortable or just unfamiliar but can manifest through all sorts of physical sensations. At this point your mind and your emotional body might be feeling the 'stretch'. An interesting process goes on when you stretch something that has no physical limits.
When did you last surprise yourself?
Have you ever done something that you had previously believed you couldn't do?
Yoga postures often bring this unexpected reward. 'I never new I could bend that way!'. 'I didn't think I'd ever touch my toes again!'. Yin brings in different challenges, not limited to the body. It is common to hear 'I can't sit still', 'I can't quiet my mind', 'I am not patient enough'. There is a truth to these words, that is, if you believe them. The mind is in a way, the body's commander. Your body will respond without question to whatever stories the mind chooses to tell. This is where you start to meet your greatest resistance. To guide someone to their current limitations is one thing, to guide them past goes against everything they have had ingrained in them from birth.
When you work with stillness, you work with the mind. When you incorporate stillness with postures, you get all sorts of reactions. Any form of yoga will challenge your perception of what is possible. Yin is simply a set of tools that will dig into your inner resistance very quickly. The word 'can't' can be very detrimental to not only yourself but others around you. This word sets in our boundaries and quite possibly sets them for others who may be influenced by our words and actions. Try consciously adding on the word 'yet'. 'I can't do that... yet'. See how this simple awareness of how you speak changes the way you act. Practiced consistently, this simple change in vocabulary alone can trigger a whole new way of thinking.
Now when you approach the mat and tell yourself 'I can't do that yet', you give yourself the room to explore how far you truly can go. If each and every time you hit a 'limit' you say 'I can't do that... yet' you'll continue to keep going. By now I think it's clear, I am trying to expel the belief that there are actually any limits at all. Once I couldn't comfortably sit cross legged for more than a few seconds, now I am typing this very piece of writing whilst sitting cross legged on the floor by choice. Boundaries and limits are of course there to protect us, but from what? As we reach our 'limits' or what we 'can't do' we are simply finding points on the map that we have not yet explored.
Less Is More
Is it really a workout if you don't feel it tomorrow?
We have an obsession with pushing and pushing ourselves in our work, fitness and even our personal lives. I do not want to take away from the importance of keeping active and physically healthy. I still regularly attend dynamic classes to work a sweat and love to dance as much as possible. I just think a priority check is needed. Mental health is more often just a bonus to a healthy exercise routine. I have found little value to keeping fit when I've been to low to enjoy it. On the other hand, when I focus on my mental health first, I find keeping fit and active follows suit naturally. Simply put, when I am happy I move. When I set my goals on being calm, even a full on fast paced Vinyasa class becomes an entirely different process.
Slow down and sit still to allow yourself to move forward.
Life is a constant work of art, an infinite set of puzzles to solve and without stepping back to look from a new perspective once in a while, a never ending pile of arduous paperwork. The challenge with Yin is letting go of control. Be honest with yourself right now, how much have you successfully controlled in your life so far? Could you honestly say you haven't had any unexpected or unwanted hurdles? I'm going to go out on a limb here and say you've had a few mishaps, well and truly out of your 'control'. When you first get into a posture in a Yin class, you may find what feels like the limits of your stretch. This may be where you sit for the next few minutes coming up with all sorts of judgmental thoughts, most likely aimed at the teacher who clearly doesn't understand how your body works. There is a process I call 'melting' where you stop forcing and pushing your body to allow complete relaxation and therefore an even deeper stretch. When you experience it not only do you realise that to achieve full 'control' you must actually release 'control' but you will also learn how limiting 'control' is in the first place. Your potential is limitless, good luck controlling that.
Less is more in so many areas of life. Do less in your Yin class and you'll find a rich depth to the body and mind you never imagined possible. Do less in life and you'll find a lot of things work themselves out. Do less but actively do less. Imagine yelling at someone to stop or 'control' an argument. We feel if we don't aggressively express our point that it will get lost or worse, we could loose the argument altogether. Now imagine doing less, speak calmly and only once the other person has run out of breath. Try it next time it comes up and see the difference. This may not seem relevant to a blog post about a style of Yoga but this is exactly the point I am trying to make. These are things I have learnt from my time on the mat, slowing down, letting go and seemingly 'doing less'.
Yin Yoga has pulled me out and up from the depths of drug and alcohol addiction. Yin has helped me through break ups and tough work situations. It has given me the space to work through my family issues and all the fears that I was unconsciously letting rule my life. Yin has shown me how to love myself and others. It is where I go to make tough decisions. It is where I go to unwind, to cry and to tackle my demons. Yin has given me the confidence to push my boundaries and to live a life that I am proud of.
I could write an endless book on the magic and power of this beautiful practice but I think the rest is better experienced first hand.
Get in touch through the website or come along to a class to see what I've been rambling on about.