“Stiff, unfit, resistant in both body and mind – Yin Yoga was the perfect way in for me.”
Yin Yoga is a slow, yielding, meditative practice that targets the joints, ligaments and fascia tissue in the body. Jamie, who teaches Yin Yoga at 4.15 every day at The Sanctuary, came to the practice through the practice of Ashtanga, which in yoga terms, is about as Yang as it gets.
Yang energy is all about changing the world, a quality much admired and modeled in our culture. We are taught at an early age to make something of ourselves, to change the world and leave our mark on it. And this if of course, a great quality – however, we are rarely taught how to balance this with the quality of acceptance. We are not given the chance to learn how to not struggle and just allow things to unfold. Part of the yin practice is learning this yielding. And bringing this quality of yielding to a yang practice like Ashtanga, can have profound effects.
Before I go further, let me say that my introduction to yoga – or at least to yoga that I enjoyed – was through Yin Yoga, when Jamie was teaching the Fasters and Beginners 10.30 am Yoga at The Sanctuary in 2010.
Stiff, unfit, resistant in both body and mind, Yin was the perfect way in for me. I’d always had a busy mind and an edge of impatience about me, and quite frankly, most meditation had only made that seem more acute and uncomfortable: “Ok, so I’m aware of my monkey mind, what next???” Yin is a meditative practice, and meditating thru the body itself was a happy revelation to me (more on that later). What’s more, Yin reaches the parts of my body other yogas (and beers, for that matter) don’t reach, and invites me to become my own expert: I have to find my own edge, rather than asking a teacher what I’m doing wrong, or what I should be feeling – the responsibility is on me. So my mind is going inward, feeling in, exploring, testing; and also seeing the mental habits underpinning it all. “But I did this more advanced pose yesterday, I should be able to do it today!” or “I should hurt… I should push… no pain no gain” or “Does my tummy look horrendous in this forward bend?” (my personal favourite…) and all the other silliness that our naughty little minds force upon us.
So how does the practice of Yin Yoga do all of this?
Well the best way to find out of course is to experience it yourself – either with Jamie at The Sanctuary or at a Yin Yoga class near you (via the wonder of the internet).
I have listed at the end of this blog a few sites that I found particularly helpful – but for now, I will leave you with the three principles of Yin Yoga which give a good idea of what it’s all about. (With thanks to Bernie Clark who has unwittingly allowed me to be as a magpie on his very nicely written site, where most of this info comes from ).
Playing your Edges
The first principle of Yin Yoga is: every time you come into a pose, go only to the point where you feel a significant resistance in the body. Don’t try to go as deep as you possibly can right away. Give your body a chance to open up and invite you to go deeper. After thirty seconds or a minute or so, usually the body releases and greater depth is possible. But not always. Listen to the body and respect its requests.
In this manner we play our edges, each time awaiting a new invitation.
We don’t use our body to get into a pose; we use the pose to get into our body.
Resolving to be Still
The second principle of the Yin Yoga practice is stillness. Once we have found our edge, we settle into the pose. We wait without moving. This is our resolution, our commitment. No matter what urges arise in the mind, no matter what sensations arise in the body, we remain still (the only exceptions to this are if we experience pain, as opposed to discomfort; and in order to go deeper into the pose).
This then is the meditative aspect of the practice. Being with what is; tuning in to our own bodies, with sensitivity and self-compassion (a most welcome and unexpected side-effect of this practice for me); tuning into the breath – and through this, a stilling of the mind.
Holding for time
When we have arrived at our edge, once we have become still, all that is left to do is to stay.
Yin postures are generally held for at least one minute, and for some people as long as twenty minutes. Yin tissues require yin exercise. It is the long, gentle pressure that coaxes yin tissues into being strengthened.
And finally, here’s a little something to think about: Active people love to do active yoga. Calmer people love to do calming yoga. Don’t always practice what you love; practice what you need! Active people probably need Yin Yoga more than anyone else. Calm people probably need to do more yang practices more than anyone else. Those of us who are perfectly balanced can carry on drinking cocktails in the bar.
For a simplified explanation of Yin and Yang (A la Wikipedia):
Yin is characterized as slow, soft, yielding, diffuse, cold, wet, and passive; and is associated with water, earth, the moon, femininity and nighttime.
Yang, by contrast, is fast, hard, solid, focused, hot, dry, and aggressive; and is associated with fire, sky, the sun, masculinity and daytime.