In our culture, the idea of productivity involves a lot of going, doing, being and seeing…and not a lot of stillness. But what if I told you that you can gain deep flexibility in your body and mind not by moving, but instead by remaining still? Let’s talk about it! Listed below are 3 reasons why you should get a little yin yoga in your life ASAP!
What is yin yoga? Yin is a form of yoga which incorporates the use of cooler temperatures and longer holds in seated postures. It allows the yoga practitioner to access the deeper tissues of the body (ie. connective tissues such as bones, ligaments and joints) and create impactful release in these areas for bettering overall mobility. Yin is not to be confused with restorative or gentle yoga, as the “intensity” of this practice is different from what you might experience in a yang class – but it is still intense in its own way.
1. It helps create BALANCE
Since most of life in the western world is characterized by yang activities, it’s important that we incorporate yin activities into our schedule so we can cultivate an overall balance physically, mentally and even spiritually. We need both the yin and the yang. Some seasons require more yang activity than yin, such as times when we feel lethargic and need to encourage warmth and energy back into our lives. In the same way, other seasons in your life will require more yin activity than yang. This is the more difficult need to address as it goes against our nature to slow down. However, if you are able to pursue more yin in times of chaos – your body and mind will learn how to respond to the stress in a more logical and peaceful way. The way this works within the body and mind is that the yin postures stimulate release in the connective tissues which can be quite intense. These sensations combined with deep breathing, train the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) to activate and help you remain calm even though deep release is occurring and causing a bit of an internal struggle. When you practice yin consistently, this response will become more natural so that you can decifer which situations actually do require your sympathetic (fight or flight) nervous system and which ones you can handle with a gentler approach. Depending on what kind of season you are in, your “prescription” for yin/yang balance will be unique to your needs. So be honest with yourself. It will never be all yin or all yang – so align your schedule and priorities in such a way that you can find a happy balance of both types of activity.
2. Gives you the opportunity to SLOW DOWN
Unlike a quicker-paced, heated practice (such as vinyasa), yin is slow and steady. For the first time all day, time is on your side. You have 60 minutes to turn on your slow motion mode. My favorite way to approach yin postures is to start at the highest point in the pose, facing the very first sensation I feel in my body – even if it is very faint. I take a few breaths in that place of the pose, being present with even the smallest releases that I feel. When my body adjusts and is settled, those initial sensations subside and I’m able to move a few inches deeper without skipping over anything important. I continue this same approach until I land in the “sweet spot” of the pose, where I can just surrender and soak up the most intense of sensations. One of my favorite quotes on this topic is “Yoga is not about touching your toes, it is what you learn on the way down.” -Jigar Gor
…It’s the journey to the toes that is the most impactful, but we have to be willing to slow down – to be present in each and every step in order to understand the whole picture and to truly appreciate the stopping point of the pose. It becomes less about striving and more about being present. This element of the yin practice will help you not only approach your vinyasa practice with more mindfulness, but will also surely infuse itself into the way you deal with the chaotic moments in your life off the mat.
3. It prepares you for MEDITATION
The earliest recorded history of yoga shows a person in a seated meditation. If you’ve ever tried to just plop down and meditate for even a small amount of time, you will discover that it is easier said than done. Meditation is a practice, just like anything else. It requires a tall spine, open hips, connection to the breath, and clarity of thought. This is where the asana portion of the practice came in. Yogis identified that they needed to work out the kinks of the body and mind before finding their way to the practice of seated meditation. Yang postures and practices are useful to work out more of the energetic aspects of the Self and yin postures and practices help us to encourage the calming energies to surface. Both the yin and the yang allow us to access that sense of balance so that we can more appropriately approach our meditation practice. In your body, the deep stretches of the yin practice, held for long periods of time encourage your body to settle into stillness in a slower, more meditative way. By the end of your yoga practice, you should be able to find a meditation seat more comfortably in the body as well as the mind than if you were to attempt a meditation before you practice. Meditation is the gateway to discovering the things you are cultivating in your mind. It is not easy to observe the thoughts if everything is jumbled together as it usually is before a yoga session. The practice of yoga gives us time to tune in and to eventually sit with our thoughts in a calm and collected manner so that we can decide what mental activity we might like to keep and which aspects of the mind it might be wise to let go of.
Beyond the practice of yin yoga, the concept of yin can be pursued in various ways. You might include a “yin” hour of reading, a “yin” minute of silence, or even a “yin” glass of wine at the end of a crazy day (personal favorite, just sayin’). The important thing to identify is that you NEED yin. And if it feels unnatural, that probably means you need it even more than you might expect. It’s a practice, just as nailing that handstand in the middle of the room is – so keep showing up, day after day, watching the benefits unfold in their own, steady yin-like way.
If you are interested in learning more about the practice and many benefits of yin yoga, join me for Understanding + Teaching Yin Yoga. Both practitioners and yoga teachers are encouraged to attend! SIGN UP HERE