Encouraging the body to work back toward its natural equilibrium. Yin helps to recalibrate and restore harmony within the body.
Yoga is an Indian practice that has been around for thousands of years, but has exploded into popularity throughout Australia especially in the past decade. There are many different types of yoga and I have experimented with many styles myself over the past seven years. It wasn’t until a few years ago, however, that I stumbled across yin yoga.
Back then I was working full time and studying part time, so had little energy and a brain on overdrive. I have to admit I really didn’t enjoy my first yin class. It was much slower than the other forms of yoga I had done previously, and I soon became impatient and frustrated at the lack of flow. But, committing to a second class, it wasn’t long until I was fully converted.
Like so many of us, I lead a predominantly ‘yang’ lifestyle, so I quickly realised the benefits that yin yoga had on my day-to-day life. Not only did it force me to slow down, it opened up space in my mind and body, offering me a deeper sense of clarity and peace.
Soon yin became my main yoga practice. When the opportunity arose to attend teacher training, it seemed like a great chance to further deepen my understanding and appreciation of this beautiful practice. Over a year later, I have seen how it has transformed the lives of many of my students as well. Here are some of the basic principles:
Challenge – During a class students are encouraged to make their way into a pose, working toward the body’s limitations, finding a position that I like to call ‘that place in between too much and not enough’. This not only challenges the body, but also the mind, as quite often it’s the mind tempting you to move into an easier, less demanding pose. As humans, we seek comfort, but it’s in that place of discomfort where we can begin to grow! So as I say, we should all try to find some comfort in the discomfort!
Stillness – Once you have found the best pose for your body, then you find your stillness. In yin yoga poses are held for three to five minutes, requiring students to find a peace and acceptance in that discomfort. For so many, staying still is the hardest part of all. Super charged and rearing to go all the time, these days we are finding it harder and harder to switch off. Relaxing, disengaging, un-tensing, and turning off the muscles seems to be harder than many of us think. Many people actually don’t know how to unwind and will struggle to stop and just be. This is an invaluable skill we have to relearn.
Simplicity – Whilst remaining in the pose may be challenging, the fact that there are only a limited number of yin poses, most of which involve lying on a mat, makes this practice also very simple. Living in such a complex and complicated world, the simpler and stiller you can create your yin experience, the more beneficial it is. People are beginning to seek out this simplicity in place of some of the more dynamic yang-style yoga classes, in order to truly unwind and relax.
Relaxation – Encouraging students to slow down and surrender is the main aim of a yin yoga class. It is in this state of complete relaxation that the length of time each pose is held is able to do all of the amazing work for you. Who would ever have thought that the more you relax, the more you get out of your practice? Don’t confuse stillness for relaxation, however, as they are two very separate states. You can be still, but tense and far from relaxed. Yin yoga works into the deep connective tissue, the fascia that runs all throughout your body, helping to cleanse, detoxify, and improve circulation. By slowing down their parasympathetic nervous system, most people also experience a reduction in stress and anxiety.
Balance – Chi, prana, ki, or qi – whatever you want to call your vital life force – this is the flow throughout the body and the one thing you can’t live without. Encouraging the body to work back toward its natural equilibrium, yin helps to recalibrate and restore this harmony within the body. Positively impacting overall health and well-being by balancing the internal organs and stimulating meridians, yin incorporates a lot of the Traditional Chinese Medicine principles. It not only restores balance into the body, but to the mind and spirit as well. What I especially love about this, is that over time you can begin to control your own chi through breathwork and full body awareness, in order to give yourself a rebalance anywhere and anytime you need.
Flexibility – By holding stretches for long periods, you are guaranteed to improve your flexibility over time. Joint mobility will also improve, and the fact that we are able to tailor each pose to our individual body means that anyone is a great yin candidate. Young, old, male, female, inflexible, flexible, beginner, or advanced yogi, yin does not discriminate. Not only will your body’s flexibility improve, but you are supporting flexibility of your mind as well.
Mindfulness – With so much time in each pose, you have the ability to do a lot of thinking. By encouraging us all to quieten the general, often irrelevant, chatter in our minds – like thinking about where we have to go after class, what to cook for dinner, and whether or not it is bin night – enables us to open up and allow more clarity and wisdom to come in. By being still, quiet, introspective, and observant of what’s going on in the mind and body, we allow a deeper sense of understanding and knowing what makes us unique. We can begin to become more acquainted with our authentic self and less caught up in mediocrity and our need for immediacy. Basically, yin is less about doing and more about being.
Patience – Whilst practicing yin, you have to learn patience. There is no rush and students are encouraged to take their time. The mind is prone to boredom and distraction when the pose is held for such an extended period. Learning to ignore some of the body’s and mind’s distraction and diversion tactics is a skill developed over time. But accepting your situation, knowing that you are exactly where you are supposed to be, no matter how things may seem to appear, and finding peace with that can be one of the most rewarding aspects of this amazing practice.
Don’t be fooled into thinking yin yoga is easy. Like any yoga practice, you can always take it further, challenge yourself, and begin to explore uncharted territory. Yin yoga has the potential to open you up to more possibilities in life as you begin to expand your mind and body!
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