Yin yoga. It takes a while to get used to is what you'll hear from a lot of people. It's very unlike most other forms of yoga, yet, personally, I find it's definitely one of the most powerful. When I first encountered Yin yoga, it was actually on my teacher training, and I absolutely hated it.
On day one, I was uncomfortable, It was intense, and I just wanted it to end. I did NOT want to do the Yin practice the next day. It felt like I was in poses for far too long compared to what I was used to, and I was battling constant distractions and agitations throughout the whole time. My teeth would grit and my fists would clench.
On the third day, I began to soften, and explore these sensations a little more.
Why was I so agitated?
Why couldn't I stay focused?
Why wasn't I enjoying this before?
Why was I so bloody tense?
Reason 1 - Being able to sit with your emotions
As I said, I was hating on these sensations and tensions as they arose. I was resisting them even more, fighting each intrusive distraction and frustration and feeding the fire with my mind.
It wasn't until I was taking part on a continued teacher training, on Yin Yoga, that I really began to understand what was going on.
When we experience intensity within the body, we tend to invite in more tension than we need. If we're angry, we clench our fists or jaw, or frown so hard its like were trying to fit our eyebrows down into our mouth. But what happens when we stop fighting these emotions and we scan through our body to soften, smooth the edges, and try to just allow them to be, instead of fighting them.
Once you allow them to just be, they soften on their own. What we need to do is accept what's arising, breathe deeply and evenly, and invite in compassion.
As the body becomes still within the poses, just as a great mountain, we become unaffected by the winds and dramas that surround it - Bernie Clark
Reason 2 - A Healthier Nervous System
A healthy nervous system, is our ability to return to a calm, stable baseline after experiencing a stressful situation. Our autonomic nervous system can be split into two subcategories that we'll look at, the Parasympathetic nervous system (Rest and digest) and Sympathetic nervous system (Fight or flight).
When we experience stress, this triggers our sympathetic nervous system. What should happen after, with a healthy, regulated nervous system, is that we should return to a calm, stable, and safe feeling state. Yin yoga, like other forms of yoga, can help us achieve this. The reason Yin is so potent, is that we linger in the pose, or the "stress" for longer than normal in a posture, then, we release it, and allow whatever sensations that need to arise or release, to do so. Therefore, consciously trying to return to baseline.
Yin increases Parasympathetic tone, simply meaning, can bring us into that restful state of rest and digest. Handy, right? Right. The more we do this and practice, the more capable we and our nervous systems are of returning to baseline.
Reason 3 - Its Meditative.
For those who don't, or can't simply sit still and meditate and observe our thoughts. Yin makes it easier. It provides us with something tangible, something real and physical to pay attention to. The more we pay attention to the sensations of our body and the breath, the more it allows the subconscious to do whatever it needs to do. To process what it needs to, and in turn, allows us to rest.
If we allow the breath to slow down with this newfound awareness of the body, the mind, naturally slows down also. Therefore entering a more meditative state, without just sitting, and impatiently focusing on our thoughts as they come and go.
Reason 4 - Increased Self Awareness and Reconnection with the Self
This may feel fairly obvious at this point. But it's that important, that I thought id dedicate a bit more to this. In todays fast paced world, many of us are walking around, completely mindlessly, from task to task, not paying attention, and just existing for the sake of existing. I myself, have been there, and it wasn't until I "woke up" that I began to truly suffer.
I was impatient, unaware of my emotions and thoughts, didn't know my right from left, and I was snappy and reactive. Not overly endearing qualities if I say so myself. This came from a state of disconnection. I never tuned into my body, I never payed attention to my thoughts, or even became aware of my breathing unless I was running and choking for air.
Yin, provides us a portal into the self. By coming into postures with our bodies, encountering stillness with them and focusing to try and stop ourselves from getting distracted, we are influencing our mind. We are finding focus, and allowing for the stillness from within to arise naturally. When we breathe deep, diaphragmatic, even breaths (Resonance breathing), we can signal our nervous system to slow down, and find rest.
While doing this, we'll encounter frustrations, agitations, and we'll try and twitch and shimmy and tense up various parts of the body. These are our physical reactions to stressful stimuli. The first step to settling these, is awareness, the next is that even breathing I was talking about. It will soften us, and allow us to relax into these difficult sensations.
Once the breath is settled, slow, and even, the thoughts of the mind will then follow.
Reason 5 - It strengthens our joints, and improves our range of motion and flexibility.
With poses in yin lasting a bit longer, between 2-6 minutes. This allows for us to go much deeper than just directly into our muscles. When we soften into the pose and relax our muscles, yes we can feel a stretch in our muscles, but we also get into our connective tissues, ligaments, tendons and bones.
By doing this, and staying "passive" in the posture, we are applying gentle stress onto these areas. Over time, this allows them to strengthen, as well as lengthen. When we practice with consistency, and patience, we can experience gains in our flexibility, and mobility. Increasing our range of motion can allow us to move more freely, and with less tension.
The less tension we feel within our body, the more restored our natural, dynamic forms of movement might be on a day to day basis. As we age, stronger joints and flexible muscles are definitely going to be of benefit to us. The more we age, the stiffer we naturally become, so Yin is the perfect supplement to feeling young, healthy and flexible.
Maybe you just wan't some rest..
That's great, and Yin's got your back once again. The world keeps turning, but yin slows us down. We continue to pay attention and improve our sense of presence with the world. The more present we feel, the more we can show up for our lives and relationships more fully.
A healthier nervous system, greater sense of presence and calmness, more flexibility and improved self awareness? Sounds pretty great to me, if it sounds good to you too, try out a Yin class or two. Give it a chance, and see how you feel. Let me know how you get on.
Live In East Lothian? Try out one of my weekly yin classes.