by Vaishali Iyer
Lately I’ve been teaching more yin yoga – and reflecting on the amazing benefits that a regular yin practice can bring. While most of us are probably familiar with active (“yang”) forms of yoga, yin yoga is still somewhat unknown, somewhat in the shadows of the yoga world. The world of yin is soft, gentle, dark, still…and at the same time, deeply alive and powerfully sensitive. In yin practice, postures are held much longer than usual – anywhere between 1 and 15 minutes – in order to stimulate connective tissue and hydrate joints, fascia, bony structures, lymph and organs. Our muscles respond to repetitive movement – repeated contraction and extension helps them grow longer and stronger – but yin is for all the other parts of the bodymind that respond better to sustained pressure, internal massage or slower work. Over the next few posts, I’ll be exploring some reasons why yin yoga might be the perfect complement to your active movement practices.
Firstly, yin yoga encourages us to slow down. In yin class, we enter and leave each posture with care and attention, feeling our way in and out so our transitions become integral parts of the whole process. Slowing down our movements helps us enter a different sense of time – relaxed, spacious and unhurried – in which we can really savour the body in all of its intricacy. Part of the magic of yin yoga is this process of entering into a more ‘yin’ way of being, with a more open and fluid sense of time. Similar to the practice of walking meditation, these slow and mindful movements open up a big space in our awareness. Yin practice takes us out of our constant cycles of busyness as we rush through the day, ticking things off the ever-expanding to-do list. As we slow down, we are learning to balance periods of activity with periods of stillness, and over time, stillness itself starts to soak out and flow over into our ordinary way of being.
The slow pace of yin practice gives us space to feel the life of the body as it expresses itself in each posture and movement. With a light attention on our breath we stay present, and in so doing, our mind can relax down and in, filling the whole of our body with awareness. The practice invites us to simply open ourselves to all of the different sensations and feelings that are constantly moving through the body – bursts of power, tingling, vitality; waves of warmth, shivers of coolness, surges of energy pulsing back and forth in our interior; and the gentle breeze of the breath flowing through our whole being. In this landscape, there is no room for our habitual ruminations, daydreams and obsessive planning – instead, there is enormous space and interest for us to actually feel whatever is going on with us in a fresh and open way. This process opens the door to discovery and inspiration while, at the same time, teaching us how to be with ourselves without judging or somehow trying to change how we feel.
Strangely enough, I have found that the longer I dedicate to yin practice, the more time I feel I have afterwards to do whatever it is I need to be doing during the day. Clearly, the amount of time itself doesn’t change – I still have x hours to do y number of things – but through the practice, the cramped, claustrophobic, panicked feeling I subconsciously carry around and my nagging sense of “need to do this, this and this before that” dissolves into a much larger space. I emerge feeling serene, spacious and grounded because I’ve touched a different dimension of time, one that is known and felt only through breath and the shifting play of sensations in the body.