BY VAISHALI IYER
This is the second in a series of posts about the magic of yin yoga. In my first post, I spoke of the way yin practice helps us slow down and enter a different sense of time as we feel the body more and more deeply. Giving ourselves this ‘yin time’ clears our mind of the fog of habitual thinking and helps us wake up to the ordinary beauty of the world around us. In this post, I want to go a little deeper into the symbolism of yin, and how we can start to feel the meaning of yin in practice. The word ‘yin’ comes from Chinese or Daoist thought, and is used in complement with its “opposite” – ‘yang’. Yin-yang are the twin forces that create and give life to everything in the universe. Yin represents the dark principle, associated with the shadows, rest, the moon, night, earth and feminine energy; while yang represents the bright principle, associated with daylight, action, the sun, heaven, and masculine energy.
The traditional Chinese for yin (陰) literally means ‘dark’, and the character denotes ‘the shady side of a hill’ – a gentle slope in the shadows. Yin yoga is a meandering, soft practice – like strolling through a shady valley – and is not very concerned with arriving at goals or destinations. Due to its simplicity, gentleness and lack of emphasis on ambition and achievement, it is more accessible than most forms of active movement. Pretty much anyone can practice yin safely, even those with health conditions or injuries (though it is always advisable to check with a medical professional and be taught by a competent teacher). Even for those in good health and physical fitness, the nature of yin practice powerfully cuts through our pride, judgement, competitiveness and ambition. Yin yoga is an entirely inward experience that cannot be measured or compared. In a yin session, we are not concerned with what we can do, but how we do it and what we feel as we do it. It is important to enter the practice with this understanding so that the mind can be free to experience (a yin quality) rather than judge (a yang activity). Sometimes we say that in yin, we enter each pose only to about 60% of our capacity. Then, through the long hold, the body opens and might take us further, or it might not – it doesn’t matter.
Yin yoga, like the earth that yin represents, is endlessly accommodating. It shows us that our setbacks, failures and difficulties are not to be feared or rejected. In yin practice, we do not hesitate to prop ourselves up using blankets, cushions, blocks, straps or anything else that we have at hand. Through the use of these props, we are bringing the support of the earth up to our body – meeting ourselves openly, wherever we are on any given day. This is quite radical, as it shows us experientially that we can make room for ourselves; and that there is nothing wrong in doing so. In the same vein, yin yoga also teaches us how to be with our discomfort in a safe way – resting at the edges of our comfort, our tightness, without berating ourselves, pushing further in, giving up or escaping into thinking. We are so used to constantly striving to be better and more that most of us have forgotten what it feels like to be as we are. The true relaxation of yin practice lies in this ability to rest in yourself as you are. This aspect of yin yoga has really helped me tap into a sense of self-confidence that isn’t dependent on achievement and accomplishment, but arises spontaneously out of who I am. Yin yoga brings us into a state where we know we are fundamentally okay with our own ‘darkness’, and can accommodate all of our disappointments, stresses, anxiety and frustrations willingly.
Yin yoga also teaches us ‘yin skills’ – acceptance, patience, surrender, stillness. There is nothing quite like the silence that opens up in a yin class, when each of us is deep within, immersed in our own living-ness. This silence is not dead or passive, but rich and soft, like the warm, dark embrace of the night that renews and restores. Yin practice helps us feel held and supported, rather than pushed and challenged. There is a time for advancement, decisive action and ‘progress’; but there is also a time to rest, turn inwards and recover. Coming into a yin class brings us into a territory where we can do so without hesitation. Yin yoga complements the work we do in our active movement practices and in our ordinary life. It is quite unique as a form of bodywork as it brings us into our embodiment quite strongly, yet without placing undue stress on our body or mind. It therefore helps bring a sense of balance and harmony to our own yin and yang tendencies in the way we work with our bodies and relate to ourselves.