What is yin? In simple terms it‘s the complementary aspect or universal force to its twin sibling yang. In ancient China this concept that equal and opposite forces exist within the cosmos has been a guiding principle for achieving true balance.
Nothing is entirely yin or completely yang. Just as the monochrome paisley shaped swirl of the yin yang symbol denotes, each contains a dot or drop of the other. The ratio of yin to yang or yang to yin is revealed only when they are contrasted with each other. Knowing how much of each however is very useful for us as human beings seeking that elusive life balance in order to be whole, happy and healthy.
What is Yin yoga? Yin yoga as a term, was defined by Sarah Powers in the 1990s, but the relative newness of the label does not reflect it‘s antecedent roots that are the essence of the modern practice. Yin is a slow, meditative practice which connects and unites the physical benefits of stressing deeper tissues with the physiological and psychological benefits of becoming more aware of our subtler drivers.
Postures, similar to the mainly floor based ones found in a Hatha or Vinyasa class, are used but to separate it from a yang practice they are given animal names; Caterpillar for paschimottanasana, Butterfly for baddha konasana. The practice follows 3 main tenets: come into a pose to your individual edge - the point where the body naturally stops; become aware of the sensations which help define that edge adapting the posture as necessary (often but not always with the use of props) listening and backing out or going deeper if or when the body opens; relaxing muscular engagement so that the deeper tissues can be targeted and, most importantly, staying for time.
The physical benefits are many and they arise from the stresses placed on the deeper yin tissues: the bones, ligaments, tendons, joint capsules and fascia - this is the 3D body stocking which pervades the entire body in sheath like layers which wrap and group individual muscles, ligaments, tendons, bones, nerves and organs but also connect them all together like an intricate spiders web. Unlike muscles, which love repetitive active movement, these tissues respond best to being placed under gradual tension or compression. The stress they receive in this measured way, by putting them under tension - gentle elongation, or under compression - pressure; stimulates the body to repair, strengthen or extend, thus helping to heal damage and to prevent injury - especially at the joint. As a result there is not only healing and strengthening taking place but also a gradual increasing range of movement potential for most practitioners.
The energetic benefits also reveal themselves through the physical poses. The positioning of the body and the time spent remaining in stillness opens the body up, enabling blockages which arise from trapped emotions, to be released. This unblocking allows what’s referred to as Chi (sometimes Qi, the term used by Tibetan Chinese medicine for life force energy) to flow. In addition, the meditative aspect created by the longer holds of a yin practice (typically 2-6 minutes) deepens awareness of precisely what is being experienced - in the present moment. This can help us notice thought patterns, emotions and habitual ways of reacting which we might otherwise not be familiar with. It’s these skills, aquired in the yin class that can enhance life off the mat helping us to deal more skilfully with everyday situations.
Yin as a movement practice can be the antidote to our over yanged-out lives. It can invite balance, health and wholeness. It’s attentive essence moves us away from doing and towards the experience of simply being. Simple however, isn’t necessarily easy. Challenges do arise. For example, restraining a wandering mind or dousing the ego fire to accept that you have reached a physical limit and that for you, this pose is over - you won’t be going any further - well not in this lifetime at least! These are all invitations to create deeper wisdom and knowledge of who you are and where you are operating from.
Yoga is an experiential art and yin yoga is no different. Who needs Yin? Well everyone who seeks mind, body and spirit balance. Adopting a yin focus doesn’t mean you don‘t need some yang time too, yang time is great. But the yin side usually offers up her dark, alchemically infused magic slowly so before you go on that journey prepare yourself to allow her open access into your deeper tissues and wisdom recesses and don’t be surprised if the friendship is a slow burn - I promise you though it’s definitely worth it.
Join me online for my Wednesday evening yin, yoga nidra and gong class 8:15pm - 9:15pm. Please visit website and click on the classes tab to book.
My own yin journey began about 2 years ago. Unlike Hatha and Vinyasa I struggled to find a yin teacher I connected with; whose class I enjoyed and wanted to return to. I finally chanced upon my own brand of tonic with Bernie Clark (Actually a very popular brand it transpires) and have used lockdown to complete his amazing online teacher training. BC, who is actually based in BC, Canada; is justifiably one of the Great Yin Teachers. His Training course was methodical, deeply researched and based in scientific studies that underpin his rich anatomical knowledge and erudite explanations as well as the philosophical and spiritual understanding he communicates with both authority and ease. He is also one of the funniest yoga teachers I have ever encountered. His description of dragon pose makes me giggle every time I recall it - “think of the friendly type of dragon, like Puff... that marijuana smoking dragon from Honoli” .
I must also mention Diana Batts whose thorough demonstrations of the yin poses, contra-indications and variations were matched by her capabilities as organiser and communicator for the course. 🙏🏼