Yin Yoga : A Gentle Practice for a Rough World
by Alexis E Santí
“Taking steps is easy, standing still is hard,”
-Regina Spektor, from the song You’ve Got Time.
I will begin with a question: What is encouraged in our society to slow down? I spent an afternoon pondering this and I could come up with very little. As a society we are increasingly doing everything as fast as possible and with a seemingly inexhaustible multi-tasking ability. It is impossible to talk of yin without talking of yang. Yoga has found its root in our society and harnesses this go-go drive, enhances it and we may believe helps us tame it. The yangs of yoga, in all of their beautiful practices that one encounters, whether it is: power of vinyasa, breath work of hatha, spinal awareness of kundalini, the wonder of acro, the zen of ashtanga and all the others not named here have their purpose and their place. Yin is the other.
When you hear yin yoga, what do you think? What does this simple word “yin” do in modifying in the word yoga? Yin is the passing utterance that begins the conversation of yoga. “Yin yoga” on its face may seem too simple, it is a practice rooted in patience and the opposite of the forceful yang. It is a practice, a powerful simple practice, that one encounters to provides harmony and balance to a disharmonious world.
I argue it is, in effect, that yin is the tao of yoga. It is the basis of which we place all other yogas to complement it: the thousand and one things.
What is Yin Yoga?
In yin yoga, unlike other practices, practitioners will be guided into only 8-12 poses during the course of an hour. Each pose or shape is held from between 4 – 6 minutes of subtle meditation and breath work. It is perhaps closer to a body meditation than what we have come to associate with the word “yoga”. Poses are gently moved into and practitioners take care into entering positions, letting their bodies form into what feels best for them. When a pose is held yin is the opposite of its related “yang” yogas, as your body is not to be held in a shape. Your body will adapt to the pose as it moves deeper into the fascia; connective tissue, past the muscles and the ligaments. As the body drapes over, encouragement is given to let go of your expectations and do what your body asks for.
The result is that your body begins to slowly fold over from where you entered the pose. In the practice the use of props; be they blocks, pillows or blankets are encouraged to help place the body in a comfortable and gentle manner. The poses are all conducted on the floor, either on the knees, the back, or belly. No two bodies are the same, so comparing oneself to another practitioner in the class is a misnomer. We are all where we are and in no other practice is this as important to recognize as in yin. Yin typically is not conducted in a “hot” room, so a style of dress where the body is kept warm is called for. The result is that after being in a pose for five minutes, breathing slowly and letting your body go into its peaceable state, you find yourself stretched in a manner you cannot otherwise attain with other practices.
Effects on the Body:
The gentle flow of yin, concentrating on only the gentle stretch of a pose stretches and releases the fascia underneath the muscle and the ligaments. It is theorized that the trauma of our lives is held in the fascia, that hard to reach connective tissue. Yin is extremely beneficial to the body as it helps promote the flow of energy through the meridians of the body including the spleen, liver, kidneys among others. Personally, yin has taught me how to breathe again and I will always walk this earth differently now that I have found yin. It is, as I said above, a body meditation and the feeling of peace after our class is what we seek.
Roll of the instructor:
It is my job as an instructor of yin to hold the room and provide a gentle and safe space for my practitioners to release their worries. I have no expectations that they have “a good” practice and am aware that what a good practice in yin will be drastically different from person to person. When they are bent over at the 5th minute into frog pose and their breath is relaxed is the only real goal. I may see signs of their ease in the pose but truly I cannot put them in the pose, the one thing I help support is a place for my practitioners to breathe. My mentor, Biff Mithoether is apt to say, “when the breath is calm then the mind and the body follow.” Practitioners know if they have a good practice for the unique feeling yin offers as a postlude. It is my goal to create that safe space and guide them there. Poetry may be read, music may be listened to but by the end yin yoga is that activity in society that states it is okay to slow down.
Alexis E Santí will be teaching Yin Yoga at Sunrise Yoga Studios. Check the schedule here for more information.
Alexis E Santi has been honing his craft in yoga studios around the country for the past 6 years and recently completed his certification for Yin Yoga with Biff Mithoefer (http://biffmithoeferyoga.com/) at the Omega Institute. Santí combines his compassion for the human condition and training of his MSW, the senses of creative power being a published poet, holding an MFA in creative writing and his love for the gentle practice of Yin Yoga. He is a practitioner who has worked with and has a deep respect for all styles and schools of yoga: vinyasa, kundalini, ashtanga, hatha and the like. He finds Yin yoga a necessary practice to an increasingly wired and chaotic world.