Harder, better, faster, stronger – or so we’re often lead to believe.
But in our fast-paced lives when we’re in a hurry for everything, are there merits to slowing down, doing less, becoming soft?
And that’s what Yin yoga offers, the perfect antidote to stress, anxiety and general busy-ness of life. In my opinion and experience, Yin Yoga asks us to do the opposite of what we do in life – which is why it’s so hard… For some of us practicing Yin, we have to unlearn our old habits and create new ones.
To understand what makes Yin so hard (and effective) we have to understand the principles (which may be the opposite to how we approach life in general).
The three fundamental principles of Yin yoga:
- Find our edge
- Become still
- Hold the pose
Find our edge is about coming into the pose at an appropriate level of intensity. We don’t want the pose to be so strong that we clench our jaw or hold our breath, but it’s not so soft either that we fall asleep and drool. The edge in the pose can be described as pleasurable discomfort and it’s a fine line that we don’t want to cross.
This approach to Yin requires us to be truthful with ourselves about what’s appropriate for us. It’s not about going further than our neighbour as we’ll only end up regretting it three minutes down the track when it becomes unbearable.
Once we’ve found our edge, we become still in the pose. No fidgeting, no scratching, no distracting ourselves from the pleasurable discomfort in the body and the unpleasant discomfort in the mind. Sure the poses can be intense but staying still, present and focused is the real challenge.
Stillness doesn’t come naturally to many people, especially if we’re hyperactive and like to keep ourselves ‘busy’. Once we’re required to be still in yoga, there’s no escaping, no more busy distractions to take us away from our thoughts and mind.
If we can manage stillness then we hold the pose, for ages. Well not ages, five minutes, but compared to other yoga styles it seems like it. The whole point of holding the poses for five minutes isn’t to torment you: it’s to release the body’s connective tissue or fascia which requires slow, passive and long-held stretches (as opposed to muscular stretching which is more active and dynamic).
Holding the pose requires us to stick at something, even if we suck at it, even if we don’t like it, even if it’s just for five minutes. With shortened attention spans on the rise, multi-tasking and our generalised diffused focus, being forced to stick to something and give it our undivided attention is really HARD and can make us angry (which might be a good thing by the way).
Yin v Yang
As I mentioned earlier, the principles of Yin yoga are in contrast to how many of us approach life.
Yin teaches us to choose our level of intensity, knowing when to back off when necessary. Yet in life, many of us go full throttle and we only have an on button, no low gears and no off switch. This causes us to be always on the go, on the lookout, on edge and hyper-vigilant. In other words, this approach is the cause and effect of stress.
When we’re stressed, we feel tired and wired. Our nervous system goes into fight or flight mode, our muscles tense, our jaws clench, digestion halts (bloating, constipation, gas, hello IBS) and our blood pressure and pulse increase. If we don’t consciously calm down, we remain in this state of stress which makes us exhausted yet unable to sleep, moody, anxious, irritable, gain weight, increases inflammation and puts extraordinary stress on our organs, our nervous system and our mind. Sound familiar? Sadly this is the default mode for many people who first come to our Brisbane yoga studio. They’ve become so accustomed to this state that they’ve normalised it. Maybe even wearing their stress with pride. But you and I know that stress sux. And left unchecked, stress is a killer.
Being still is so much harder than it looks. When we’re in the hyper-vigilant stressed state our mind is constantly seeking distractions. This never-ending game of seeking momentary satisfaction, becoming dissatisfied and then seeking new satisfaction just perpetuates the stress cycle and locks us into a wicked game of unease, anxiety and discontent.
Being still requires us to face up to the relentless thoughts we’ve been avoiding in our mind. And if we’ve spent our lives running from these thoughts, then it’s not going to be pleasant when they do catch up to us. But we can’t run forever. So this stillness inevitable leads to acceptance. Learning to accept ourselves and accept where we are instead of trying to analyse or fix ourselves is incredibly healing and something that Yin yoga teaches us. There is no escape when we’re in the throngs of an intense pose – either surrender to ourselves and accept or go crazy trying to avoid ourselves. The options are pretty limited and in the end, we all acquiesce sooner or later to acceptance.
The real essence of yin yoga that we need to cultivate and also bring into balance in our lives is the feminine. I’m not talking about gender, rather the nurturing, intuitive, receptive and emotional aspect of ourselves that has been missing. Our connection to ourselves, our souls.
For those of us that find Yin yoga boring, frustrating or pointless, this is even more important to bring balance to our dominant masculine side. We can’t always be on the go and in control. EVERYONE needs to slow down eventually, either by choice or because we’re forced to.
In our race to be “harder, better, faster and stronger” to succeed in attaining success, power, wealth and worldly possessions we’ve given all our focus to our external world and lost our connection to our inner world. In this quest for external achievement, many of us reach a point in our lives when we realise we’ve built a life that is lacking in meaning and substance. We’re desperately seeking balance.
Our inner world, our Yin aspect, is the source of love, understanding, compassion, creativity, healing and much wisdom. This is where we reestablish our connection to ourselves and our bodies. We approach ourselves softly, without the intensity of our usual pursuits. We find stillness in ourselves, and when our mind is clear its surface will reflect the answers we seek, the feeling we crave, that sense of deep connection that has been lost. It is here that we can find meaning in our lives and nurture our soul.
The way of Yin leads us back to ourselves
Nature seeks balance. Night and day, sun and moon, yin and yang. When we’ve restored balance to our bodies and minds we can truly relax.
When we’re relaxed and present we naturally become the best versions of ourselves, without even trying.
We’re more compassionate and in tune with others which can make us more effective in our relationships.
When the nervous system is balanced the body’s repair mechanisms kick in and is the basis for deep physical and emotional healing.
The path of Yin is a journey back to ourselves. An opportunity to connect with what really matters: our selves. In this way, Yin yoga is a path towards meditation and spirituality where we create a deeper connection to ourselves and our surroundings. It has the potential to lead us directly into the present moment: the place where our lives are unfolding.
Are you part of the Yin crowd? Let us know in the comments below. Want to join the tribe? Our Brisbane yoga studio offers daily Yin yoga classes. Check out our flexible membership $30 per week for unlimited yoga.