What is Yin? ( Oh baby, don't hurt me, don't hurt me...)
Greetings on this cold cold January day (I hope the silly dad joke in the title of this week's blog brightened your day!)... I have recently started leading more Yin workshops and I thought it might be good to write about that because the question that keeps coming up is 'What is Yin?'...
Yang Styles Of Yoga
Okay, let's go back to the basics. There are a lot of styles of yoga out there, some of them ancient, whilst some were only created in the last few years. Most modern styles of yoga are descended from Hatha Yoga which has its origins in India. If you practice yoga online, at a gym or studio, most likely you are doing a version of Hatha, especially if you find there is a flowing element to you practice. Vinyasa is probably the most popular form of yoga in the West. Ashtanga is a fairly hardcore flowing practice with a set sequence, Jivamukti often works with a monthly theme, Mandala you'll find yourself flowing around your mat, and Rocket will get you very sweaty very quickly. These are all Yang based practices, designed to get you moving, building heat in the body with the principles of linking the asanas (postures) to the breath. When we take a yang practice we connect breath and movement in order to calm the fluctuations in the body, and in turn, to calm the mind....most of us only do these yang styles of yoga.
The Origins of Yin Yoga
Yin Yoga is a little more complex in origin as it is made up of lots of different elements. There are Hatha based postures descended from India, there is Taoist philosophy underpinning the practice AND there is the incorporation of Chinese Medicine and The Five Elements of Water, Earth, Fire, Wood and Metal. Much like acupuncture, when we work with Yin yoga, we target areas in the body in order to open up energy channels (meridians) and stimulate the internal organs.
So, What Is Yin Yoga?
Essentially Yin Yoga (and this is my definition) is a slow, floor based practice where each posture is held between 3 and 7 minutes. As a teacher, I will tend to choose the element we are working with, and then choose postures that compliment the element. For example, if I choose to work with the water element, I know that I'll be doing postures that work the hips and groin. On a physical level, students will have the opportunity to spend time opening their hips, building mobility, strength and flexibility. And by working the hips, we'll stimulate the kidneys, liver, and urinary system, giving those internal systems a good old flush out. On an emotional level, when we work with water, we might be exploring anxiety, worry, and guilt. I also like to work with the Chakras so when I work with hips, I know I'll be tapping into the Sacral Chakra (home to our creativity, sensuality and pleasure). I'll guide students into each posture and then keep an eye on the time. Because we hold the postures for a time, this is a practice that uses lots of supports like blocks, bolsters and straps. We all have wildly different bodies that need different things so options are the key to getting the most out of a Yin practice. Once we have set up the posture, the student is invited to drop into stillness. By holding the posture for a time we work beyond the muscle. We start to get into the connective tissue, ligaments and even the joints themselves. Energetically, we learn patience and resilience through stillness...
And is it relaxing?
Yes and no...it's a simple practice, but simple doesn't mean easy. Some of the postures we take are quite intense as the aim is to put the target area under stress* (stress is a technical term, don't worry). We play with our 'edge' in postures, finding that juicy pot of resistance, making sure that even if there is discomfort, there is no pain. For some of us, it will feel delicious. For some of us it will be challenging. And Yin yoga is all about slowing down, it's about surrendering to stillness and yielding to the pose. For beginners (me included), this can be incredibly tough, especially in the world that encourages us to rush, to keep working and never slow down. But with patience, this practice can be a wonderful way to slow everything down. The stillness invites us to be present and to acknowledge our experience with acceptance. We want to bring Yang and Yin into balance in both on and off the mat, and so taking a slower practice is a wonderful way to do that.
Is Yin Yoga For Me?
That's for you to decide, but I would say absolutely give it a go and really be aware of your experience. Leave your ego at the door and give yourself that 60-90 minutes to totally slow down. If you are pregnant, hypermobile or working with injuries please do let your teacher know as they will be able to adapt postures to suit your body. And don't forget to bring your jumpers and socks!
If you fancy practicing Yin with me, I'll be leading a Yin and Restore workshop over at HotPod Hackney on SUNDAY 29th Jan 5pm-6.30pm which you can book here Hot Yoga Studio in Hackney | Hotpod Yoga
Or keep your eyes peeled for my online SLEEPY SUNDAY YIN coming in March