In November 2015, I participated in a yoga teacher immersion with Sarah Powers. In 2016, I spent 5 days on silent retreat at the Esalen Institute, meditating and practicing yin. In 2017, I will go to America and study with Paulie Zink, the yin master for Paul Grilley. I am completely hooked. If you are interested in why yogi masters do yin, read Paul Grilley on why Yin.
Here is why I do yin….
I am sitting on the floor, my butt on a beautiful red wool rug bought in Agra India, in dragonfly pose, as I write. A bolster is my desk. I no longer use a chair or a table. I have been asked to describe yin as part of my follow up assessment from the training.
“Simple but not simplistic, Yin yoga’s beauty and benefits are hidden deeply within its stillness” Paul Grilley
Unlike a recent advertised ‘yin’ yoga session at a yoga studio renowned in Singapore for being THE place to go for yoga. I am in a King Pigeon pose. I have a strap attached to my ankle, and I am being asked to pull my leg closer to my head as I arch backwards. You’ve come to the right place if you want to stretch and restore, says the teacher (who has been known to do headstands spontaneously in the reception area).
It’s just like other yoga, only slower, right?
Same, same but different. All yoga have the same goals and objectives, to help us to enlightenment. Actually, to help us sit in meditative poses, which are the real gateway to enlightenment. Some yogas are more physical about this. Like Ashtanga (I am so envious of those people who can go from a handstand back down to chataranga in one fluid movement). Others are slightly more static – alignment is the key in Hatha or Bikram. Others are more contemplative, asking us to explore our quieter less physical side (like Yin or restorative). To a recent yoga practitioner, these last two might feel just the same. Or all of them might feel the same. Understanding the differences in each yoga is a critical part of becoming a good yoga teacher, and a more informed yogi.
There are two elements to Yin that make the quiet giant. Firstly, the way the yoga accesses our chi force, and secondly, its excellent mindfulness training.
May the CHI Force be with You
This ebb and flow is sometimes a little slower, has stronger patterns than others (for example creating our body form). Other energy shifts much faster, is hard to physically touch (like wind) or feel (like light). There is also dark energy which is so fast and so dense, we can’t even measure it yet -but we know it exists. When discussing Yin, we focus on the light energy (which by the way is only about 35% of the universe).
Yin yoga asks us to consider that spread across our body and at our energy ‘core’ lies streams of ‘liquid gold’ energy – our chi force.
“There is a force in the Universe, which, if we permit it, will flow through us and produce miraculous results” Mahatma Gandhi
In Taoism, this is described as our universal life energy, circulating throughout our body. This QI (or chi) is the energy and blood rivers, streams and tributaries throughout our body. This QI links our major organs, the heart, lungs, kidney, liver, lungs, gall bladder, small and large intestine to all other parts of our body. (there are also two other meridians called the Governor and Triple Concept meridians, but yin yoga does not really tend to these).
When QI is blocked, stagnating or weak, it affects our vital organs and our moods. The condition of our organs and our moods also affect our chi. The relationships between our life energy, moods, and our body are like gordian knots – deeply interwoven, difficult to unpick.
“We need a yoga that works those parts of our body and energy not in plain sight” Lee, WanderingYogi founder
Like our connective tissue, joints, ligaments, fascias, and indirectly our organs. We need a yoga which makes us stop and mindfully attend to the unspoken messages our body sends us via our chi.
To work our connective tissues and chi, we have to get past our outermost physical body. That is one reason why we hold poses in Yin for as long as we do.
Because we are not asking our muscles and bones to be the heroes in Yin Yoga, the poses are less about correct alignment, and more about finding a natural pose within a normal range of movement – a pose that is a little uncomfortable, does not use loads of muscle energy, but uses loads of mental energy.
Yin yoga doesn’t have a lot of poses, but it does have a lot of variations, because what is natural and normal for one, may not be for another. It has a few upper body poses, mainly for shoulders. It has no arm poses (such as vasisthana, chaturanga, or similar). It doesn’t have King Pigeon in it, either.
Loads of Mindfulness
Teaching our muscles to step down and relax is no mean feat. We must be still to help them do that.
Meaning, not fidget, rearrange our mat, block or bolster, or invent the conversation you wish you had with your recalcitrant teenage daughter that morning. Up to 5 minutes (or longer as you become more practiced), depending upon the pose. Still in body, so you can focus on what is happening inside you as you ‘marinate’ in the pose.
“Probably the last time you were this still, was just before you went to sleep” Lee, WanderingYogi founder
To hold a pose for between 2 to 6 minutes, is where Yin Yoga has its unique comparative advantage to other yoga. It allows you to physically practice techniques of mindfulness – if you have found it difficult to meditate, this is a huge step in that direction. Which of course is a massive leap towards personal happiness, harmony and content.
Having our Feelings, but not letting our feelings have us
Holding the pose does stimulate a response in those energy rivers and streams (the chi) where our feelings flow. Perhaps feelings that have been stagnating for a while. Or feelings that we may be ‘over experiencing’. I struggle with sleeping swan (or dying swan), all about the gallbladder and liver meridians, the gateways to the emotional energy we hold within our bodies (such as anger and fear).
This idea of emotions being linked to body soreness or pain has become universally accepted, many therapists now use some mindful techniques to help people access and clear the emotional memories stored in their bodies.
“The Yin stillness enables us to recognize that all our emotions, gather, flow or pass through our body. A regular practice of Yin will enable you to choose which option you would prefer – gather, flow or allow to pass.” Lee, WanderingYogi Founder
Yin yoga plays to our emotional and spiritual edges. This requires just as much focus and discipline as playing to our muscular and skeletal edges. It is also an acquired taste. Staying still is not something we are used to, nor is it encouraged much in modern society – this type of learning is usually resisted in the early days of yin practice.
It is in the power of stripping away, that Yin Yoga has proven to me to be the sleeping giant of all yoga practice. Come join the WanderingYogis in their practice and see what I am talking about.