In my years of practicing yoga Ive tried many different styles with many different teachers. After I took my first class, like so many people, I was hooked almost immediately.
At the time I had a busy job and a young family I was raising on my own, so I craved the permission yoga gave me to just stop and focus on one thing for an hour or so. Ive never really understood why some people don’t stay for savasana – being able to lie still and not worry that the kids would be jumping out of bed or that the phone might ring, was for a long time one of the mains reason to attend the class for me.
After many years of different variations of Ashtanga, Iyengar, Vinyasa Flow and Body Balance, here I am, a committed Yin Yogi – or Yinster as I hear people call them. Ive been following a yin yoga practice for coming up to 10 of my 15 years of practice, and it has gradually taken over as my preferred style of yoga. The more I immerse myself in my yin – there is the regular weekly class, the monthly afternoon workshops, the annual retreats, and the books to read in between – the more I notice that everybody else seems to be doing yin as well. Hmm, I thought it was just me who was attracted by “the quiet practice”, the intensity of the long holds and deliciously deep stretches. Ive notice that the vinyasa teachers starting to add more restful 5 minute twists to the end of their dynamic sun salutation based classes, the Iyengar devotees are letting us find our comfortable edge in some of the postures instead of striving for perfect alignment. What is going on in the yoga world?
This shift towards a slower practice is causing confusion. Some time ago I heard someone comment that yin yoga should be called easy yoga for beginners. More recently on a teacher training programme at Yoga Barn in Bali it was being described as the most advanced practice for very experienced yogis. Something has definitely changed. Somewhere in our busy lives, as we rush from one appointment to another, our phones alerting us to yet another text or what’s ap that we need to respond to right now, grabbing a healthy snack or smoothie on the go to get our nutrients quick and fast…we are starting to realise that what we really need to do is to slow down, to let go, get still and find out what happens. Of course, a yin practice is not going to appeal to fitness fanatics who want to build up a sweat in their yoga class, to burn those extra calories or are working towards a particularly sculpted body shape or muscle tone – at least not yet. But I see more and more people tiring of exercise-based classes or practices, whether this is through injury, exhaustion or just a sense of their bodies and joints getting that little bit too tight.
The great joy of a Yin Yoga class is the way that after a short time of regular practice you start to notice a sense of freedom and space when you work into the joints by relaxing into a position, instead of using your muscles. It is all about the fascia, the connective tissue, the meridians and energy systems. But that is getting a bit technical. Yin yoga is much more than just the physical – the flexibility that yin classes bring to your body is great, but it is the flexibility it brings to your emotions that sets yin apart from most other practices. After an early morning Saturday regular Yin Yang class, students describe a feeling of floating out of the class and being ready to face the weekend, our teacher, Regina Kerschbaumer of Yoga Orchid herself describes yin as paradoxically “stretching into both stillness and health”. Regina has been teaching Yin Yang Yoga for over 15 years having initially trained in Iyengar Inspired Yoga, she explains to her students that yoga is as “mentally and spiritually beneficial as it is physically beneficial – creating change from within – balancing the emotional, mental and energetic body”. Regina’s typical yin yoga class or workshop will include a mix of short flowing sequences to build strength and agility, long slow seated or lying down holds of 3-5 minutes, a selection of stories and philosophical talks to reinforce the benefits of the practice the during the holds, guided mediations often based on miridians, chakras and other energy systems, discussion of physiology and how certain asana can support internal body health, and a guided yoga nidra to close. Workshops can be 3hrs long, but the time passes quickly as you descend into this kind of practice.
Based on my own experience as a student of yin, and of many other types of yoga, here are my thoughts as to why more and more of us are turning to yin:
1. We secretly don’t want to be busy all of the time and Yin is the perfect antidote to a hectic life. Filling your life with busy-ness doesn’t actually help make the things you are trying to avoid go away. The ability to stop, and not shy away from doing nothing allows emotions to arise and it is a skill that has to be relearned. Yin provides a a safe, teacher-led environment to just let go.
2. Our bodies need to unwind. Yin balances off the tightening effect of intensive muscle or strength building exercises as well as the stiffness that comes with a sedentary lifestyle at the other extreme. And its not just the physical tightness that is the problem. Increasingly we are recognising that our bodies carry emotional issues in our tissues and hold them there as tension. Its not unusual for people to experience extreme and unexpected emotions during a yin class – fear, tears or even joy can just arise spontaneously and pass just as quickly in those 5 minutes of stillness.
3. It allows you to discover how your emotions link to your body. It is in those long slow holding yin poses that we release tension and emotion. It may feel good to get that adrenalin rush from a dynamic, hot practice but the feeling when you leave a yin class is very different and more pervasive, a sense of coming home, of being kind to your body. “Yoga is more about psychology than exercise “ commented another one of my teachers Randall O’Leary of Swara Yoga.
4. Yin allows you to take back ownership of your yoga practice. In Yin, you, the student has to decide for themselves how far to go and how long, where to back off and where to delve deeper. You are given time to focus on your breathe (instead of trying to focus on your alignment or keeping up with a fast moving routine) and learn to use your breath to control your stretch, to opening your body, and to explore yourself.
But don’t just take my word for it…try yin yourself. You wont look back.