Working with your anatomy
Updated: Apr 5, 2019
You could describe Yin as a practice that follows the student. Working your way into a yin pose is about finding out how that pose works for your body. That means following the teachers’ instructions, but the exact placement of a limb, where you decide to drop your weight, how you make micro-movements to explore a particular area of tightness is really up to you.
That is why there is very little adjustment or use of props such as blocks in yin, only you know how that pose is going to work for you. Part of this is going to be about how you approach that pose mentally of course, how much you want to stress your body, but much of it is about getting to know and understand your own anatomy – and this takes time.
By getting to know your anatomy I don’t mean you need to go on an anatomy course or know the names of the tendons, ligaments, muscles or joints you are working on in that pose, you just need to feel it. The only thing you need to know about anatomy is that we are all different. The person who can do full lotus probably was able to do that when they were a child, way before they started doing yoga, because that is how their hip joint is made (they have outwardly rotating hips). The person who can do a full backbend may have an extra vertebrae in their spine allowing greater flexibility. In fact those who are hypermobile have to be a bit careful when they do yin style poses, because they already have so much flexibility they need to engage a bit more muscle to protect their joints.
So whilst yin is an “easy” practice because it doesn’t involve you trying to force your body into an ideal position with strict alignment, it is also a challenging one because once you are in the pose, you need to explore in depth all those pockets of tightness, restrictions, areas you haven’t or don’t usually stretch. You need to find the edge of comfort and discomfort for you, because you are going to have to stay there once you have found it, for 2,3,4 or even 5 minutes. Each yin pose is designed to work on a different target area (hips, back, shoulders etc) and to stress different connective tissues (ligaments, facia etc), but where you feel it within that and where you work into it will be unique to you.
Over time, weeks, months or years of practice how you look and feel in a pose will change. Have you noticed how in sleeping swan (otherwise known as pigeon) there is a lot of groaning and discomfort when people do it for the first time? The extra deep bend in the hips, the extended stretch in the from of the thigh, it is very intense and often people have to back off onto their elbows or push their weight back into their hips and off of the front knee. But over time and regular practice, it transforms into everyone’s favourite. There is a sense of complete release in a fully extended sleeping swan held for 4 or 5 minutes. I actually quite enjoy practicing swan upright first now before I extend down, because I like the extra spine lengthening it gives.
The openings provided by yin lead to sense of space in your joints and your bodies that you won’t get from a more dynamic yang style practice. Yang style is great for muscle work which builds muscles, strength and aerobic fitness. Many people practice both styles of yoga and in some classes they mix them up, which is fine. But just remember when it comes to a yin stretch – try to make it your own.
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