Think Yin is easy because it's seemingly simple or not really effective because you don't sweat? Think again! Now we've spent some time unpacking exactly what Yin yoga IS, here are some gems about Yin I've taken from an interesting interview with one of Yin's leading teachers, Bernie Clark, and leading Yin Youtube yoga teacher Kassandra Reinhardt (watch below).
Some points that stuck out for me:
'We do what we like, not what we need.'
Yes, yes, a hundred times YES! Despite Yin being an absolute salve to my physical and mental health I often find it the hardest part of my weekly movement schedule to complete. I know I'll feel amazing afterwards and my whole being will thank me for it but the getting onto the mat sometimes for my Yin self practice? Difficult. Doing things we're naturally drawn to, in my case running or more sweaty, yang classes, can be so much easier than the things we actually need, ie to slow down and attend to our nervous system and flexibility with Yin.
'Simple doesn't mean easy.'
One of the biggest misconceptions with Yin is that it's easy. Ha! Type A personalities love to get sweaty but to sit for 5 mins and be with emotions can be hugely challenging, which you'll know if you've tried Yin before. This really varies from day to day though and even hour to hour - no two Yin experiences will ever be identical!
'People can't find time to meditate for 20 mins but they can come to Yin.'
The task of sitting meditation can be daunting - I totally get it it. Committing time to being alone with your thoughts can be pretty overwhelming- especially if there's a lot going on in your inner world, or it's been a long time (or maybe the first time) since you have.
The amount of time we have in each pose in Yin yoga is the perfect opportunity to start to access a more meditative state with the guidance of a teacher and the support of others. By becoming intimately aware of the breath and the body we begin to cultivate more of an openness to sitting and meditating which we can begin to do for prolonged periods.
'Promise to pay attention and avoid pain.'
This is Bernie's response to the question, "How would you know if Yin is right for you?". He answers very diplomatically and fairly - "It's highly subjective but try it and see! Promise to pay attention and avoid pain...if you're in pain you're past your edge."
This sounds incredibly simple but how often do we attempt to push past pain? Many people can fail to notice what pain is...and in the context of Yin it can present itself through sensations such as burning, sharp, tingling/electrical.
One of the reasons we find it so hard to notice this is that we are actively trained to ignore pain in our culture - whether it it by taking a paracetamol to mask the root of whatever physical problem we're experiencing or self medicate or numb with other methods - slowing down and feeling is not glamourised or sexy.
By slowing down, paying attention and observing we start to notice what is inflicting pain and how to prevent and manage it. This attention seeps out to all areas of life - pain in relationships, work etc and we can make more skilled choices as to whether we stay with it.
'Time is more important than intensity - do less poses just hold them for longer.'
For a pose to be considered Yin in nature we need to hold it for 90 - 120 seconds,although hold times will vary from class to class and teacher to teacher. In my Yin classes I generally hold the poses for 3-5 mins, but some practitioners can go as long as 15-20 mins in a pose! In order to be able to hold the poses for so long, however, we need to back off in terms of intensity.
One of the tattvas or principles of Yin is to only come to our edge - about 60% in terms of sensation in the target area. This doesn't mean we are necessarily comfortable, but it does mean that we are definitely avoiding pain.
For many of us, only going to 60% can be an alien concept, we are so used to striving and pushing beyond our limits. Giving us this extra space enables us to actually relax and effectively stress the fascia and joints we are targeting. If we are still in a state of fight or flight, the muscles will be contracting, ready to spring into action to avoid threat and we will definitely not be adequately relaxed to enable change to happen.
Kassandra shares "It wasn't until I backed off that my flexibility improved..." and this is why!
She says "My flexibility drastically improved when I learned not to go so further into poses. I thought I was great at listening to my body but it turns out I wasn't." This is so common, but something that a consistent practice helps us with - this nurturing of our relationship with our body, ourselves.
"Yin is the other half of life, you might as well embrace it because if you don't, mother nature will give it to you."
As easy as it is to get sucked into the cycle of trying to completely tick everything off our to do list (totally guilty of this) at all costs, these can include our health, and nothing is worth that.
Integrating rest and slowing down into our routine is essential if we wish to live a happy, sustainable lifestyle. If we fail to make time to slow down and embrace the Yin aspect of life we will run into disease, ill health etc which will force us to do it anyway. Take a preventative approach that will support you long term.
I'm delighted to be a student of Bernie's and have nearly completed a continued professional development 50 Hour Yin training with him which I started over lock down. He has been one of the most influential Yin teachers for my own practice over the last 6 years and I'm so excited to implement all of the additional knowledge I've gained in my classes.
If you'd like to try Yin yoga for yourself I share online classes every Tuesday 8:15-9:15pm & Thursday 8-9pm online - booking via the classes page - don't hesitate to contact me with any questions.