by Mayuri Gonzalez, ERYT, RCYT, Mindfulness Teacher
Yin Yoga is a complementary yoga practice to the more dynamic and invigorating yoga styles that are predominant today. In Yin Yoga, floor postures are held passively for several minutes in order to access a safe and positive ‘stress’ on the deep layers of connective tissue in the body. Physically, Yin Yoga restores and maintains the natural mobility of our joints. Energetically, Yin Yoga opens the body’s meridian system, which enhances our body’s energetic flow and supports emotional balance.
The Connective Tissue
“On a physical level, the emphasis of Yin Yoga poses is not on stretching the muscles but on stressing the ligaments and opening the joints, pressing underneath the musculature of the body. It’s a subtle but very powerful change of focus. During practice, the muscles remain relatively inactive in order to focus on the myofascia, the body’s underlying system of connective tissue, just below and intertwined with the muscular system.
The myofascia, sometimes simply called the fascia, is a system of collagen, elastin, and reticular fibers holding the body together anatomically, connecting our various tissues to bone, joints, muscles, and internal organs, and holding our blood vessels and nerves in place, in a kind of mesh-like net. “Think of shrink wrapping,” explains LeBlanc. The fascia is not something we can necessarily feel directly, but as we naturally go about our daily lives executing repetitive movements — walking, sitting, driving, or even sleeping — the fascia tightens and holds the body in habitual patterns. When the body experiences the stress of even a minor injury, the fascia holds onto this stress as well. This fascial tightening can have a wide range of effects on our physical wellbeing, causing stiffness and pain in the joints and muscles, disturbing our sleep, and even affecting our mental and emotional health.”
Yin yoga is a meditative practice of reconnection and surrender.
We live in an world that is over stimulating and it can feel like we are bombarded with stimuli and input 24/7. As a result, our minds are constantly busy processing everything that is being thrown at us and it’s so easy to not switch “off” at all. Over time, our mind gets used to that amount of information and starts to crave stimuli if it becomes quiet. So we end up browsing through social media, looking for stuff; it doesn’t matter what, as long as we fill the gaps.
These gaps are actually so precious and needed- a space for some downtime, a space for the mind to stop and for us to just be.
Any kind of dynamic form of yoga caters to this aspect of keeping ourselves busy. Although the mind may calm down as a result of the active exercise, we are still feeding the part of us that craves intensity and wants to be stimulated. I am not saying cut out the dynamic yoga, it has tremendous value, I just think it’s a good idea to also balance all the on-the-go aspects of life through practices like Yin Yoga, restorative yoga, yoga nidra, mindfulness, and meditation.
Coming Home to Our Body
In yin yoga, we are invited to be in our bodies, to take up residence in the here and now and notice what is happening in the moment. We learn to sit with discomfort without running away from it, and we learn to be present with whatever arises for us. When painful or traumatic events happen in our lives, we often see no choice but to disconnect. We disconnect from society, from our family, from our body, and sometimes from our own heart.
It can feel like no place seems safe anymore.
Yin yoga is a way to begin to reconnect. First we reconnect with our body. Accepting ourselves as we are is the first step. Allowing ourselves to be in the posture just as we are is a way of acknowledging our body and its wisdom. By taking the time to sit down quietly and listen to our body, we can connect. In the quiet of the yin yoga postures we can create a space for our body to feel safe again, little by little.
When we tap into this place, when we are present in our body and accept where it is at the moment, we become better acquainted with and sensitive to the landscape of our own interior and the flow of information our body is always sharing with us. This is where healing and a sense of well-being flow from.
Becoming the Observer
Becoming still in a pose and staying for a while naturally creates space for use to notice the nature of our mind. When there is stillness and space, it is our nature to fill that space with planning, worry, distraction, and rumination. This is very natural. Also, we may find that the things that we suppress and run away from in the every-day business of life start to bubble up when we take time to be still and aren’t on-the-go.
Yin yoga can give you the time and space to allow those feelings to be there. Emotions, thoughts, or feelings you have kept in the shadows. You can allow allow those thoughts and feelings to be present without identifying with them or getting lost in them by being the observer of what is arising in your practice. All those stored away emotions, feelings and sensations now have a chance to come out. You have no idea how much energy it costs the body to keep all that suppressed. So the release you get from letting it all come out can also be just as big.
Yin Yoga and provide an opportunity to learn to observe only the pure physical sensations of emotions, without getting caught up in the stories about those emotions.
These stories usually have to do with why we feel such and such, whose fault it is etc. Just observing these physical sensations, without giving energy to the stories allow those emotions and physical sensations a way out of your system. You open the door in a way of speaking and give your system an opportunity to work through the blockages they have caused in the body.
Tips for practicing Yin yoga
Listen to your body and find your appropriate “edge”: Move slowly and gently into the pose and treat your body with love and respect. Don’t go straight to your “maximum” in the pose and never stretch so far as to cause pain.
Stillness: consciously try to release into the pose, and to remain still, without fidgeting or shifting position too much. These minor movements can pull your away from the depth of your experience in the posture.
Hold the position: start with holding a pose for 1-3 minutes and progress to 5 minutes or more.