Yin Yoga: The Challenging Process of Learning to Let Go
I attended 2 Yin yoga classes last week, once as a participant and once as the teacher.
In the first class, I could sense my body relaxing as we engaged in long holds of certain poses. I felt a release of some tightness in my shoulders, hips, and back, but I never fully let go. I was too busy thinking, stuck in my mind. I was distracted, fretting about the next thing I had to do that evening and considering how I might cue each pose differently to my students. The teacher led a good class. I was glad I was there. But still I struggled.
In the second class I was the teacher. I had planned the sequence to ensure that one pose would lead well to the next. I had practiced the class myself, as I usually do before teaching. It was the last class of a good day of teaching multiple kinds of classes, both yoga and Pilates. I was excited and ready.
The Yin yoga class started fine, and then a new student quickly became uncomfortable in the poses. She fidgeted constantly instead of being still. She got a cramp in her leg during one pose, then two, then three. She couldn’t sustain the 3-minute hold for each pose. She was pleasant and willing but clearly not at ease. Then other students started fidgeting too.
I wracked my brain to figure out how to fix things. I suggested modifications, more props. I took some poses out of the sequence that I had planned. But still they struggled to be still.
We need it.
What is Yin Yoga?
Yin yoga is not restorative yoga, although it can certainly lead to deep relaxation and meditation. But in truth, Yin is disruptive, sometimes uncomfortable, in the way that a scab can heal a wound but doesn’t always feel great in the process. Yin yoga stretches the connective tissue that is less frequently exercised in our modern, fast pace, hard-charging world. We’re accustomed to working our muscles, which is the focus on Yang styles of yoga such as Vinyasa. Both approaches are beneficial, but better balance of our system is achieved when we combine both forms of yoga.
Yin also targets the parasympathetic nervous system, which leads to rest and digestion versus the "fight or flight" responses in the sympathetic nervous system. Gaia.com explains that "as you hold poses for a longer period of time, you'll deepen the flexibility and elasticity of your connective tissues and bring more mobility and lubrication to stiff joints. While some postures may seem simple at first, the challenge of Yin yoga lies in the duration of the poses."
Yin also challenges us to become still in the mind. When we are focused on the breath and the feeling of a pose, the mind no longer races and muscles can relax. Then we can allow the deep stretches to sink into the joints.
"In our highly intellectual, ‘head-oriented’ world, many of us are physical stressed without knowing it because we wrongly imagine our mind and body are separate," Paul Grilley (www.paulgrilley.com) writes in Yin Yoga: Outline of a Quiet Practice. "Learning to relax in poses…helps us to feel and release tensions that are deep within us."
Sarah Powers (www.sarahpowers.com) shares that the 3 essential pieces of Yin yoga are:
Come into the post at an appropriate depth.
Resolve to remain still.
Hold the pose for time.
"The essence of yin is yielding," Bernie Clark (https://yinyoga.com/bernie-clark/) writes in The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga: The Philosophy & Practice of Yin Yoga. "When we play our edges, we come to the point of significant resistance. This will entail some discomfort, despite the mind’s urgent pleas to leave. This, too, is part of the practice. As long as we are not experiencing pain, we remain."
Yin Yoga at Holly’s Pilates Village
Some people might wonder why we offer Yoga, particularly Yin yoga, at a Pilates studio. In addition to the rehabilitative aspects of Yin yoga that complement the mission of healthy, mindful movement at Holly’s Pilates Village, there are deep connections between Pilates and Yoga historically. Joe Pilates, the founder of the Pilates repertoire, was a practitioner of both forms of exercise, and he often drew from classical yoga postures when developing his master work.
"I have fallen in love with Yin Yoga," says Marcie Prather, a longtime Pilates student at Holly’s Pilates Village. "As a runner, I have imbalances in my lower body, and Yin yoga has really helped open up the spots that are tight or feel stuck. I feel the practice has reduced aches and pain in my body while increasing flexibility, particularly in my shoulders, hips, and back. The longer time each pose is held lends to the most amazing stretches ever."