Earlier this year I had an opportunity to explore a new (to me) type of yoga that I was interested to add to my teaching tool box: Yin Yoga.
Yin Yoga is a style of yoga in much the same way that “hatha” or “vinyasa” or “restorative” is a style of yoga. Hatha and other muscle-strengthening types of alignment-based yoga are YANG types of yoga, to borrow terminology from the Chinese. Just as all of life has contrasts between yin and yang (think dark/light, cold/hot, down/up, water/fire, etc), so also does the practice of yoga.
In the earliest depictions of yoga, we see the “yin” aspect of yoga rather than the “yang” aspects of yoga. In fact, the Yoga Sutras have only 2 sutras which refer to the asana portion of the yoga practice, and both of them refer to a yin ideal: postures were to be sthira (steady) and sukham (comfortable, pleasing). The heated, yang aspects of yoga postures originated in monastic communities to provide balance to the yin, meditative postures of the practice of yoga.
As the evolution of yoga progressed, yoga moved from being a spiritual practice (long holds and seated postures for deeper practices/meditation) to become performance art (active dynamic movement in standing postures for strength and health). Our modern-day version of “Yin yoga” is a melding of Taoist Yoga (Dao Yin) from the early 20th century and the understanding of the meridian energy lines of the body from the Chinese Medicine tradition.
What does the practice of yin yoga look like? The practice of Yin Yoga has very distinct external features, namely:
Approach a given pose with an appropriate DEPTH
Resolve to remain STILL
HOLD the pose for a time
Sounds simple, right?? Well, actually, it IS simple, but “simple” does not mean “easy.” In the yang forms of yoga, we are only in a given pose for a short period - perhaps as long as 5 breaths. But in yin yoga, we literally marinate in the pose and pay attention to the flow of sensations that arise. Yin Yoga gives us a chance to learn what sensations are, where they are, whether they are healthy, albeit challenging, or too much. We learn what an “edge” is, which is something that can be missed entirely in our yang practice.
Yin Yoga teaches us to connect with our bodies and to pay attention to our inner world, whether it is the physical sensations of increased mobility of the connective tissue, or the mental ‘chatter’ that inevitably shows itself when we become still for a period of time.
A yoga practice that focuses on only one thing can create imbalance. We crave good things, and creating balance might mean that we learn to crave good things that are different from our favorite things! Both the yin and yang aspects of our life and our yoga practice deserve to be honored with the same amount of intention. Namaste.