…and why it’s just as physical as other yoga styles
The majority of western yoga students come to the classes to increase their physical health. And at the same time, they often forget that the vitality of the body does not depend only on physical fitness, but on a way of living, including the state of mind, nutrition, emotions. It’s a unity of different aspects, depending mutually and none of them exists without the other.
The usual phenomenon in the West is following: people want yoga for their personal fitness, body toning and ideal shape…Therefore they often prefer more active and dynamic styles like Vinyasa Flow or Power Yoga. A very different but upcoming style is Yin Yoga.
When I first published my classes, I wrote on the Info-Flyer „Hatha + Yin“. A quite common reaction was: I want something more physical, that helps my body. So Yin won’t be mine, right? When is the Hatha Class?
That was not an unusual response to Yin. Usually people connect it with relaxation and passivity, what makes it seem boring and as there’s not so much going on in the body. So let’s make it clear for once. Yin goes deeply into the body and is extremely effective for your physical state — though it’s not Power Yoga. It’s just different. What is Yin Yoga then?
What is Yin Yoga
Yin and Yang in Yoga
When you use the terms Yin and Yang in Yoga, you refer to taoist concepts of energies, present in everything: in our bodies, the mind, the nature, — the world around us. It’s important to understand that the eastern principle of duality differs to our western model. Yin and Yang aren’t absolute terms. The two energies act relatively to each other and are neither stiff nor closed definitions. They can’t exist without each other. Where is Yin is also Yang. Always. So where do we meet those poles in our yoga practice?
„Yin and Yang are opposites, which only together form a whole; they depend on each other, because only in connection with the opposite pole, they form reality.“
What is Yin Yoga: Working the body with Yin and Yang
Originally the meaning of Ha-tha Yoga represents just this balance of Yin Yang: the union (Yoga) of Sun (Ha, considered Yang)) and Moon(-tha, considered Yin). It reveals the eastern duality in the world. With the time, more Yang focused yoga styles predominated the yogic landscape, like Ashtanga and Vinyasa Flow. You might wonder now, what makes those styles a Yang practice. In taoist philosophy Yang qualities are understood to be dynamic, active, hot, mobile, changing and upward moving. While Yin could be seen as more internal, passive, cooling, stable and downward moving. If you are familiar with the previous named styles, you might notice that they are focused on faster, muscle strengthening and dynamic movements which stimulates the blood circulation and produces heat.
In a Yin focused practice you work primary with relatively stiff connective tissues and the joints. Therefore you need to hold a posture for longer time. Scientists found out, that after 3 minutes the blood recently starts to reach those deeper regions in the body. While in a more active and dynamic Yang practice we stay in the superficial layers of the body, like the muscles, Yin Yoga works with deeper tissues like the ligaments, tendons and fascia, increasing the flexibility of the body. That’s why in a Yin Yoga class you hold the posture for 3-5 minutes, the needed time for the blood flow to reach those deeper layers and do their work there.
You see Yin Yoga is a lot about the body — just in a different manner.
What is Yin Yoga: Working your mind using your breath, healing yourself
As yoga always is about completeness, so is Yin Yoga too. Stilling the body, you are working your mind. When you stay in one pose for several minutes, there’s a lot of time for your monkey mind to jump around. In a Yang class you usually distract your mind by focusing on the external, dynamic movements. Instead of minds distraction, in Yin you are literally forced to face those thoughts. When you are not moving, but staying in one posture your concentration is internal and on the breath. The breathing is essential in Yin. It’s the key for mind control.
„The mind is the king of the senses, but the breath is the king of the mind.“
Yoga Hatha Pradipika
Using your mind you can control your senses. But first by using your breath you will be able to control your mind. Without your breath you can’t control your mind which will allows you to control your senses. That’s how Yin Yoga works. Sounds confusing? Let’s take an example.
How to control your senses using your mind and breath
In that long moment of holding a pose a lot of physical sensations are coming up and are trying to fulfill your mind again. Your mind will try to focus on the simple sensation of body pain, instead of staying focused on deeper, unconscious levels and the possibility to connect with your inner wounds. So instead of connection, your mind chooses distraction. By using the breath you redirect your minds concentration on what’s really going on at deeper levels of yourself, going beyond the superficial pain of the body. When we breath in Yin Yoga, the importance is on the exhale. Breathing in you focus on the painful region in the body and by breathing out you let go of that pain. And you don’t let go only that physical sensation but inner pain. You exhale hurtful feelings, sadness, anger, frustration, fear.
This is what makes Yin Yoga so special for me and why I always include it into my usual yoga practice. Staying for such a long time in the poses, allows us to reach layers of our body and mind, so profound that it will touch repressed emotional issues and opens the possibility to release and heal them. And whether you agree on that last part or not, give yin a chance and make your practice a balance. And next time you reject Yin Yoga, it shouldn’t be because you think Yin is only a relaxing, non physical practice. Yin Yoga can be very challenging. You will be surprised.
EXTRA: from my personal experience in India
Yoga remains still a paradox when it comes to its teachings and receptions. Yoga is Union, it’s about the connection of body and mind (and soul), union of self and higher self, union of the whole universe. But the western separation of body and mind is strong. So many yoga students keep focusing on yoga as a fitness program, instead of taking advantage of its healing power. People use yoga to help their bodies, without reflecting the interrelation between body and mind.
In India I had a similar experience in my TTC. The majority came from yang focused yoga styles, like Ashtanga or Vinyasa. Yin Yoga was a complete new field and it didn’t really fit in the western approach of dynamic movement and muscle strength. But after attending several Yin classes (and tons of healing tears), this powerful and very different experience affected everyone. Almost all of us considered to include at least a few Yin poses in our teachings. And for some of us, including myself, Yin became an essential part of my own practice and classes and a wonderful tool for self healing.
So during my TTC experience with Yang-shaped-Yogi-students, it becomes clear that they were highly affected by Yin Yoga. Thus represents the power of this style and again the importance of balance in every aspect of our life — even in Yoga.