I now have a love-love relationship with Yin Yoga. For me it is the perfect balance to a more dynamic yoga practice and lifestyle. It’s also a physical practice that I find really helps me ground myself into my body in preparation for meditation more than any other style of yoga. However, this wasn’t always the case, it took me a little while to “get it”.
The first time I came across this Yin yoga was well before I had ever dreamt of teaching. It was a free class at a Lululemon store. I remember coming into paschimottanasana (seated forward fold with straight legs) thinking I knew what I was doing. A minute passed and my mind was thinking … it’s ok, the teacher will move us on shortly. Then another minute passed, and another. I looked around and everyone else seemed to be fine. For probably the first time in my life, I could feel my hamstrings screaming at me. Rather than listen to this signal from my body and back up out of the pose, my stubborn ego took over and kept me there. I may even have pulled myself even deeper, I don’t actually remember. I also don’t remember any of the other poses we practiced during that session or much else about the session in general. What I do remember is that for the next 3 days I could barely walk. At the time I thought to myself, if I’m in this much pain, I must have done something good! No pain no gain and all that.
Fast forward a few years, and hours upon hours of study and education on yoga, anatomy and the nature of the mind, and I now realise that I either didn’t listen to the teacher giving the class or I just missed the point of Yin yoga completely. At that point in my practice I didn’t realise that Yin was about surrender to what is, without seeking, striving or wanting a particular shape for the body. You live and learn.
I re-discovered Yin while travelling in Thailand just before I took my teacher training. Perhaps I was more open to the concept at this time or perhaps it was the way my teachers – Anne-Marie and Rebecca – explained everything with such love and patience that the real essence of this practice started to sink in.
In January of 2018 I took part in a 5-day intensive Yin Yoga course with Norman Blair in North London, N22. We were invited to treat the week as a retreat, to turn off screens and unplug from our ‘go go go’ lifestyles. I embraced this suggestion with an open heart and I’m so glad I did.
Here is what I learned during those 5 beautiful winter days in N22:
#1 Slowing down is as important as being active
We live in such a fast paced world with multiple demands upon our attention at any given moment. We live so much in our heads, always thinking, always distracted, always telling ourselves a continuous flow of stories that aren’t always true.
Slowing down during the practice of Yin Yoga can be hard at first. We are used to always having to be something or go somewhere. Yin Yoga offers us a refuge within our own bodies. Norman described it as the gateway drug to meditation and I totally get this!
While we are holding Yin postures and breathing, we pay attention to the different sensations in the body, fully aware, fully present and perhaps for the first time in the day, fully focused on just one thing instead of a thousand.
For me it was during this time that I was really able to answer the question we were encouraged to ask of ourselves, “how am I doing”?
During a week-long yoga retreat, practicing a more active style of yoga in the form of vinyasa flow or power yoga every day, I always leave feeling really aligned and refreshed in my body, which in turn clears my mind. It was kind of the opposite experience after a week of Yin. My mind felt more clear and it became easier to focus, but I also developed a kind of compassion for myself that was accepting of what is. A whole week had passed and I had not done a single core exercise, I started to notice a little softness around my belly. In times past, this would have had to me racing into plank or navasana (boat pose) to keep my abs in tone. But instead, I found my mind just softened and accepted where I was in that moment. After all, it is only that moment, it isn’t forever.
#3 Every day is different
Each day we come to our mats, we bring something new. We are never the same person we were the day before. Sometimes these differences are obvious, other times more subtle. This also relates to acceptance because when we realise that each day is new, we can become more accepting of the fact that our head didn’t reach our heels in butterfly pose today when it did yesterday and we can let go of that inner desire for always striving to keep everything the same.
#4 Bliss is temporary – in fact, everything is temporary
On my last day I arrived at N22 early and went for a coffee before walking up the studio. I was full of love and bliss for the week just passed and all I had learned. And as a feeling of euphoria washed over me, I almost laughed out loud at the realisation that this too shall pass. I hope I can hold on to this wisdom the next time I’m having a bad day!
#5 The world didn’t blow up because I didn’t check my social media 108 times a day
It really didn’t. Shocker! And it completely changed the way I relate to and use social media for both business and socialising.
In my personal practice, I use Yin as a way to get into my body, calm my mind and ground myself. I’m already pretty flexible, possibly slightly hyper-mobile in places so I don’t necessarily need the stretch. This also means I need to be mindful of my joints and practice some level of engagement whereas other people who have a different body composition would be able to release more into the postures. I find that Yin helps to balance the faster paced, dynamic “yang” styles of yoga that I also like to practice and teach and helps me cope with fast paced London life. For me personally, Yin is far more about what it does for my mind than my body.
If you would like to find out what all the fuss is about, you can come along to practice yin yoga with me. Please see my Class Schedule page for further details.