On Monday 24 October 2016, I took my first Yin Yoga class. I had joined a yoga school close to my house (4 minutes walk) and I was trying all the different styles on offer. The class description was Yin Yoga combines aspects of Hatha Yoga, the concept of the meridians in Chinese medicine, Taoist philosophy and Buddhist meditation techniques. Yin Yoga has a positive effect on your organs, immune system, muscles and joints. It was the bit about Buddhist meditation and the muscles and joints which intrigued me seeing as I’m creaking and cracking into middle age now.
During that first class my mind chatter went something like this: ‘ok, we need a lot of props’ and ‘wow the teacher talks a LOT’ (although she had a lovely soothing voice) and ‘oh boy this hurts’ and ‘ouch, oh my God, my muscles are tearing!’ and ‘what the heck is happening to my lumbar area?!’ and so on and so forth. I had done Hatha Restorative but had not really felt this level of discomfort in my body because in Yin Yoga, the positions are held for 3-5 minutes. Sounds relaxing right? Sit or lie on a yoga mat and hold a pose for 3-5 minutes?
Now I must say that as a Kapha person I LOVED that all the poses were done seated or supine on the mat, so no Surya Namaskar (which I still feel resistance to). It’s a passive practice although it turns out passive is not quite how it feels. Turns out the teacher talks you through the poses and all the while brings the focus back to your breath. Physically, you’re stretching stretching, stretching, your fascia and connective tissue around your joints (knees, spine, sacrum, pelvis) and mentally you are focussing on your breath. Then you realise, each breath can take you deeper into the pain, and it’s not actually pain, its discomfort and it’s not killing you. It actually feels like what your body has needed for YEARS. Each breath you are able to go deeper physically and somehow mentally too. Hang on you say to yourself… I’m actually meditating and doing yoga at the same time and I feel great!
The more dynamic forms of yoga I do are the Yang styles, Vinyasa and Astanga. Yin is very complementary to those styles and as I mentioned, is all about stretching the connective tissues, ligaments, bones and joints. Who knew that just sitting and extending your legs in front of you and walking your hands forward until you feel resistance, could feel so damn uncomfortable and so damn wonderful at the same time! I did give myself a neck injury by pushing myself too far in Yin so caution is absolutely needed I’d say especially if like me, you’re hypermobile.
For the last 11 years or so I’ve always said my back feels like it can never be stretched enough and I would beg The Lovely Boyfriend to lean on my back with me in child’s pose, just so I could feel a stretch. Now I know which poses give me the most benefit and I know I will not tear apart (pain is different to discomfort) and I know that the ‘pain’ I feel in my body during Yin practice, is the same discomfort I feel in my life sometimes. But if I breathe into the discomfort and see it for what it is – just discomfort which will pass – I feel space. What a great metaphor for life no?
And my favourite, most beneficial Yin Yoga pose you ask? Probably Ananda Balasana or Happy Baby, because it s t r e t c h e s my lower back, calms my mind and makes me laugh each time.
Have you tried Yin Yoga and if so what benefits are you experiencing? I’m curious to deepen my practice more.
This post is dedicated to my lovely Mandy who is experiencing pain today. Love you doll.