What the YIN?

I don’t think it would be appropriate to write the words that entered my head during only the fourth minute of our first YTT Yin practice. I had never practiced Yin, and though the posture was only a mild, knee down lunge, holding it for more than the usual breath or two of a Vinyasa class brought lots of, what instructor Chris would call, “sensation”. My mind and body screamed at me, while Chris gently reminded us to continue focusing on the breath, and to stay with said sensation. While minute four was hell, with his gentle, sometimes humorous, and supportive guidance, minute five became bliss: I was hooked.

One of the many dragons of Yin!

Yin, a practice form forwarded in the West by Paul Grilley, is the counterpoint to Yang yoga (such as a Vinyasa or Ashtanga practice). Unlike Yang yoga, which focuses on repetitive, vigorous movement of the yang parts of the body (muscles), yin yoga delves into a much quieter, steady stress of the connective tissues: the bones, ligaments, and fascia. While yang seeks to build internal heat to access these muscles, yin works best when the body is cool, so that one can begin to access the connective tissue. And unlike fast-paced Yang styles, Yin poses are held for anywhere from 1-20 minutes, to get the deep, corrective benefits of the postures.

As a very active, somewhat Type A, typical American multi-tasker, settling still into a pose for even 3 minutes was a huge challenge. To use Chris’s analogy, at first our mind is like a puppy, jumping around, causing us to constantly shift, adjust, or move just to alleviate the boredom. But as we go deeper in the practice, our puppy mind can learn to sit, perhaps first on a leash, and then maybe all on its own. For me, Yin was a key factor in training my puppy mind; it allowed me to begin to have awareness of what my body and my mind were telling me. Instead of jerking out of a pose once I hit my edge, I learned to sit with the feeling, to notice a desire to move, and notice if movement was truly what I wanted. As my flexibility improved, so did my ability to be still, and to reach deeper and more focused states of meditation. Sometimes, I would be so deep in meditation I would open my eyes to an empty studio, looking out only into the moonlight waves of the shore below.

While Yin may not provide the endorphin-pumping, sweat-inducing workout many want from their yoga practice, Yin is badass. Yes. I said it. Spend 20 minutes in a dragon series, and you will understand the amount of mojo it takes to be a Yinner. And while some may look at Yin and think of it as slow or boring, if you can tune into fully into the body with curiosity, there’s endless interest to be exposed.

If you haven’t tried Yin, I recommend finding an hour to yourself, and pressing play on PYC director, Indira’s, medicinal SoulCast. She has provided us a free  guided Yin class, with the gentle sounds of the Pavones’ jungle included; close your eyes and you may almost begin to feel the sea breeze gently caressing your face and the vibrations of the cicadas humming through your ribs.  And after a few expletives, you may, just maybe, find yourself in love with Yin.


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