The Power of Yin

Main Street Yoga’s class description for yin yoga reads:

Yin Yoga is a quiet practice focused on flexibility. It involves holding and exploring poses for longer periods of time in order to target deeper connective tissue and calm the nervous system.

That’s a pretty superficial explanation of what can be a very deep, satisfying practice.

In our Western society, we’ve been programmed to think that exercise should be fast paced. It should make us sweat; it should make our hearts beat faster. “No pain, no gain,” right? It’s no wonder that Power Yoga is so popular in the United States. Using the Eastern concept of yin and yang, Power Yoga, or vinyasa, is a yang practice. But the concepts of yin and yang are relative terms that can be applied to almost anything:

Yin: calm, still, inner, dark, hidden, cold, winter, feminine

Yang: active, moving, outer, light, exposed, hot, summer, masculine

In relation to our physical bodies, muscle tissue is yang; connective tissue is yin. Most types of “exercise” affect our muscles, which are easily strengthened and can become very flexible when warm. Yin yoga affects our connective tissue, which takes much longer to become pliable and can become “shrink wrapped” as we age, leaving us less flexible and more prone to injury in our joints.

Both yin and yang practices are essential for achieving balance in our bodies, our minds, and our lives. As a society, we are pretty dialed in on yang: we value activity, productivity and multitasking, so keeping still, even in a very simple yoga pose (savasana, for example), for several minutes can be extremely challenging. So how do we approach a practice that asks us to be still in pose after pose after pose?

1.     Let go of the “pose” mentality: On the surface, yin poses look a lot like poses you might see in any other yoga class, but in yin, they’ve been given new names. The purpose of that is to shift the focus from an alignment-based “Am I doing this right?” mentality to a state of observation that can allow us to detach from our ego and just be.

2.     Focus on the breath to get past the “freak out” phase: Although yin yoga doesn’t utilize any special breathing technique, focusing on the breath can help us move past our initial urge to resist a pose and allow us enter a state of relaxation and receptivity.

3.     Find your first edge: To create lasting flexibility in connective tissue, find your first “edge,” the first place you feel an interesting sensation. Stay there until the sensation subsides before allowing yourself to relax more deeply into the pose. In this way, you will avoid activating the “stretch reflex” that causes the body to contract.

4.     Take your time moving out of a pose: After creating space between your joints, you will likely feel a bit fragile. Move slowly and be mindful of sensations that arise as the body returns to a more neutral position. Focus on those sensations until you transition to the next pose.

In addition to the physical benefits of the practice, yin can act as a “reset” button for the mind and the emotions. An hour of a relatively still and quiet practice that is so antithetical to our daily lives is a powerful tool for achieving balance and a sense of ease. Join us for yin practice every other Sunday at Main Street Yoga on Sundays at 7:00 pm.

See you at the studio!