Yin Yoga is based on the Taoist concept of yin and yang, opposing yet complementary forces that can characterize any phenomenon.
Yin can be described as stable, immobile, feminine, passive, cold, and downward moving. Yang is depicted as changing, mobile, masculine, active, hot, and upward moving.
In nature, a mountain could be described as yin; the ocean, as yang. Within the body, the relatively stiff connective tissue (tendons, ligaments, fascia) is yin, while the pliant and mobile muscles and blood are yang.
A young woman and her middle-aged mother came into the Yin Yoga studio and put their mats down next to me.
“Here, I can move over,” I offered, realizing that there wasn’t much room for them.
They didn’t mind. It was okay. I could stay where I was.
“I just really need to be here for this class. This is my first time,” the mother said.
She actually sounded tired. Tense.
“Have you been to Yin Yoga before?” I asked her and no, she hadn’t. Her daughter had been trying to get her to go.
“Yin Yoga is so good for reducing stress,” I volunteered as she took my hand and fervently told me that she really needed something to reduce stress.
“Believe me,” she added. “I’m under a lot of stress.”
One of the things I appreciate about Yin Yoga is the way in which it allows my body to relieve itself of the tightness and stress that is pent up in all my muscles—including my brain muscle.
“The improvements to flexibility and chi flow are valuable [in Yin Yoga], but they are secondary to the practice of becoming intimate with and accepting of the current state of the body and mind in any given moment.” ~ Sarah Powers
Each yin pose, or “shape” is held for four to five minutes of slow, deep, breathing and stretching, allowing the body to simply fall into itself.
Unlike the other more active yang types of yoga, yin is a passive practice that invites the practitioner to melt into the shapes.
It has become for me a time where, not only have I learned to let my body go without resistance, but I have let my thoughts come—and go—without resistance as well.
While I am holding a yin shape, basically remaining motionless for the allotted time, I can allow the stories, scenes, and memories from my past to bubble up to my consciousness where I can simply “hold them without resistance,” and let them be.
There have been many, many times while holding a shape in Yin Yoga that tears have spilled from my eyes as my body and my mind did what it needed to do—unload the tension and stress that it was storing.
While in the dressing room after class the morning the mother came over to me.
“What’s your name?” she asked in a friendly way.
After introducing myself to “Susan,” she told me what her stress was. It was her husband. He had died several months before. Then, her daughter had lost her job and she was taking care of her children while she got back on her feet.
“This is the first time I felt like I could actually allow the thought of my husband’s passing come to me,” she said, her eyes brimming with tears. “It’s the first time I thought I had the time.”
“It was such a comfort to just be able to do that,” she added.
I understood. I’d had the same experience of being comforted by just allowing myself to have the thoughts that I’d not had the time or the space to have before.
To me, recovering from a chronic, debilitating illness that left me with muscle weakness so profound that I could no longer do the more active yoga I had always done, Yin Yoga was a life saver. It kept the knots in my muscles from being pulled tight and, over time, even helped me to regain muscle strength.
As Lisa Maria writes in The Yoga Journal: “When I did yin poses, I felt like a flower that hadn’t been watered for a long time getting moisture…. It felt like the inside of my body had more space. There was more fluid…sort of like a rusty car getting oiled.”
More than anything however, Yin Yoga did for me what it did for my new friend, the mother in my Yin Yoga class. It provided a time and space for me to do the grieving over my own lost, healthy self in a way that my everyday life did not allow.
I am not a yoga instructor. I am merely a person who has sought out yoga in her life as a means by which to bring peace and calm not only to my body, but to my heart and to my mind as well.
Yin Yoga has given me the means by which to accomplish that while I regain my strength.
At the end of our Yin Yoga classes, the teacher closes traditionally with her hands folded together and held at her heart.
“Thank you for allowing me to spend this time with you,” she says. “Thank you for honoring yourselves and for providing yourselves with a yin experience in this very yang world.”
“I’ll be back,” Susan told me as we were walking out to our cars.
I was glad to hear that. I was glad that she had found a place to experience her feelings without resistance and judgment.
In fact, I was glad for myself too.
Author: Carmelene Siani
Image: Kino MacGregor/YouTube
Editor: Travis May