Hello Yogi's! I recently attended a workshop on Yin yoga, hosted by Yoga on the Brazos in Richmond and presented by my friend Rhia Robinson. I usually practice vinyasa flow, a hatha tradition in the yang style. This style traditionally focuses on gaining muscle flexibility and strength as well as building incredible internal heat. I was really excited to participate in this workshop because, while I love vinyasa flow, I also love and appreciate a change of pace. Going to a new class, and an unfamiliar teacher for that matter is refreshing. (Rhia is not unfamiliar to me but I mean ANY unfamiliar teacher. Which as a side note, is a healthy perspective next time you walk into class and find a sub in place of your favorite teacher.) Anyway...facing the unfamiliar infuses my practice with renewed energy as it gives me the opportunity to approach my practice from a beginner's mind.
Many of the students that day were new to Yin and Rhia explained the practice using an incredible analogy (Rhia, forgive me if I don't get the verbiage quite right but I think I have the gist of it). Yang is like climbing a mountain. You work hard climbing up the steep points, with flat terrain mixed in for ease. Then you get to the summit and admire your efforts then climb back down. Yin is like floating on a river. You ride the currents of challenge and ease as you allow time and gravity to work magic.
For everything that a yang practice is, yin is the direct opposite. Yang is heat building, Yin is cooling. Yang focuses on the musculature while in Yin we are muscularly soft and focusing on the supportive tissues...the ligaments, tendons and joint spaces. Yang includes the entire body while Yin focuses on the area between the belly button to the knees. Yang is alignment and aesthetic based while Yin focuses on the functionality of the posture. You are encouraged to dismiss usual cues of the posture (square the hips, extend the toes back, open the chest,ect.) and are instead encouraged to explore the posture in your own body. My pigeon may look significantly different from yours, but the point is to work your way slowly into the posture and explore how it feels. Yang typically holds postures for 3-5 breaths while Yin holds postures for 3-5 minutes (or longer).
The long holds in a yin practice can be daunting. While the postures are typically more passive they are intense in their own right. There is just as much effort in letting the muscles go as there is in contracting them to the bone. I challenge you to sphinx pose for example. In the Yin practice, you are encouraged to relax the quadriceps, hamstrings and gluteal muscles. This may sound easy, but after the first few rounds of breath you will find yourself engaging once again. It's a repeated practice of letting go when you don't quite realize you are holding on. Hmmmm. There's a tid-bit to take with you off the mat.
What's also interesting about the long holds is the practice in mindfulness. It was interesting to observe the emotions that came up. Contentment morphed into agitation which surrendered into ease which brought on panic which then became joy. The challenge was sticking with the breath and allowing each emotion its time...not holding on to the "good" ones or fighting against the "bad" ones but simply letting each one come and go.
What I really loved about Rhia's workshop was Rhia herself. She gently guides you into these postures and encourages you to take your time and work your way into it. There is no right or wrong way...just you and your body in your own exploration. But what was especially nice was how she wove tid-bits of yogic philosophy and spirituality throughout the class in a way that reflected the postures but also in a non-esoteric and practical way that was easily relateable. If you want to check out a Yin yoga, you can find Rhia at http://ahimsayogaonyale.com/schedule-2/ .