Nitya Griffith is our amazing Yin yoga teacher! To help you better understand the finer points of Yin yoga, we asked Nitya to share her thoughts on this practice. Check it out, then join her for Yin on Wednesdays at 4:30.
What is Yin? Well, you’d also then have to ask what is Yang?
The two are as interdependent as what they represent:
Yang is light, moving, masculine, exposed, active, upward, excited, Sky.
Yin is the connective tissue.
Yang is the muscle tissue.
Look at a more Yang style of Hatha yoga – how are you practicing the asanas or poses?
Look at Yin and how this is practiced. They are polar opposites.
Yin should ideally be practiced in a cool, shaded room and your body should ideally also be cool.
If you come from a big run, or a sweaty workout into a Yin class you risk serious injury. Why?
If the muscles are too warm when you hold poses for 5 minutes you risk over stretching, tearing, or damaging the muscle tissue.
Yin is often confused with restorative yoga, which is a mistake. Restorative yoga is intended for people with physical limitations, or who are recovering from injuries, illnesses, et cetera. Yin, on the other hand, is an advanced practice. Why? Physically, you need to have established a Hatha practice where you are comfortable with the asanas and your body – you’ve made that body asana connection and are familiar with reaching your edge. More on the edge in a minute. Emotionally and mentally, you need to also have some understanding of meditation in order to sit for 5 minutes in each pose for 75 – 90 minutes. Lastly, there is a spiritual aspect, and you can opt to go that deep if you are inclined.
Yin is a meditation; a meditation of listening to your body. Within the connective tissue, we access our long held stories. It’s where our pain body is located and trauma is held. It is not uncommon to have an emotional release in a pose. It is to be welcomed for the benefit it has on the body. Disease is the root cause of a body dis-eased – not at ease with itself. This happens because we lose connection with our body; we stop listening to anything beyond I’m hungry, I’m thirsty, I’m craving something, I’m hot, I’m cold, I’m in discomfort or pain, and I’m experiencing pleasure or something good.
So Yin is deeply restorative, rejuvenating, healing…but, again, NOT to be confused with restorative yoga.
Yin postures can be really challenging: a 5 minute cobra or low lunge is something you will definitely feel and may not find comfortable, but not all asanas are intended to be. The goal of yoga is to connect to your true, authentic self. In order to make that connection, you need to find your edge. It’s the classic story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears or, in yoga speak, bramacharya. You are looking for moderation – what is too far in a pose where you risk injury, what is not enough where you are missing out on the full benefit, and what is that sweet spot of your edge that is just enough. There you find santosha, or contentment in the now moment.
The entire practice is a meditation; even the transitions of preparing for the pose, being in the pose and coming out of the pose. It’s all a meditation and surrender, or ishvarapranidhana: surrendering to the source. No striving, no trying to make anything happen.
My teacher, Biff Mithoefer, says that intensity is the shadow side of the healer. Wow! What a profound truth. Look beyond how we exercise our body to how we live our life? It’s excessive Yang, it’s go go go until you are sick or exhausted, it’s push yourself physically in an exercise class until you could cry or scream, it’s pushing yourself at work and in relationships because you fear losing them if you don’t give it your all. Our American life is intense. Our news is even intense! The motivation is to give us an intense response of anxiety, fear, or anger. How can that possibly be healthy for us?
So in Yin, we let go of the intensity, we let go of the roar of the masculine and put down that armor that falsely dictates us, guilt trips us into pushing ourselves so hard and we let go. We let go in Yin! We surrender in every pose.
We do lots of different forms of exercise that can make our muscles tight and toned. But if we don’t get deep into that connective tissue, you will still experience stiffness and loss of mobility as you age. The connective tissue is really hard to access and motivate – it’s stubborn. It takes 5 minutes to get into it and coax it gently to begin to give a little.
In order to affectively get into a Yin posture where we are holding gentle tension the body needs to feel safe and to have the time for the connective tissue to react. We aren’t stretching the tissue, we are coming into relationship with it. Listen, your body is constantly communicating with us. Surrender into the asana, feel the shape, breathe, soften the body, and listen.