The Subtle Power of Yin Yoga – Jan 2019

In November 2018 I was lucky enough to finally take part in a Yin Yoga Teacher Training.  I had spent a couple of years prior to this visiting studios to meet teachers and researching various yin yoga training courses but none of what was on offer had felt quite right so I stopped searching and inevitably a few months later the right training opportunity presented itself.  When I least expected it I received a recommendation for a Yin Yoga teacher who I’d not heard of before and wasn’t easy to check out as she was based in Canada, but after a small amount of online research I knew I had found the right training.  (There is a reason for me being particularly fussy about what training I undertake and why but that is a whole different blog of its own!)

Before deciding that I wanted to develop my understanding of what Yin Yoga was all about it had been on my radar for some time, although not in a huge way.  It certainly wasn’t part of my daily practice and I didn’t go to a regular Yin class but there seemed to be a persistent pull towards it and I would find myself reading about it and taking part in online classes, particularly if I was having a difficult time.  During one of those more challenging times a couple of years ago I managed to completely deplete myself physically and mentally, a situation that enforced some time off work and a re-evaluation of how I was living my life.  My regular running and yoga practices ground to a halt so my options for a daily practice were very gentle and slow movement and meditation, neither of which were particularly appealing at the time due to my overly busy state of mind!  However, I do believe that we’re given what we need when we need it so I went with those options and found myself once more drawn to Yin Yoga.  Having not done that much yin yoga and having minimal understanding of the practice at the time the appeal was what looked like getting your body into fairly comfortable positions and lying or sitting still for a few minutes in each position, how difficult could it be?!  Quite a few online yin videos later I realised that the practice wasn’t as easy as it looked (much like many other styles of yoga!) and my mind found it quite challenging to let go into the stillness of the practice.  Although it wasn’t easy there was something supportive about the practice and the stillness helped me to learn to sit with some truths that I had been avoiding, so without the ability or energy to keep running I sat with my stuff and the insights started to arrive about what needed to change.

This sounds very deep and I am not suggesting that Yin Yoga is to be saved for when you find yourself in a muddle or having a tough time etc.  It is a very nourishing and grounding, yet rejuvenating, practice that can be beneficial for anyone and this is what I experienced on my training.  I went along to the course trusting that I was in the right place at the right time and with very few expectations, other than to learn and absorb the knowledge I needed in order to share the practice with others.  I was also lucky enough to be at a point in my life where I felt at ease and peaceful and very ready to join up the dots between what I had experienced for myself and what is actually going on internally when we practice Yin Yoga.  We had the most incredible teacher (Angela Jervis-Read) who had the ability to impart knowledge in a way was easy to understand and digest in a short amount of time, which fortunately meant that the dots started to join up pretty quickly.  The days of training and evenings of homework flew by and I was driving home before I knew it, with a huge sense of responsibility to share this work with others.  I don’t believe that there is ever only one way of doing things and I am certainly not suggesting that Yin Yoga is the answer to everything but I wholeheartedly believe that it has something for everyone and it makes a great complementary practice to any other movement practice and is also a great tool when working one to one with people, which is why I’ve started incorporating it alongside my massage therapy work.

As usual I didn’t intend for the blog to be this long and after all this writing I still haven’t offered an explanation of how Yin Yoga works and what it actually does, so if you’re still reading here goes!……

It is a very inward style of yoga that brings an opportunity to connect more deeply with your inner landscape.  This is achieved with longer held poses and support for your body with the use of props such as blocks, bolsters, blankets and straps.

The idea of the longer holds is that they help to release fascia (connective tissue) that becomes stuck around our joints for many reasons, including poor posture, repetitive strain or injury.  When the fascia has become stuck it restricts our movement so releasing it helps to improve our mobility.  There is a myth around Yin Yoga that you ‘hang’ in your joints but the joints are actually always supported so there is no ‘hanging’ and the fascia releases slowly during the minutes you are in the pose.

Although fascia is similar to a web in the way it weaves through our whole body some of it does also follow certain pathways, known as fascial lines and theses line happen to correspond with some of the meridian lines, through which energy flows.  The meridian lines in yin yoga are those from Traditional Chinese Medicine, which relate to our internal organs and systems.  Therefore, when releasing the fascia we are also releasing blockages within our energy and enabling the pathways that it moves along to become clearer, which in turn helps to give our internal organs and systems a boost from the inside out.

So with the help of gravity and your body weight we are affecting our energy and physiology at the same time.  You would expect to feel sensation around the area that is being released but it is important to choose an appropriate edge with which to work because the sensation may become stronger as you stay in the pose.  It is important to point out that Yin Yoga is not a practice of endurance to see how long you can sustain an uncomfortable position or level of sensation, it is however a practice that requires patience, which is the meditative part of the practice and our ability to sit with ourselves when things might feel a little less than ideal or unfamiliar.

I absolutely haven’t side-lined my usual movement practices of yoga, running and cycling to just practice yin, (because I believe that daily movement is key to maintaining good health and wellbeing) but what I am grateful to have discovered is how the regular use of yin yoga alongside everything else I do has helped me to take better care of an old injury, as well improve my ability to meditate, which for someone with an inherently busy mind can never be a bad thing!