The yoga most of us know is active, Yin is not. Yin is yielding, nourishing, replenishing, and occurs in stillness. Hatha yoga is by the far the most popular and well known form of yoga in the West. It targets the main muscle groups of the body, both building strength and flexibility of body and mind as the breath gracefully carries the practitioner in and out of sequences. This style has done an amazing job at bringing both alignment and mindfulness into the world of exercise and activity, but it is only half the experience in a full bodied yoga practice.
Yin yoga lands in the body in a completely different way than most are used to, targeting the ligaments, joints, fascial network, and even the bones. These are considered the “yin” tissues of the body, and are equally important to work with as the more active, “yang” tissues that form musculature. These tissues are accessed when the body is cool, and must be approached with sensitivity and patience. To new practitioners, yin yoga may appear lazy, even boring, since the poses are usually done on the floor, with lots of props and little physical effort. Rather than falling into a flow of movement, the challenge of yin yoga is to tap into your inner flow while remaining still in each posture. Only 10-15 poses are used in a single yin class, and each one is held for 2-5 minutes. While in each posture, breath and intention can be used to release deeply held tensions in the body that may have been silently keeping you from finding that perfect Down-dog or comfortable seated pose.
Taking the time to breath into our joints, ligaments, and connective tissue opens the door for energy to move more freely and effortlessly through the body. Most yin teachers will bring your awareness to this flow of energy through breath and visualization.
The name itself evokes awareness of energy and questions as to what exactly yin and yang even are. In this class we will explore the natural and automatic flow of energy as we currently understand it. All light, all energy expands from its source until the point of completion, then it contracts and fades away to the same place from which it came. We see this pattern in all aspects of the universe. Objects flower into form, and then eventually dissolve once again. The expansive phase of this cycle is the yang current- outward expression. The contractive phase is the yin current- internalization and release. The point in between, where the flow of energy has reached completion in form is where we find ourselves now, neutral poles through which yin and yang meet to dance. We, as beings of form, are poles of completion. Through our physical bodies and present moment awareness, we can learn to balance the yin and yang energies as we move through our lives. While different periods of life are naturally more active or contractive, we can learn to maintain a functional and supportive give-and-take relationship with the subtle flow of our life-force in relationship with the universe as a whole. In more tangible terms- this means being able to remain active and engaged with the world even as you progress into old age. Hatha, alone, can’t get you there.
It’s important to remember that yin and yang are very subtle forces, inaccessible to the naked eye and often difficult for the conceptual mind to grasp. Through yoga we can learn to know and understand these energies through feeling awareness and direct experience. When these current collide, energy disperses through five elemental patterns, which construct our physical world. Earth, water, fire, air, and ether intermingle to co-create the elaborate universe we observe every day. By balancing the more subtle yin and yang energies, the five elements are able to flow freely from source. Imbalances may still occur from below, within the dynamic flows of each element, so we will become acquainted with these patterns as well. Each week of the five week series will highlight a different element and how it manifests within the physical body, so by the end you will have the basic skills and understanding of how to open and balance your own energy field through Yin yoga.
Written by Dana Ripley LMT CYT
Clark, Bernie, and Sarah Powers. The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga: The Philosophy and Practice of Yin Yoga. Ashland, OR: White Cloud, 2012. Print.
This class will run on Fridays from 12-1PM beginning 3/3/17 for 6 weeks. Sign up for Dana’s Yin Yoga class here.