When I first sat down to write this blog I planned to talk about the origins of yin, how to practice it, the principles and of course benefits. A bit of a ‘how to’ guide to yin. But as I started typing, my fingers seemed to move towards a more personal story. Why do I practice yin? What did I discover whilst doing it and teaching it? And mainly how did it help me… therefore how could help you!

First of all, perhaps I should start by talking about what is Yoga. What is the purpose of yoga, of any lineage and style. I could talk about this topic for a while, but for now… since yoga is always evolving and it means different things to different people, from a profound spiritual practice to a form of exercise, let’s try to agree that yoga (among other things) help us cultivate attention.

We concentrate in our body and the forms and shapes we create with it, and we concentrate in our more subtle energies, like the breath and our thoughts. In yoga we are always balancing both, trying to marry them the best we can, linking breath and movement in some practices… or observing carefully how we are moving or breathing.

Montse teaching yoga in Eden Eco Village, Kampot, Cambodia

When we start practicing yoga we focus mainly in the outer form of it, our body, the shapes and movement we make and let’s face it… most of the time, we are simply trying to follow instructions, watch the teacher, try not to hold the breath, not to fall out of balance and maybe not slip on the puddle of sweat we left on the mat! And that’s because when we start we usually take more ‘yang’ type classes, with a lot of movement and sometimes unfamiliar or difficult poses.

With time, those poses become more familiar (not necessarily ‘easier’) and you, as a practitioner will be able to start focusing more on the fluctuations of the breath, the sensations in the body, and the focus (or lack of) the mind. We are now starting to ‘do yoga’.

When you practice Yin, the element of strong, difficult poses, and strenuous movement is removed… so we can directly start focusing on the more subtle part of yoga. In a yin class, usually, the teacher will guide you to focus on your breath, or on the sensations in the body… very much like you would in a meditation practice. And like meditation, a good yin practice will help us tune in to the internal world and will guide us to pay attention to what is happening right here, right now. In the body and in the mind.

The realisations, conscious or unconscious, that we make during a yin class can provoke insights that may move us to make changes in our life or allow us to be more accepting of our limitations and our bodies, or we might find ourselves opening up to feelings we didn’t even know where bubbling in there.

“While other yoga forms might push you to strengthen and tone your body, yin yoga invites you to be exactly as you are.” – Kassandra Reinhart

Of course, you can get all that from other styles of yoga too, but in my experience it might take a while to move into those deeper inner layers of consciousness whilst you are trying to balance on one leg or on your head. That’s one of the reasons I advocate starting a good yin practice and combine it with other forms of yoga, the inner focus and discoveries you’ll make in your yin practice will accompany you out of the mat, in your life and in your other practices (more vigorous) practices.

“For most of us, beginning with that which is most tangible, the body is common doorway into the practice (of yoga). As we become less distracted and healthier physically, most students eventually become interested in that which is more hidden” – Sarah Powers

Yep, that was me, becoming more interested in the hidden aspects of yoga… practicing more meditation, pranayama and of course discovering yin in the process. And although I liked it, at the beginning, I didn’t really looove yin. One day I would find it too boring, and another, too difficult to remain still and many other days a waste of time and I would grow impatient in the pose.

So what really helped become a lover of yin? despite all I’ve said above, regarding your mind, what pushed over to practice more yin to start with was seeing the actual physical transformation happening to my body.

Without me even realising, my body was craving for stillness and recovery. And yin slowly started providing that. I soon realised that after a few days of resting and only doing yin, I would go back to my ‘other’ practice and be stronger, find some of the asanas a bit easier and of course I had gained more flexibility. Why was that? What sort of magic was happening there?

There are many books, articles and websites dedicated to the physical benefits of yoga. But all agree on:

  • Improved joint health
  • Increased mobility
  • Increased flexibility

Eden Eco Village, Kampot, Cambodia (March, 2019)

By applying stress to my joints through steady and sustained stretching, with longer holds in ‘easy’ postures, I was strengthening the connective tissue in my joints. As we lose joint mobility with age, it’s important to keep those areas lubricated and strong. I went from aching knees and hips in my 40s to a much stronger and supple joints in my 50s – Yep, we can reverse the effects of ageing!

Let me be clear, I don’t practice yoga to join Cirque du Soleil or to feature as the most flexible senior in the care home… that’s not the point of yoga or why I practice or why you should practice!

Physically, I’m happy with becoming stronger, more mobile (not the same as flexible… that’s a subject for another blog) and have a healthier digestive system, lungs and internal organs in general. In a nutshell, to have a body as healthy as possible. So I realised that incorporating yin yoga to my regular weekly practice was a key element for all that.

Mentally and spiritually, again, it’s out of my control what I achieve (the result) but if I manage to be calmer, reduce mental stress, gain mental resilience as well as be more compassionate and understanding of my own and other’s realities… then… wow! And yin, thanks to its meditative component can be key in helping us move in that direction.

So join me in the yin journey, incorporate it in your yoga routine, or even if you don’t practice yoga, as a gateway to meditation or as a tool to become calmer and a bit more stress free in your life.

Montse Gili

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