Thursday, March 31, 2011

You Say You Want a Revolution

I recently decided to change things up with the yoga class I take each week.  In the process, I inadvertently stumbled across a class where the instructor is taking a decidedly “Yin” approach.  While I was vaguely aware of Yin yoga, where poses are held for as long as several minutes, I was unaware of the effects of this approach on my body and mind after several consecutive weeks of practice.  

I recalled reading an article by Yin yoga guru Paul Grilley, who has written Yin Yoga: A Quiet Practice, but it’ an entirely different thing to experience it.  Unlike most Hatha yoga, which is more yang-like and comes out of an Indian tradition, Yin and Yang yoga come from the ancient tradition of Taoist yoga which is indigenous to China. 

According to Grilley, “Taoists say, "All 'things' exist as a contrast of opposites. We call these opposites Yin and Yang. Bones are Yin, muscles are Yang and connective tissue lies between the two extremes.”  Yang exercises are rhythmic and repetitive.  Yin is “prolonged stasis or stillness for long periods of time.”  Yin activities have the effect of stressing the tissues of the body, particularly connective tissue, which includes the inner layers of skin, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, bone and fat tissue.  Connective tissue is the “cellular glue” that holds structures together.  Essentially, it’s what’s keeping you in one piece.

This is the Chinese Yin Yang symbol.  The moon is Yin.

So, what’s it like to practice Yin Yoga for several weeks?  In the first class, especially since this wasn’t the expectation, every cell cried out in resistance.  It all felt so slow and languid.  I craved vinyasa-like movement—anything Yang and muscular and more familiar.  I immediately decide that as soon as the class was over I would switch to another.  But when I got up to leave, I felt a kind of deep settling that was, well, quite pleasant.  

On the second and third weeks, I realized that this tortoise approach was proving some of the hardest yoga I’d encountered.  The long holds were taxing to my hips.  I had to dig deep for stamina.  And there was a kind of subterranean soreness I hadn’t felt after a yoga class in years.   It was glacial change—a slow, but monumental shifting in the body.  I was beginning to crave the unhurried practice.

Something was starting to happen inside my head as well.  All this sustained pressure on tendons, cartilage, and bone was pushing at my mind.  The rigid thinking was starting to slip, the careful control showing cracks, and the light starting to dawn.  This gentle, slow, holding practice was beginning to show me a new kind of balance.  And an understanding for the need of equipoise with all the opposites in my life, and in my yoga practice.

Perhaps you need to move something deep in you.  Or, perhaps you’re just looking to freshen your yoga practice (and your mind).  Or start a yoga practice. Here are a couple of web sites with descriptions of yoga styles and approaches.  I especially liked the one on WebMD. If you’re addicted to self-quizzes (and who isn’t) try the Yoga Journal yoga style quiz.  Here’s one more for good measure. Finally, for more on Yin yoga, visit Paulie Zink’s web pages.  He is credited as the founder of Yin Yoga and the Yin Yoga Institute. 

P.S.  And just for the fun of it, check out Yoga Dork. 

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