Vidya Tasa, who is currently pursuing her 500-hour certification with Yoga Medicine®, discusses her experience at the recent Yin & Meditation module, her experience with Yoga Medicine so far, and Yin Yoga in general.
It has been almost a week since I have arrived back in Barcelona after an incredible training in the South of Spain studying meditation and yin yoga with Yoga Medicine. Integrating back into the Yang nature of life here in this restless city has been a challenge, and the Yin bubble that I have been living in for the past week is nearly deflated. It’s always difficult to face the reality that life goes on after these periods of introspection and learning, and that even we yoga teachers still need to be functional members of society (unless you’re one of those enlightened ones escaping the conformist life in Southeast Asia; in that case I applaud you).
This teacher training was one of the most science-heavy that I have done so far. As a non-anatomy nerd I knew that studying with Yoga Medicine would stretch my brain beyond my perceived capabilities, and I honour myself for stepping outside of my spirituality comfort zone. This was a huge accomplishment for me as I always believed that I was terrible at the sciences despite being fascinated by them. When choosing courses for my first year of university I eagerly desired to take Biology 101, but instead I chose to take solely humanities as I rationalized that I wouldn’t receive high enough grades to maintain my scholarship. Instead of learning something new and challenging that would help me grow, I stuck with what I was familiar with.
Fast forward to early 2019 when I saw a notification for this training appear in my email inbox. I was initially hesitant to enroll, but I put my stories aside and went for it. The concepts weren’t easy to grasp, for both the meditation and Yin Yoga components. Yin Yoga is a modality designed specifically to target the fascia (rather than the muscles) for physical and emotional benefits that last long-term. Thus the asanas used in this practice are incredibly precise and target particular areas of the body to stimulate specific Traditional-Chinese-Medicine meridians and organs. Throughout the meditation portion of the training we dissected evidence-based studies and learned what could’ve been an entire university level psychology course. It was a lot to learn in a short amount of time, but through attentive study and personal practice I have been able to wrap my head around the methods and can now speak to them with confidence.
So what is Yin Yoga anyway, and why is it beneficial?
Yin Yoga is a relatively modern practice that was developed in the West by Paul Grilley. It was initially deemed “Daoist” yoga but over time the style has evolved to be known as Yin Yoga, or Yin for short. Yin is primarily a floor-based practice that often utilizes props such as blocks and bolsters to support the body and create a sense of ease. By moving through the postures with softness and finding stillness in them at approximately 50-70% of one’s stretch depth, the connective tissue of the body called fascia is targeted.
A recognition of the crucial role that fascia plays in the human body is relatively new to science. It was only within the past 10 years that we have learned that this connective tissue that runs throughout the entire body and encases the muscles actually sends out signals and communicates with the greater body. By hydrating and stretching the fascia, we can gain a greater range of motion that lasts long-term and even strengthen it.
In Yin Yoga, the medicine is in the stillness. This is because the body gradually opens up as these postures are held passively between 3-10 minutes. Through these long-held postures the nervous system is given an opportunity to rest and the muscles to relax. Organs are also stimulated to due a gentle compression, and specific Chinese-Medicine meridians are stimulated to open up the energetic flow of Chi.
Think back to the last time you injured yourself by pulling a muscle or twisting something. Majority of the time when we experience these injuries we were simply going about our everyday activities, and most likely on autopilot mindlessly. Perhaps we were picking up a heavy box, reaching for the top shelf of the fridge, or twisting to throw the frisbee to our dog when we felt the sudden pang of “ouch”. By practicing Yin Yoga, the likelihood of these common injuries can be decreased as we increase our range of motion, hydration and health of the fascia, and bodily awareness through mindful movement.
I also want to address the common misconception that practicing Yin over-stretches the ligaments, which cannot be repaired. When entering the asanas in Yin, the goal is to find one’s edge and then back off until we find the 50-70% range of stretch. By properly practicing these asanas, the tissues are actually strengthened and supported. Backing off can be a challenge for those of us who are hyper mobile or exceptionally flexible, but it is a valuable challenge that can teach us where our limits are (on and off the mat).
On the topic of limits, when practicing Yin Yoga we are routinely confronted with acknowledging our discomfort. Something that was stressed to us in this training was that there is absolutely nothing wrong with discomfort. In fact, facing discomfort and finding comfort within it can be incredibly beneficial to our personal and physical development. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about pain; pain and discomfort are two very different things that we tend to confuse as one in the same. By practicing this method of mindful movement we invoke a safe space to explore this difference between the two concepts and can begin to slowly untangle our stories behind our pain. In turn, the impact of this exploration will naturally carry over into other areas of our lives.
As human beings we store our emotions in our tissues, and through this practice we allow ourselves to release them. I can recall several occasions where I was holding uncomfortable postures (not painful, but uncomfortable) that sparked feelings of irritation and even tears, and I’m sure you can relate. In my case, almost every time I enter pigeon pose I get in a silent fight with myself in my mind, in the most productive and beneficial way. My mindful awareness of this inner struggle allows me to face it head on with compassion and non-judgement.
And now it’s your turn to go out there and give Yin Yoga a try! If your studio doesn’t offer Yin classes, there are plenty of great Youtube videos available online. Let me know in the comments below about your experiences with Yin Yoga. Do you love it as much as I do?
And with that, I send you love and light.