We could all do with a bit more yin in our lives, to balance out the ever-active yang that characterises the everyday mania of modern living. Yin Yoga is fairly uncommon in the UK but I am certain this slow but powerful practice will be popping up all over the country over the coming months.
When I first encountered Yin I hated it. I love a fast paced practice as the constant movement manages to keep my mind busy and directed. Yet in Yin, the focus is on the quality of the stretch rather than the quantity of postures and you typically stay in poses for around 3-5 minutes! However, it should not be dismissed as a 'restorative' practice, as Yin certainly provides a physical challenge, just without the push or strain of yang yoga. It's all about letting go and releasing down into stretches, without force or pressure. But what really makes it powerful is its unique challenge for the mind. It forces you to sit in silence with the monkey mind and witness it's movements moment to moment. Suddenly you can't distract yourself with food or Facebook – you are forced to just ‘be’ with your body in the present moment… quite a terrifying prospect for a lot of people. When was the last time you really stopped to listen to your body?
Intrigued to learn more I signed up to Feel Hot Yoga's Yin for teachers' training day, which started with a 75-minute yin class in the hot yoga studio! My first taste of Yin was during teacher training in India, so the heat of the studio was comparable to what I experienced there: an intense but wonderful way to ease deep into stretches. Yang yoga works the muscles where as yin yoga works the fascia, working past the muscle and into the deep connective tissue. (Bernie Clark). Unlike the elasticity of muscles, Yin tissues have a plastic density and require gentler pressure applied for longer periods of time. This is why orthodontic braces need to be worn with moderate pressure for longer periods in order to reshape the bones of the jaw. Working into these deep yin tissues increases flexibility, exercises the ligaments and develops strength and space in the joints. (YinYoga.com) Needless to say I was soaked in perspiration after the class (which consisted of just 15 postures) but my mind felt calm and focused as I stepped into the showers. At the start of the practice my mind fought against it - counting time, wishing postures to be over - and quite frankly I felt miserable. However, halfway through pigeon pose my mind suddenly let go and I was able to observe my thoughts rather than interrogate them. Physically I was able to marinate deeper into the mat, letting gravity take me further into the stretch. And quite unexpectedly, some sadness popped during a powerful hip opener (they say the hips is where we store a lot of our emotional baggage) but I resolved to stay present, watching and not judging the mechanics of my mind. These feelings inevitably passed and by the end of the practice I was in a completely different headspace, feeling both calm and content.
Yin yoga helps to bring us back to the self, as it provides a silent 'space' for the mind and body to reconnect. Of course it takes courage to let go and to just 'be' in the moment, so you may find your first few classes difficult and even distressing at times. But I urge you to persist with this practice because eventually the ego will let go and you will find peace in the present. Yin is fundamental for a balanced life as it enables you to counter the constant movement with stillness and self-connection.
Steve Heath is one of those rare yogis who truly teaches from the heart and creates a profound experience for his students. His teacher training method was no different, as he not only guided us through the practicalities of running a Yin class (types of poses, length of holds) but also the personalisation of the practice. This is a man that really understands the power of yoga to reconnect one with the self; the postures are not the primary focus, they are just vehicles to exercise mind control and to access the depths of the unconscious. What became clear was that whilst a yoga teacher physically does less in a yin class than say a Hatha class (with regards to adjustments, cues and demonstrations), they have to work harder to create the right environment. Vocals- including tone, pace and pitch - are particularly key in helping people find stillness. If you're rushing through your sentences then they may start to mirror this feeling by hurrying out of postures. Yin is a very personal journey and in order to lead a successful session you need to become less of a teacher and more of a facilitator, guiding people through this intense but incredible experience. Steve expertly balanced mid-pose facts and quotes with silence; he both inspired and encouraged us whilst giving us the necessary space for deep self-discovery.
Steve's workshop was my first experience of Feel Hot Yoga in Watford (there's also a St. Albans branch too). The friendly staff are incredibly passionate about what they do and despite only being there for a day, I felt a real sense of community amongst the studio regulars. I've already signed up for my introductory trial (£25 for 10 days unlimited classes in either studio), and I'm tempted to try back-to-back classes to kick-start my autumnal health drive. Anyone with me?
For a truly empowering mind and body 'refresh' I'd recommend trying out one of Steve's Hot Yin classes:
-Hot Yin Flow (75 mins) Wednesdays 18:15 @ Feel Hot Yoga St. Albans
-Hot Yin Yoga (75 mins) Sundays 17:00 @ Feel Hot Yoga Watford
-Feel Hot Yoga- http://feelhotyoga.co.uk/
-YinYoga: Yin/Yang Tissues- http://www.yinyoga.com/ys1_0.2_yinyang_tissues.php
-Bernie Clark: Yin Yoga: http://www.yinyoga.com/bernie_clark.php
-If you want to learn more about Yin Yoga I would recommend reading Bernie Clark’s ‘The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga’: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Complete-Guide-Yoga-Bernie-Clark/dp/1935952501