What I Learned About Myself From Practicing Yin Yoga
Each time I practice yin yoga, the teacher asks if there is anyone new in class. There are always a few. Then she asks if they have practiced yin yoga before, and usually she is greeted with silence.
While yin yoga isn't the most common form of yoga practice (yet), I believe it will become much more sought after. Here's why.
What is yin yoga?
If you haven't heard about yin yoga before, it's the practice of holding each pose for about three minutes, for up to 20 minutes. Simple, right? Wrong!
I love a good yoga flow class where I'm challenged physically, mentally, and sometimes emotionally. I find gentle yoga somewhat boring and much prefer a fast-paced class filled with challenging sequences and stretches. So when I injured my left intercostal muscles, I was disappointed to have to take a break from my yoga practice.
Roll on a few months later, after recuperation, I decided to gently reintroduce an easier yoga practice that wouldn't aggravate my ribs. In walks yin yoga.
A gentle practice—with a twist.
I had no idea what to expect, but I thought the name "yin" suggested a softer practice. My preconceptions of having a gentle, easier practice were soon diminished after the first pose. Butterfly pose had never previously been a challenge to me and for the first minute or so it was fine. Two minutes in and I started noticing an old sciatic injury starting to complain. The last minute seemed to last a lifetime. The level of discomfort was palpable and while there was no pain as such, my body was screaming "get me out of this."
The subsequent poses offered more or less the same levels of discomfort, and it always seemed to be around the one-minute-thirty-second mark that my body would decide it had had enough. Of course, there was no option to end the poses early.
After all, giving in to my body's childlike demands was definitely not the answer. The only option was to sit out (literally) the last part of the three minutes. And while my teacher advised us never to remain in pain during a pose, discomfort was expected.
I often felt like I couldn't do it.
During this time, it was so interesting observing my body, my mind chatter, and my overall demeanor. My body would be the first to want to give up. My muscles would start to tense and I'd have to consciously release them and tell my body to relax. Everything is OK. My mind would then kick in.
I can't do this; this is too hard; I'll never last the full three minutes. I felt like a boxer in the ring, but I was fighting a battle against myself. Finally I'd start to feel irritated, grumpy, and annoyed.
I realized this scenario was like a microcosm of what happens anytime I am experiencing discomfort on any level—physical, mental, or emotional—in my life. Depending on the level of discomfort, my reaction might be milder, but it always comes in the same form. My body complains and I experience tension, low energy, tiredness, aches and pains, or even illness. My mind starts to serve me all the reasons why I can't do something and starts to work up escape options. And my mood reflects this as I begin to feel angry, frustrated, and stressed.
I was able to observe my thoughts in a completely different way.
I've been practicing sitting meditation for years, so I was already aware of observing my emotions. Through yin yoga, however, when I consciously placed myself in a position of discomfort and remained there, I found it so interesting to observe the process taking place over the course of three minutes. It was like placing myself under a microscope. So now, when faced with challenging situations on or off the mat, I reply to that voice that shouts I can't do this. I take a deep breath, smile, and say, It's OK; you can do this, and you're stronger than you know.