This week, I had the wonderful opportunity to take my very first Yin Yoga class.
I have been practicing yoga, sometimes regularly and sometime sporadically, for the last seven years; however, I had never taken a Yin Yoga class.
I recently signed up at a studio for a month of classes, and I decided to check out their Yin Yoga class.
I am so glad I did.
As someone totally new to Yin Yoga, I was in for a few surprises.
I showed up to class with an open mind, but nothing could have prepared me for what would unfold.
Here are three things I learned from my first class.
I hope they will encourage you to try out Yin Yoga, if you haven’t already.
Prepare to Really Slow Down
Yin Yoga borrows its name from the yin/yang concept in Daoist (or Taoist) philosophy, one of the great philosophical traditions of ancient China, a philosophy that sought to understand how balance and harmony are manifested and sustained in the world.
Ancient Chinese philosophers made the observation that things in the world had both “yin” (dark) and “yang” (light) qualities.
Yin and yang are not perfect opposites, because they exist within each other.
They can be thought of as the two sides of one coin, existing together.
They may differ but they complement each other.
They cannot exist separate from each other or without each other.
A state of balance is when things are neither yin nor yang.
However, we live in a world of dualities and extremes, and this means we may not be able to attain a state of perfect balance, but we can strive for and experience harmony of we make sure to not be extremely yin or yang.
Examples of yin qualities or objects are water, the moon, matter, female, dark, cold, slow, passive.
Examples of Yang qualities or objects are fire, the sun, energy, male, light, hot, fast, active.
It is important to keep in mind that yin/yang does not give rise to perfect opposed pairs or dichotomies; because things can take on more yin or yang qualities, depending on their context or situation.
For instance, water is yin, but when heated, it becomes hot and boils over, taking on more yang properties.
Yin Yoga, as opposed to more yang styles of yoga, is slow.
The postures are held for long lengths of time, from a few minutes to as long as feels comfortable for each practitioner.
Yin Yoga, at its core, is meant to really slow down the practice and allow the body to settle into the postures.
The postures feel earthy and grounding, and may feel feminine and nurturing.
Yin Yoga targets yin tissues in the body, which includes the deeper connective tissues like ligaments, cartilage, and fascia, and also targets the bones and joints.
The internal organs and nervous system are also stimulated.
Holding the poses for a long time allows the benefits of the stretches to reach deep into the body, bringing enhanced energy flows and flexibility deep into these connective tissues and organs.
In my first Yin Yoga class, I was shocked by the slowness of the practice.
I wanted to rush through the poses.
I had to really slow my movement and transitions down.
It took some time, but once I was able to let go of the habit of rushing, I could enjoy the poses more and feel the deep stretching taking place within my body.
The stretches felt more intense the longer I stayed within each pose.
I was surprised to find such intensity in basic poses like happy baby pose (ananda balasana) or melting heart (anahatasana).
The poses seemed deceptively easy and uncomplicated, but remaining in them for a long time was by no means easy.
The sensation, however, upon releasing each pose was one of pure release and refreshment.
Prepare for a Possible Welling Up of Emotions
We rush through life so much, rarely slowing down in a meaningful way and rarely pausing for great lengths of time.
We are used to powering ourselves up and being constantly on-the-go.
And even when we want to slow down, our professional and personal responsibilities force us to stay fired up and ready for action.
The result of all this speed is that we don’t get the chance to slow down long enough to process whatever we might be feeling.
We easily lose touch with our true thoughts and emotions about various issues or events in our lives.
We build up tension in our bodies, as we chug along, day in and day out.
So don’t be surprised that, in your Yin Yoga class, as you slow your body down and stretch it mindfully and unhurriedly, some of of your stored thoughts or pent up emotions begin to surface.
It’s nothing to worry about.
Simply bring your focus back to the postures or poses, and let your mind and heart be lovingly present for whatever thoughts or feelings wash over you, without being too preoccupied with them.
Always bring your awareness back to your body and the stretches you are doing, keeping in mind that your body/mind has a complete wisdom of it’s own, a wisdom you can rely on.
You can trust that your body is releasing and processing what it needs to, especially when you slow down long enough to give it the time to do so.
During my Yin Yoga class, I felt some old emotions and frustrations rise up within me, but as I brought my focus back to my breath and my stretching, I felt a sense of peacefulness and acceptance.
Prepare to Rest After Class
Though the class might not feel like as intense a workout as other “yang” styles of yoga, be ready to feel exhausted after class.
Don’t assume that just because you are not doing a ton of movement and sweating it out you will not be tired afterwards.
After my class, I felt pretty tired, but I also felt relaxed.
I felt some fatigue but also felt ready to rest, and I did have a great night of sleep after the class.
I am sure the class made all the difference in my quality of sleep.
So don’t be alarmed if the class makes you feel like you had a full workout.
It is, in fact, a deep work out, with the stretches reaching deep into the body, stretching the joints and deep connective tissues of the body in ways that they may not have experienced in a very long time.
Plan to rest after class, and plan to thoroughly enjoy it.
And return for another Yin Yoga class, when you are ready!
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