Armor On, Armor Off: The Psychology Of Yin Yoga For Today
Yin yoga, to an outside observer, looks simple. But I say without hesitation that yin yoga is anything but easy; although, I admit it looks easy. People appear to be sleeping, or basking in repose to catch their breath for the next warrior flow series. Something is happening, but it’s not sleep.
To Americans, enamored by action, action, and more action, a group of people engaged in rest and reflection is a waste of time. Yin yoga might remind them of their kindergarten days when the nap happened just after milk and cookies. But the process of yin yoga is one of opening, which takes time to fully experience and understand.
When I started yin, teachers directed me to release muscular control and find bodily support by use of props. At first, I thought it was easy too. They assured all of us that we were doing good work, releasing control so the facia tissue in our bodies could be treated by slow, careful stretches.
I wanted to know more about fascia so I started by researching articles on Dr. Russell Schierling’s “Facia Superpost,” http://www.doctorschierling.com/blog/the-fascia-scar-tissue-super-post-all-of-my-scientific-articles-on-fascia-and-scar-tissue-organized-and-in-one-place. Here I found good information, but I needed to experience it too.
I continued reading and practicing yin for several months. I thought I was doing what I needed to with muscular release and letting the fascia move and communicate internally. Then I started teaching yin at MOTTO yoga, the Arizona studio where I teach and hold workshops.
Before long, I realized the great challenge in yin is mental and psychological. I came to understand that the foundational principle of yin – and all yoga – is the key to its psychology and its physicality: to surrender, let go, release, relinquish.
Psychologically, the bodily surrender in yin is the key to everything. Early on, we may think we are surrendering and releasing muscular control, but there are so many levels of doing so that it may take a long time before we truly surrender to the moment and the pose.
In my training as a counselor and ritual leader, I read Angel in Armor: A Post-Freudian Perspective on the Nature of Man [sic], by Ernest Becker. He wrote that all of us go through life shouldering protective armor and that like the knights of the medieval age, this armor is heavy. It weighs us down, hinders our agility physically and psychologically, and keeps us looking outward in a protective posture against threat; this habitual looking outward handicaps our ability to look inward. This is why yin is so hard; its focus is internal.
In yin, when one finally removes character armor and goes to a deeper point of release, one feels the stretch in a new way. At this point it’s easy to understand the psychology of yin because when one stretches deeper into the pose, and feels sensation, the heavy armor we stubbornly cling to is momentarily put aside. By actively tuning into the body sensation of stress, someone, something, some place, some time, some event, or some feeling comes to the fore.
This is the working psychology of yin yoga. The deep release and flex take us to that person, thing, place, time, event, feeling and we lean into it in order to release from it. This doesn’t happen in one session, but we return and revisit in order to let it go more and more. It is stunning when we realize what is happening. We don’t ask for something to come forward, we remain open and what we need to heal appears.
This is the great gift of yin. When the armor is removed, we are presented with what we have been protecting or holding on to. To let this go is to de-armorize. We may even come to the freeing and incredible realization that the angel – which is us – no longer needs armor. The tightness in back, neck, jaw, shoulders, front of body can be set at ease. Take a big breath and let it out slowly. That’s what it feels like, only on a permanent basis.
As this happens over time, we come face to face with a second principle of yin yoga and that is trust. To trust the process one must be open to being opened. This is frightening to us, for it means losing the armor; and without armor, we are vulnerable both emotionally and psychologically.
This is especially difficult in our day because we are surrounded by a culture awash in threat and violence. Need proof? Turn on the nightly news for just a few minutes and observe how your armor goes up. A second place you can check your armor is in the car. Lets say you are driving and are in a stressful situation. Stop for a moment and notice where you are tight.
Most of us will do anything to avoid going inward to brush up against this kind of vulnerable, trusting, open existence. And this is why most of us are running around like chickens without heads and consumed by action, action, and more action. It’s far easier to bury oneself in a vigorous action prone asana series than it is to release character armor and come home. But in yin we relearn that home is where the heart truly is. And where the heart is, heartache is also present.
When we take the armor off, even for a 60 minute yin yoga class, we enter healing territory. Relieved from the burden of carrying our protective shell, we touch something we are protecting or something we are protecting ourselves from. This is held in our bodies, in our facia, and in our minds.
In yin, we are invited to release the stress, to drop the armor, and we are invited home through surrender and trust with openness to the heart of this healing psychology. Give it time and trust that yin will take you beyond the ties that bind fascia and our hearts, to the healing chord of connection.
Becker, Ernest. Angel in Armor: a Post-Freudian Perspective on the Nature of Man. Free Press, 1975.
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