A Journey to Yin
Whether you like the physical aspects of strength building and stretching or the spiritual connection to yourself that it may induce, we all have our own story to tell - By Sarah Alice Lee
Reading time: 6 minutes
Everybody’s journey to the yoga mat is different, as is the experience of the practice of yoga itself. Whether you like the physical aspects of strength building and stretching or the spiritual connection to yourself that it may induce, we all have our own story to tell.
My Journey to Yin Yoga was fraught with an internal battle. I liked to sweat, I liked to move and create fire in my body even when it came to Yoga. I used to be such an exercise addict, craving that sweet serotonin release that comes with a good workout. I was that person who would never sit still. So, the idea of walking into a dimly lit room with relaxing music and for a meditative practice involving sitting still in poses for three to five minutes seemed like the wrong avenue for a hyper gal like me. Then I lived through the Christchurch Earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 and everything changed. The big quakes in themselves were quite the experience but it was the thousands of aftershocks that took their toll on the body. To have constant raised levels of adrenalin, always in that fight or flight mode, resulted in toxic levels of the stress hormone cortisol in my tissues. My physical health and mental health declined rapidly. No amount of running or consumption of wine seemed to achieve a state of relaxation or equilibrium in my body that I was so desperately needing. It felt like I was surviving rather than living. Desperate to find some reprieve I let go of my assumptions of Yin and stepped on to my mat. I finally listened to my body and I understood that I needed to go deeper. Rather than keeping busy, trying to sweep my emotions and stresses under the rug in order to get through each day, I gave myself permission to be still, to stop running, stop with the distractions, stop the numbing and allow myself to feel, truly connect to me. But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself with my story and should explain what Yin is.
There is Yin energy and its opposite Yang energy in everything, from the elements of fire and water to the expression of moods such as ecstasy and sobriety. It refers to the balance in life originating from the teachings Chinese Daoism. Yoga adopted the application of Yin and Yang energies. Yang yoga such as Hatha and Vinyasa draw heat into the body through the exercising of the muscles. Yin is a cooling practice that accesses the joints, tendons, ligaments and deep fascial networks (the connective tissues of the body), and even the bones stressing them passively to achieve a deep stretch in the body.
On a physical level, the practice of holding Yin poses allows increased circulation to the joints allowing oxygen to get deep into the connective tissues which heals, rejuvenates, and energises the body, as well as achieve an improved level of flexibility. If you are looking to compliment your hot yoga practice by inviting more openness into the body you will love this practice.
But there is more to Yin than just a good stretch. It is improving the connection you have to your body on a deeper platform that can be challenging to articulate. When you sit in deep sensation during a pose and you find that edge where you are no longer in your comfort zone and suddenly your breath becomes the only important focus, you find yourself fully present in the moment. No thoughts of yesterday, projections of the future, those busy thoughts that occupy our minds from the moment we wake up to when we go to sleep and even then, our subconscious has a way of allowing our worries to penetrate our dreams. In these moments of sensation through postures, the awareness of the body takes over and you can find that blissful disconnection from everything else and a reconnection to the true you.
There is also the releasing of the “issues in the tissues” and this is where my story ties in. The tissues of the body store our emotions. Every thought you have leads to a physical reaction of the body. You have a fright and the body releases adrenalin, you become stressed and there is that cortisol. Our bodies are very clever things, the body seeks to achieve balance (hello Yin and Yang) so if the Sympathetic Nervous System is in control (fight or flight– Yang) the Para-sympathetic Nervous System kicks in to act as the counterbalance (rest and digest - Yin). But when one system is in use more than the other the body struggles to regain the balance. The practice of Yin addresses this imbalance, enabling the release of toxins and hormones to be processed rather than being stored in the body.
The message I’m trying to share is that Yin really did save me when I needed it and has shaped my lifestyle choices since. I learnt to be at ease with stillness, I learnt how to approach my practice from a place of non-judgement and acquire self-compassion. I practiced that it was okay to sit with my emotions and that it was acceptable to not be productive every minute of the day, that I was allowed to just be and let things be. I welcomed rest and I embraced all versions of myself that showed up on the mat. Whether you are looking to manage your stress levels, find reprieve from a busy schedule and find some you time, have an emotional release or maybe you just want to condition your body to find a more open dancers pose. Whatever your journey may be, you are welcome to the mat. A safe space, a non-judgemental practice where you allow your breath and body guide you to a depth that suits you.