Yin Yoga is a practice where you hold postures for longer periods of times – usually 2-5 minutes, sometimes longer, and mainly on the floor, so that your body is totally supported by the ground and there is very little muscular effort required. However, the requirement to feel your body, and to feel the stress or tension or stretch is paramount. By feeling into our bodies, we are forced to come aware of them and their sensations. I remember when I first started practicing yin, this was a revelation. I was used to ‘performing’ in a yoga class where I built up a sweat, and where I ‘did’ the pose, by copying others, and by following the teacher’s aesthetic cues, (feet together, elbows in, knees hugging in). There had been very few (none???) classes up ‘til now which centred on where to feel the sensations in my body and what they might feel like. When I started Yin, I was introduced to tension versus compression, and began to understand the difference between good and bad pain. Feeling my body and becoming aware of it changed my yoga practice and changed how I felt about my body. It was and still is transformational. Suddenly, I started to feel and value my body. I realised that it didn’t matter what the pose looked like, it was my internal journey, how and where I felt it. I didn’t have to be validated by the teacher “looking good Cal”, I just had to listen to myself. And more gradually this listening to myself became my centre point, not only in my physical practice but in my whole approach to life. (How you do one thing is how you do everything). I am still learning and still educating myself, but with it comes enormous freedom and liberation.
Obviously, there are times when I revert to being worried about what other people think of me and what I should be ‘doing’ to ‘fit in’. This is my default, my learned, or my conditioned state, and it rears its ugly head particularly in times when I feel stressed or anxious. But I am sure I am not alone. I feel our society is focused to an large extent on fitting in with the norm, even though it pretends to value the individual; happy childhood (whatever that is), good education, keeping healthy, keeping fit, looking good, earning money, finding a partner, having children, being the perfect parent, and if we deviate too far from this, then we are judged, or worse, people feel sorry for us or don’t understand us. (“I just don’t understand why she can’t lose weight”)The more money one earns the more successful one is deemed to be, so nice car, house (maybe 2), all the mod cons, holidays – too many people are impressed with these trimmings .They all look so great from the outside. But what about the inside. There have been so many studies to show that once we start earning a certain amount of money, any more does not make us happier. There is a 100-year study, over multiple generations which shows that happiness has nothing to do with money or success, but more to do with forging REAL and AUTHENTIC relationships. These are relationships where we can feel our emotions and express ourselves, without being belittled or fearful of showing our true selves. Sometimes our true selves are very different from the successful, nice, fun loving image we want to project.
So, going back to Yin Yoga – we so easily override our bodily sensations, so much so that most of us are not aware of it. It, being the body, is a separate entity which is often berated for not being strong enough, thin enough, agile enough, open enough, or is too pudgy, fat, weak, hunched, gloopy, adjectives which are either negative or are about lack.
But our body is a fountain of feedback. As well as being a Yoga Teacher (primarily yin) I am an acupuncturist and Chinese Medicine Doctor. Observation is one of the tenants of the clinic. Not just ‘what’ someone is saying, but the tone of their voice, how they enunciate their words, their skin tone, their seemingly invisible split second ‘leaks’ of emotion. This betrays their feelings far more than the conscious stream of words. But in our Western World, a celebration of speed, busyness, achieving eternal youth and outward appearances, we bypass all this valuable information. It is deemed worthless in a world which values doing over being. We don’t really take stock, we don’t really listen to the people around us, and we don’t really ‘see’ the people either.
Often, in clinic I am not listening to words of my patients, but how they talk about their symptoms, their minutiae displays of emotion on their faces, a hardening of the eyes, a flicker, a pursing of the lips, a flush of their cheeks, a clench of their teeth, a flair of the nostril. I observe how they hold themselves, open, hunched, the tilting of their head, jerky or fluid movements, hand gestures; is what they are saying congruent with their demeanour and actions? All these things are obvious if they are just that, obvious. But it takes a skill to go inwards, and to slow down time and to ‘see’ beyond the obvious. This gives me far more information than what the patient says, and I can only do this with the practice of slowing down and truly observing.
Going inward also allows us to understand ourselves far more; our reactions, our judgements, our prejudices, and our conditioning. We start to break our illusions of others, and of ourselves, whether good or bad, and start to see people and ourselves for what they and we really are; we start to have authentic relationships. We validate from inside, rather than allowing the judgements of others to determine our thoughts and actions. We are able to know what is ok, wrong or right for us, without rigidity, but fluidly, and with an awareness of this continually changing; something which is ok in one context is not in another. Everything is in relation to everything else, and the only constant is change.
So, in these extraordinary times, where outward distraction, work, job, socialisation is greatly reduced, this propagates the perfect time to go inwards and to slow down. The normal rushing from job to social gathering to art class, to yoga class, to Pilates, to picking up the kids, to music lessons is greatly reduced. Take this opportunity (there will be none like it) to go Yinwards. Obviously Yin yoga does just this, and for me was a great Segway to meditation, but you can just start to do things which require patience and skill, from baking, gardening, art, puzzle making, stitching, sewing, maybe just sitting and observing. Start to feel and listen to your internal rhythms, your breath, your heartbeat, your intuition; yourselves.
I should mention should you wish to try Yin – I am teaching on line classes via Zoom – find on www.yogainthebigsmoke/classes Only £5 per class / household and we will practice as a virtual community. Cassall – the stylish Swedish brand are offering a 20% discount on all their products and I highly recommend their blocks, straps and bolsters to aid you in this magical practice.