What is Yin Yoga?
So whether you are new to Yin Yoga and you want to learn Yin sort of from the ground up, or whether you’ve tried Yin Yoga and want to dive deeper, you will want to check out this episode.
So, yin yoga has been quietly gaining popularity over, I would say, probably at least the last decade and a half, if not longer, but there still seems to be some confusion oftentimes as to what yin yoga actually is.
So what is Yin Yoga? How is it different from other styles of yoga that you might’ve practiced?
And why would someone want to practice Yin Yoga?
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Yin yoga is a quiet, contemplative practice. A couple of yin yoga’s nicknames are the quiet yoga and the meditative yoga. So just a very brief little bit of history.
The practices closely related to yin yoga have been practiced for centuries in China Taoism, sometimes known as Taoyin. Taoist priests have taught this knowledge along with breathing techniques to Kung Fu practitioners since the 5th century before Christ.
However, most of the yin yoga that we know of and think of today is a style of yoga that was codified by my teacher, Paul Grilley. It’s based on a blend of poses that Paul learned from his teacher, Paulie Zink. I know this might get confusing for a moment. So my teacher, Paul Grilley, Mr. Yin Yoga, Zink, Was the gentleman who introduced Paul to some Yin Yoga.
Let’s try to keep Paul and Paulie separate here. So it’s a blend of what he learned from Paulie Zink and Paul’s own years of studying and teaching other forms of yoga. Paul Grilley, my teacher. saw Paulie Zink, the Kung Fu master, perform and was [00:03:00] taken by his flexibility.
Master Zink began his martial arts as a teenager, but while in college, Paulie or Mr. Zink, Master Zink met a Kung Fu master from Hong Kong. And that master’s name was Cho Chat Ling. My apologies, my Mandarin pronunciation is probably not accurate. And Master Cho made Paulie his protege. So that’s a little bit about how it started.
My teacher Paul saw Paulie Zink perform and was like, Whoa, what’s going on there with all that. And my interview with Paul Grilly, he talks more about this, you can listen to that one if you want the full story, and decided to start studying with him. So at the time, Paulie Zink was teaching out of his garage to a handful of students.
He would first teach some stretching or the yin part, and then he would do some martial [00:04:00] arts. And then over a year or so, Paul practiced the first half of the sessions, the stretching, and then would leave. Um, when it came time, to do the martial arts segments. So that’s a bit of sort of its origin story.
Since then, yin yoga has been expanded even more by some of Paul Grilley’s senior teachers. Paul Grilley has refused to trademark yin yoga and is really very open to his teachers expanding on his teachings being creative and doing what works for them and for their students. So originally yin yoga, the shapes were mostly focused on the lower half of the body from the lower back or the lumbar spine down.
However, many of us teachers that he trained, Paul’s kind of senior or experienced teachers, fell in love with this way of practicing, finding it so therapeutic and felt like the upper body could also benefit. So a lot of Paul’s students, myself included, have added these shapes that benefit the upper body as well in our yin practice.
Yin yoga is characterized by the relaxed practice of floor-based shapes and may include the support of props, depending on the practitioner. And I’ll probably have a whole episode or two on props and whether or not you should use them, why you should use them, especially for those of you that are teachers and think that you can’t use props in yin yoga, nay nay, that is not the truth.
Even Paul says that’s a ludicrous idea. that’s a rant for another time. But some students will use props, some won’t, and it really depends on the body, the pose, the day of the week, et cetera, et cetera.
These long-held shapes invite in a deep release and a new sense of [00:06:00] spaciousness and relaxation in the body.
Yin yoga is a quiet, more meditative form of yoga. And this can be deeply restful to our nervous system. Just the act of actually slowing down can be so therapeutic. And so in this way, yin yoga can help us move out of our fight, flight, freeze aspect of our nervous system known as the sympathetic aspect of our nervous system.
And it can coax us into the relaxation response, what’s sometimes called the rest and digest response. Or our parasympathetic nervous system.
In yin yoga, we gently coax the mind to be present and aware through this stillness and the sensations [00:07:00] that may come up in the body. This helps us to build mental resiliency from the inside out.
So then, what makes a pose a yin pose? That’s a really good question. They have a few characteristics in common. They’re floor-based postures. They have long holds and stillness. Now the stillness isn’t, you know, like you’re a stone sculpture. Of course, you’re always able to move and adjust and adapt your pose, grab a prop, shift your grip, etc.
But we note that there’s a real difference between that kind of stillness and fidgeting or flowing. So we’re not moving. We’re still, we relax into the shape. And then we use props to support the body when needed. And again, this is optional depending on the person and the pose and their needs.[00:08:00] It’s also worth noting that practicing floor-based shapes and then holding them for minutes at a time isn’t actually a brand-new way to practice. Rather, it’s actually quite old. If you look at older yoga books, like even from the seventies or the sixties, You will notice that the recommended hold times, especially for floor-based postures, are actually long.
Even in Light on Yoga, which is often referred to as sort of an asana bible or, a resource for many yoga teachers. Whether or not that’s a good thing, that’s a story for another time. Um, but even if you look at Light on Yoga by BKS Iyengar, there are long hold times listed, especially in the floor-based postures.
But at some point in the nineties, maybe even before then, definitely in the nineties, [00:09:00] yoga started to pick up speed in the West. Starting in the States and Canada, and probably, I’m guessing, around the same time in Europe, if not shortly after, and Australia, etc. And as it did, it was the quick-moving, dynamic, flowing, more fitness-orientated styles of yoga that became popular.
So it was all about sweating, moving quickly, pushing yourself, challenging, etc. Those are the styles that were readily embraced. So the quiet, less flashy styles sort of dropped into the background, but they were always there. They were just out of the spotlight in the shadows.
So [00:10:00] whereas a Yin class, as opposed to these sort of movement, dynamic flowing styles of yoga include long-held passive floor base shapes that were originally the lower half. Again, I mentioned like hips, pelvis, thighs, and lower spine, and these areas are really rich and connective tissue. I mentioned also that some of Paul’s teachers have adapted this practice to include the upper body as well.
One thing to note though, is that on average, the fascia and the connective tissues in the upper body isn’t as dense and sturdy so on average, we don’t hold the upper body poses typically as long as we would the lower body poses. Also worth noting is that the hold times can be flexible in Yin.
, I would say for the [00:11:00] average dropping class, you’re looking at two to five minutes, perhaps, but sometimes longer, especially if the person is quite experienced in YIN. So I know experienced practitioners will often hold things for longer than five minutes. Um, but I wouldn’t start that way.
You’re new to yin, start with kind of two to five and you gradually add time. I often get this question from the teachers that I train, you know, when do you know it’s time to increase the length of hold in a shape? And my answer is usually when you’re no longer really feeling, the linger or the resonance of the pose in your body in the same way that you used to.
And we’ll talk more about that in a moment. So longer hold times for experienced practitioners, are not unusual, but on average. When I teach a drop-in class, I’m going for that two to five-minute range. Yin is almost entirely passive or at least as passive as you can be and still maintain the shape. So obviously we can’t relax all of our muscles and tissues.
Or we would just flop on the floor. We wouldn’t be able to hold the shape, but we want to use as little effort as possible to maintain the shape. So in Yin, we’re relaxing the muscles around the connective tissue as much as we can to benefit that connective tissue. And if you’re new to this whole fascia business, if you’re like, I don’t really understand what fascia is.
Again, that could be a whole podcast and will be a whole podcast episode in the future. But for now, you can think of it sort of like shrink wrap or you know, the plastic stuff you’d put over food, saran wrap, shrink wrap, something like that around your muscles and your bones. When this connective tissue is underused, it becomes less elastic, which can lead to aches and stiffness.
And if that keeps going, it can actually lead to possible injury. [00:13:00] So I work a lot with folks that have back pain, and sometimes with back pain, there’s a bit of a chicken and the egg situation. Sometimes it’s an injury, right, that they’ve got, but sometimes it’s just this nagging creeping in ache and pain in their backs.
That kind of started slowly and built up over the years to the point where now it’s actually causing injury because the tissues have become so tight, the connective tissues, that they’re not allowing the person to fully move their spine in the ways that it was genetically Designed to move.
This is a quote by my teacher, Paul. If you gently stretch connective tissue by holding a yin pose for a long time, the body will respond by making them a little longer and stronger, which is exactly what we want.
This is why yin is so different from than movement forms of yoga. When you spend this time with your connective tissue, with these deeper tissues of the body, And then you come out of a yin shape, that feeling is incredibly unique. And although I can describe it in words, it won’t really do it justice. So when you come out of a yin shape, it’s not at all unusual to feel this urge to move really slowly, really mindfully, to feel temporarily vulnerable or fragile in your body.
It can be a bit of a moaner and a bit of a groaner when you come out and it’s a very unique sensation that you don’t typically get. In a movement form of yoga, do you get in a style of yoga like restorative it’s very unique to yin. It’s one of yin yoga superpowers. And so typically what we’ll do is we will come out slowly and mindfully and then we take frequent [00:15:00] rests in a yin practice.
Small rests perhaps between sides, longer rests when you’ve done a few poses back to back or if you’ve done a pose that’s had a longer hold then you would do a longer rest. I remember Very clearly, my very first yin yoga workshop with Paul Grilley in 2007, I remember the first day of practice. And now I was actually from the Iyengar tradition.
So holding things for a longer amount of time, wasn’t that new to me, but holding them for that amount of time in a passive way, was new to me. And I remember thinking when I was in the practice, Oh, this is going to be one of these yoga workshops where I’m going to be sore for three days after. And then I left that practice the first day.
As I was walking down the street, there was a sense of spaciousness in my body that I had never felt before. There was [00:16:00] a sense of flow and movement in my, particularly in my lower back and my hips. That just felt incredible. It’s like I was walking differently. My gait was different. It really, really noticeably affected me even after that first, first day of the workshop.
And so it was very unique. It was not something I had ever experienced before.
And so that is a key element of the yin practice. And this is why it’s great, especially for those of you who are teachers, if you are not giving your students little time to rest and to notice these states in our, in their bodies and to allow them to feel like they’re familiar self again before they’re moving into the next shape.
That is, in my opinion, a big mistake. This is a key element of the yin practice. because of yin yoga’s long holds and relative stillness and the quiet of this [00:17:00] practice, It’s also a unique opportunity to work with the mind. And again, we’ll probably do many podcasts on the mind and yin in the future.
But for now, let’s just go over this briefly. In a more active or movement form of yoga, a lot of people find it easier to stay in the present moment. For a couple of reasons, one, the teacher’s talking a lot. And so they had the teacher’s voice to focus their mind on. And then they’re taking those words that the teacher’s saying, and they’re assimilating them in their brain.
And then they’re trying to make their body do those things that the teacher just said. And this can make it a little bit easier to stay present. In fact, anyone who’s practiced a movement form of yoga and kind of let their mind blank out for a moment will know that when you don’t, it’s not very graceful.
So that’s required in these dynamic movement forms of yoga in order to practice so that you can move from one shape to the [00:18:00] next and not fall over. But in yin yoga, it’s not a workout, it’s a work in. And it gives us this time and space to drop into our body and our heart and our mind. And just to mention, I know as Westerners, we often separate the heart And the mind like they’re two separate things, but in traditional Chinese medicine, those are interconnected.
Those are, the same heart-mind is your shen
In a yin practice, once we’re in the shape, as opposed to a more movement style of yoga, there isn’t that much externally to focus on, right? So we’re not having to assimilate directions and replicate them in our bodies so that we don’t fall over. And so if we’re not being skillful, the chatter [00:19:00] of the mind can take over.
Most of the skilled yin teachers that I know also keep their talking to a minimum. That doesn’t mean they don’t talk at all in class. But they allow plenty of space for silence and for the students to practice these more meditative, um, contemplative aspects of yin. And so because of this, this can often be the most difficult part of a yin practice.
The physical shapes themselves aren’t often the most challenging part of a yin practice. They’re very simple, functional shapes, nothing fancy, nothing that’s going to cause a lot of stress or strain, just, you know, basic shapes. And so although yin yoga is delightfully simple, that does not mean that it’s easy.
In fact, it’s challenging, very challenging, but in a very [00:20:00] different way. I notice this often in the studios where I teach classes. that I teach for the general public, that people will sometimes come to a yin class because they are looking for a class that’s more chill, or I’m doing air quotes here for those of you listening, a gentle class, which I think is a bit of a misnomer.
I don’t know if you could necessarily say that yin is gentle. I guess it would depend on how you define gentle. So if you define gentle as you know, you’re not moving and sweating and strengthening your core or standing on your head or standing around on one foot, then yes, in that sense, it’s gentle. But for many of us sitting still and dealing with our mind while we’re in these shapes.
feels anything but easy or gentle.
So again, it’s a delightfully simple [00:21:00] practice, but not easy. So if you’re in a yin shape and you notice that there’s thinking and planning and list writing and analyzing and obsessing and storytelling and judging your experience and daydreaming and itching and bitching and twitching, welcome to being human.
This is totally normal in a yin practice or a meditation practice for that matter. And every single human being has some version of this experience. I hate to break it to you, but it’s not just you. You’re not, it’s not like everybody else can meditate. Everybody else can clear their mind and you’re the only one who has a busy brain.
That is a lie that you are telling yourself. Every single person has a busy brain. This is part of our human experience and the way our cultures run, it just amps that up even more. So first of all, just know that. If your mind is really busy when you’re in a yin practice, if it’s [00:22:00] doing all of those things repeatedly, that’s normal, that’s human.
Welcome to the human family. We all have a busy brain. We all have different subject matter and some days are easier than others to stay present. Having a busy brain, is not unusual, not rare, in fact, the norm. So dealing with the mind in this practice. Can take patience and some self-compassion because thinking that you’re just going to quickly drop into a yin pose and stop thinking is Very unrealistic and you are setting yourself up for massive disappointment.
First of all, we’re not trying to not think. We’re just trying to be present which is different in fact the best way to think is to try not to think.
In my humble opinion, a skilled teacher can and should address this mental aspect for the [00:23:00] students in class And when I say address it, I don’t mean talk and offer lots of quotes and themes so that the student has something that you’re saying to focus their mind on. That is not what I’m talking about.
In fact, that’s just encouraging the same behaviour. Not that I’m saying you can’t talk in a yin class, but the words need to be there intentionally for a purpose and for a reason. So if you’re a teacher, it is a good skill to develop, to discuss the mind, especially if you have people that are brand new to the practice.
And to give them some options of things they can do with their mind. Nothing is worse, from my experience, and this happened to me many times when I was a new yogi, than a yoga teacher telling their students, and just come back to being present. , if they knew how to do that, they wouldn’t be struggling.
If they knew how to do that, they probably wouldn’t be in your class. [00:24:00] So give them some tools, some techniques, some anchors that they can bring their mind to again, I’ll do other episodes on the mind. But I do think that as a teacher, if you’re not addressing it, especially when you have new students, you should address it; “By the way, when you’re still and quiet, this is what’s going to happen with your mind this is normal. You’re a human being. It’s okay.”
I remember when I was teaching teacher training for a local, yoga therapy college, one of the students came up to me on the break after our first practice. And she told me. Now, at the time, they actually, at the time, it’s different now, they had to take the Yin as part, it was a mandatory module.
So people had to take it whether they wanted to or not. And she told me that she was dreading taking the yin module and I said, Oh, why? And she said, I went to a yin class once and I didn’t know anything about yin. And I started getting into the poses and as [00:25:00] soon as I became still. Memories came up, emotions came up.
I was sad. I was mad. , my mind wouldn’t stop racing and I hated it. I thought it was a horrible experience. And then she said, but I just did your practice and you told us about the role of the mind. So I knew that this was normal for this stuff to come up and that allowed me to just sit with it and to be present.
And now I don’t hate yin yoga anymore. So I tell that story so that hopefully if you’re a teacher listening to this. You can really understand how important it is when teachers when you’re teaching new people, and I get it if we’re teaching drop-in classes. We don’t always know what people’s experience level is.
I have a hack for that, that I’ll share with you in a moment, but if you have a large percentage of the room, that’s new to yen, just take a few minutes at the beginning while they’re in the first few shapes to say, Hey, here’s what can happen with your mind. And this makes you [00:26:00] normal. Okay. So.
Otherwise, the yin practice just becomes either more stressful for them than they need because they think that their mind is supposed to be calm and still, and they’re not supposed to feel anything, or it just becomes one more opportunity in their week to think and plan and write lists and analyze and obsessively think, which let’s face it, most of us are already experts at.
So I will do an episode on the mind where I get into it a bit more, get into this stuff in-depth, but just as a little teaser. For those of you that are teachers, make sure that you are addressing the mind. One of the things that I do. When it comes to this, is that I will, at the beginning of a drop in class if I’m teaching a class that’s a [00:27:00] registered semester, I don’t need to do this because I know the students, but if it’s a drop in class, I will just at the beginning of class, when they’re lying down, I get them to start lying on their back and constructive rest, I will just say, If you’ve never, ever, ever even done one yin yoga class before if this style is totally new to you, and I make sure to say yin specifically, just put one hand on your belly so that I know, and if you’ve done yin yoga before, let your hands rest at your sides.
So that I have a really quick way to scan the room and visually see, ah, okay, we have a lot of new people today. Definitely, I should do the, what I call the new to yin yoga speech at the very beginning before we move into silence. Or if there’s none, I’ll leave, I’ll usually clarify just to make sure I got this right.
None of you are new to yin. If I got that wrong, stick your hand up, and twinkle your fingers. And if nobody’s new to yin, then I’ll talk a lot less. I might give some reminders about compassion and, patience with their mind, but then I might move into some kind of next-level stuff, right? Some other theories or quotes before we move into silence.
But if the student is, new or there are a lot of new students, I’m definitely going to take just a few minutes at the start to explain what yin yoga is and what can happen with their mind.
Okay. So now that we’ve got a little bit of a framework about how yin is different than movement forms of yoga, I think it’s really helpful to just have some practice guidelines because it is different. And this is helpful for the teachers. And also the students. So, teachers, this is helpful. You can share this with your students.
For the students, it this helpful to have a mental framework, at least of how this practice is going to go. And then they’ll feel it and they’ll be embodied. So the first practice guideline, and some of you may have heard other teachers use different guidelines. I tend to stretch these out and extrapolate a little bit to leave room for subtlety and nuance.
The first guideline is they take the [00:29:00] shape. That’s easy, right? Take the shape. Now, what’s not easy, of course, is, as a teacher, understanding the multitude of different bodies and skeletal variations and issues and injuries and all of that and the many options you can give to become more accessible as a teacher and, you know, alternative shapes that you can give them if that doesn’t work for them, but that’s the podcast again for a whole other time.
So you get your students into the shape, or if you are a practitioner, you get into the shape. And then we want to find relative stillness. And I say relative because partway through the sensation may change. So the sensations that we feel in our body in a yin practice are sort of like a line in the sand.
They’re not carved in stone. They move and they change as the body opens and shifts. In fact, it can be really interesting even to practice In your yin shapes, what does it feel like, um, on an inhale versus an exhale, even how does that feel different? [00:30:00] So the shape will feel a little different. You may need to shift your grip.
You may need to grab a prop. You may do a different version partway through. So the stillness is there, but it’s relative stillness. Again, it’s not stagnation. And then we’re looking for a moderate amount of sensation. One of the hardest things to do as a yin yoga teacher is to encourage your students to back off.
Because they’re so used to that our culture and also styles of yoga, where you’re pushing, striving, competing, efforting, trying to do better than you did last week. And none of that is relevant or even helpful in a yin yoga practice. Deep fascia does not respond to that kind of effort. Deep fascia needs slow, sustained, long holds with [00:31:00] a moderate amount of sensation.
In my training, I’ve heard other teachers say, they say you should tell your students that they’re going for 70%. This is where I differ a little bit, partially because I’m a yoga therapist. So I actually want my students in the 50 to 60% range. , because That allows them a lot of room to go back and forth.
Also, I find that we live in a kind of a type personality society. Um, so even if somebody is not a type, they have this ingrained, I should do more, I should push, I should effort. And so when I used to say 70%, I noticed that people were white-knuckling it through their practice and I would have to keep coaching and talking them, to back off.
But when I switched it to 50 to 60 percent, that made a really big difference. And knowing that the A-type personalities are probably going to be doing 70 anyway. But if I say 50 to 60 and they’re at 70, that’s a lot safer and enjoyable of practice than if I say 70 and now they’re doing 100. So this is why I say 50 to 60 percent of the most that you could do.
I often like to think of it as what the Buddha would have called the middle way on one end of the spectrum. There’s just lounging around, laying on the floor, feeling nothing whatsoever, which would be restorative yoga, a beautiful practice, but totally different than yin.
And then the other extreme would be pushing, efforting, striving, and really being harsh with your body to the point of injury. So for me, yin is the middle path where it’s like, ah, yes, I’m feeling something, but I’m in that 50 to 60% range. Which gives me room to be curious about it, to investigate it, and to decide what versions I want to take.
Do I want to go deeper in a few minutes? Do I not? How does this change in my body, et [00:33:00] cetera, et cetera. So relative stillness. In that 50 to 60% range, and then we do longer hold so I said, on average between two and five minutes for a public dropping class but certainly some teachers hold longer.
And if you have experience with Yin, you may hold your shapes longer. No problem with that, but for an average dropping class I think two to five minutes is a pretty decent range. Then we come out. Mindfully and slowly, because as I mentioned, there’s going to be that feeling or that urge to sort of moan and groan and move slowly anyway.
So we do that. We take our time, we move mindfully, and then we pause. If it’s a smaller Pause, maybe between sides, if you’ve done the right side, now you’re going to do the left side. Maybe you pause just for a breath or two to notice, does [00:34:00] one side of my body feel different than the other before you immediately rush into the next side?
And this is difficult for students. I have to constantly remind them. Let’s just take a moment to notice the pause in between. Sometimes these pauses are more like a minute. And typically that’s how Paul did it with us. When we did longer holds, like anything from five minutes on, or even three minutes on, sometimes we would take a minute in between that pose and the next pose.
And this is something that I often see yoga teachers cut out. And I, it’s a big mistake in my opinion, in these pauses in between Paul called it the rebound that didn’t resonate with me. So I’ve, I’ve changed it. I’ve heard teachers call it the echo. I call it the resonance or the lingering of the pose in the body.
So when you come out of a Yin shape and you do that urge to moan and groan, and you feel sort of [00:35:00] temporarily vulnerable and fragile in your body, taking the time to pause there and really get curious and notice what is happening in your body. That’s one thing we can do there. The second thing is we want to allow our body to come back to its familiar feeling state again before we move into another shape.
And then the third benefit, which cannot be overstated. The third benefit of these pauses, these little sacred pauses, is it allows our students to embrace the space between no longer and not yet, to embrace the space between no longer and not yet, otherwise known as the present moment.
And this is challenging for us as humans. Because we’re always going quickly to the next thing. When we allow as teachers this pause, either between sides or between poses, we’re allowing our students to be present to what is in that moment before thinking about what’s coming up next. It’s not an easy thing.
It sounds like a really simple thing. Oh, sure. We just pause, but it’s actually quite challenging to do. And then when we’re ready, we move into the new shape. So those practice guidelines again, just as a review, take the shape and find relative stillness. We’re looking for that, in my opinion, the 50 to 60% zone so that there’s lots of leeway to go on either side of that.
We hold anywhere from two to five minutes on average but longer holds happen for those that are experienced. We come out mindfully and slowly. We rest to notice the resonance or the lingering of the pose in our body. And then when we’re ready, we move into the next shape. So those are the Yin practice guidelines.
And these are something that I go over. In my class, when I have new students, just like that, in that list, I don’t go quite as in-depth, but I say, okay, here’s how yin’s different take the shape, find 50 to 60%, become still, I go through this list, and then I briefly talk about the role of the mind. So if you, those of you that are teachers, if you struggle with, uh, what do I do when I have brand new students to yin in my practice?
There’s a formula for you. Give them the yin practice guidelines. Tell them that this is going to be challenging for the mind. Give them some tools and techniques to anchor their mind and then shut up. And then from there on allow plenty of space for silence and for quiet. Okay. Let’s break those down just a little bit more.
So taking the shape. So since yin yoga is a functional form of yoga, not an aesthetic form of yoga, This means that the intention in the shapes is to feel sensations in the intended area. And because of this focus on what the [00:38:00] shape feels like in the body, not what the pose looks like, then everyone, because they have different skeletal variations, range of motion, body proportions, joints, not to mention previous life experience, injuries, issues, et cetera, et cetera.
Because of this, it’s going to look different student from student. And if you are a yin teacher and you have not studied any of Paul Grilley’s resources on skeletal variations and, anatomy, you really, you need to do that because it’s mind-blowing. And if you’re teaching Yin and you haven’t done that’s priority number one. Most of the Paul Grilley certified teachers teach some of this in some way in their training.
But if you didn’t get this knowledge on skeletal variations, then please educate yourself. A good start would be his anatomy for yoga presentation on Pranamaya and I can [00:39:00] leave links for that, in the show notes. So there’s no right or wrong way to take the shape.
We just get into it. We find a variation that works for our body. If you’re a student, hopefully, the teacher can help you with that. And then I mentioned already, we’re going, in my opinion, to the 50 to 60%. Of the most that someone could do. So it’s really important that we don’t practice our yin yoga with our yang attitude.
That pushing, effort, striving, and competitive attitude. Especially vital for those who are recovering A-type personalities. And remember the goal of the yin shape is not to do the, I’m doing air quotes here, full pose someday. There is no goal in the pose. The goal is, do you feel the sensation in the intended area?
That’s it. So I find that staying in this 50 to [00:40:00] 60% range means the individual can more likely stay in the relaxation response aspect of their nervous system or the parasympathetic. When we get too aggressive with our practice, when we push and strive, this pulls us out of parasympathetic into a sympathetic fight, flight, or freeze response.
This is another reason why I err on the side of less sensation in the body. We don’t want the body to start to shift into fight, flight, or freeze, and to start to tighten up as a way to either prepare to flee or protect itself. So the more we can stay in that little bit lower range, the more the body will feel okay to let go and to relax.
So in this practice, Less is more. And I will often say to my students that, barring injury of course, if someone’s in pain because they have an injury, this is, that’s a different story. But if I see a student coming out early all the time, I’ll often [00:41:00] say it’s more important to stay for the duration of time than it is to do a strong version of this pose.
So can you grab a prop? Can you back off? Can you allow yourself to feel a bit more ease in the shape and then maintain the length of hold? Now that’s of course not the case if there’s some kind of an injury or trauma going on, but just in general, on average, less is more. Okay. So then as we find the stillness in this busy rushed, always plugged-in society that we live in, this can be the most challenging part of a Yin practice.
So one should feel free to move and adjust the body to get more comfortable. Use props. But I always point out to my students that there is a difference between adjusting your pose and fidgeting.
length of the hold, I say anywhere between two and five is a good guideline, but not a rule. There are very few rules. , for my [00:42:00] body, I didn’t hold the poses longer, than five minutes for probably the first five years, because I just didn’t need to, I felt the sensation clearly and, the resonance of the pose.
And then I mentioned already talking about that resonance. So after we’ve come out of the pose, mindfully, we’re going to take a little moment to notice the resonance or the linger of that pose in your body. Imagine, if you will, that we were in a room and there was a big gong. initially, that sound would be big and loud. It would be impossible to ignore. It would fill the room and even if somebody couldn’t hear, they would feel the vibration of that sound on their body and in their body. It would be tangible. And then imagine over a minute or so that sound [00:43:00] of the gong begins to fade and fade and fade and fade and fade until it’s either no longer present or so faintly off in the distance. So this is my metaphor, for how it can feel when we come out of a Yin pose.
Initially, that urge when we come out is that strong resonance of the body, just like the gong, and then over time how it begins to soften and fade and fade and fade until it becomes Off the distance enough that we’re able to take the next shape, or we don’t notice it anymore.
And again, if you’re a teacher and you aren’t including these little rests, I cannot recommend enough that you change that. In my opinion, this is where yin yoga’s quiet superpowers become the most apparent. The effects on the fascia and the nervous system. And when we move too quickly from one pose to the next, we miss that feeling of resonance from the yin shapes.
So that’s the physical reason, but then also culturally, we’re always rushing from thing to thing to thing. And so taking this time to slow down and notice and to honour that space between no longer and not yet has a really amazing effect on the nervous system. For most of your students or you as a practitioner will be a much-needed gift.
I just want to mention one other thing. In the form of a story, as I begin to slowly wrap this episode up, I mentioned that I always encourage my students to be in that 50 to 60% range. And I didn’t start that way. I started with 70% because that’s what I was taught. But I noticed, again, there’s this sort of pushing, striving, and effort for all of us.
And then those of us like myself who are recovering A-type personalities tend to do even more of that. [00:45:00] So this is why I say 50 to 60%. And this might be something that you need to constantly repeat to your students. So here’s one example. They’re in a seated forward fold, like a half-butterfly, and they’re desperately grasping with their hands to reach their foot.
When really they do not have the flexibility to be doing that. They can’t just fall over their leg and bring their nose to their knee or their chest to their thigh. They’re tighter in their hamstrings. And they think the goal of the pose is to hold the foot or they’ve never been taught that pose in a way where they don’t have to hold onto their foot.
And I see this a lot and I’ll just, I’ll mention it. It usually takes at least three times before people soften, and let go of trying to hold your foot. The goal of this pose is not to reach your foot. Let go, let your arms soften, hinge from your hips and then soften. Don’t need to be pulling yourself towards your foot.
So I’ll say it [00:46:00] repeatedly. And if you’re a teacher, you might need to do that. You might need to say it many times. Use humor. That always helps, I find. And one story that comes to mind with this. And sometimes the people don’t realize you’re talking to them. So sometimes you’ve made these general statements several times, soften, less effort, blah, blah, blah.
Sometimes you might have to help somebody individually. Here’s an example of that. I was teaching a Candlelight Yin class for a studio that had moved to a new location and so we were asked if there were any classes that we would really like to try teaching that we hadn’t that we’d like to offer for free just to the public and I said yes, Candlelight Yin.
So here I am teaching this Candlelight Yin class and it was standing room only and I’m not joking, meaning we, the room was fuller than it’s ever been. You could barely move around. Um, this was pre-COVID and we actually had to turn several people away.
And there was one woman [00:47:00] in the class who was definitely A type, perfectionist, push, strive, really hard on herself. And I could see it in her practice. , so I kept saying to the whole group, you know, what if you did less? Remember, we’re looking for 50 to 60%, you know, what if you could soften into this?
You know, many, many times I’d given these cues and they were not landing. And no, we could argue that I should have just let her keep white-knuckling it through her practice. And that might’ve been the bigger lesson for her, that’s one way to look at it. The other way to look at it is.
There’s a point where they’re risking injury. I am more than happy to let my students have whatever experience they are having in the room unless they’re about to hurt themselves and that’s when I’m going to intervene. And that was where we were getting with this. Her face was red, her veins were bulging, her brows were furrowed, and her breath was not deep and calm.
And so after all of these little nudges [00:48:00] that I gave to the whole group, she just wasn’t getting it. And so I knew I needed to go over and talk to her. Getting there wasn’t so easy because it was such a full class. But I went over and I just knelt beside her and said, hello. And then I asked her to drop this question into the space between her muscles and bones.
What would happen if you gave yourself permission to do less? And immediately she softened, everything softened. She started actually using the props in the poses. Sometimes our students don’t know we’re talking to them. Sometimes I’ll even say to them, and right now, if you’re thinking, gee, she said that three times.
Is she talking to me? It could be I’m talking to you. And this was one of those examples where she wasn’t hearing me. She was risking injury. She was definitely not going to be a fan of yin yoga. That’s for sure. That would have been a yin hater had I not intervened. And just going over and addressing that she was overdoing it, asking herself to give herself permission to do less, suddenly she softened, she relaxed into it.
She started using props when she needed them. And she told me after the class that she loved that class and thanked me for it. This is a good little nugget, I think, to finish off on whether you’re a student who’s constantly pushing and striving, or whether you’re a teacher who sees that showing up. Remember that we don’t want to be doing yin yoga with our young attitude.
So I hope that you found this episode helpful.
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