Yin Yoga: The Art of Letting Go

| By Penny Amann |

In yoga, especially in yin yoga, letting go is the most difficult asana (posture).

We cling to so much in life — the way we thought things should be, expectations of others and ourselves, how much money and how many possessions we should have, how relationships should be. We even cling to a notion of how our yoga postures should look.

And we suffer, because most of the time, things don’t turn out the way we think they should.

When we begin practicing yoga, it is usually for reasons such as gaining more flexibility and/or finding peace and calm. These are wonderful reasons for starting a yoga practice.

But what we find if we continue to practice is so much deeper than just asana and relaxation. We begin a journey of letting go and sinking deeper — in our yoga practice and, eventually, in life.

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For those of you not familiar with yin, allow me to explain the difference between it and yang yoga.

Yang yoga is an active, heat-building practice that creates flexibility within our muscles. We move with our breath, connecting breath and posture movements. The blood within our visceral organs enters our muscles as we create heat within our body, juicing and plumping our muscles and creating flexibility within our muscular system.

In yang yoga, we let go because if we cling to what the mind is telling us and don’t remain present with our practice, we can quickly fall out of our postures.

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Yin yoga is the opposite, so-to-speak. It is quiet, internal, cool. We do not heat our muscles because we are working our deep connective tissues, such as joint capsules, ligaments and fascia system.

The benefits of yin yoga include:

  • Lubrication and protection of joints and ligaments
  • Deeper access to our body through muscle relaxation
  • Energy regulation
  • Calm and balance for our mind
  • Stress reduction and ability to release anxiety
  • Improved flexibility
  • Release of fascia throughout our body

In yin postures, we let go of doing and trying, and we let gravity pull us deeper and deeper, which draws us further into ourselves physically, emotionally and energetically.

Yin yoga is simple, but it’s not easy.

There are three main tenets to help us practice. Let’s take a look.

  1. Find Your Edge

Honor your body and know the difference between “good pain” and “bad pain.” Play with your edge until you feel a desired intense stretch, but not bad pain. If you find you’ve gone too far, ease out just until the bad pain subsides, and you only feel a stretching sensation. This isn’t always easy in our go-go-go Western world, and we tend to push beyond our limits in yoga (and life) until there is pain. Instead of working on the pose, just let go and allow the pose to work on you. I’ll use straddle (aka Dragonfly) as my example. In straddle, we sit on our mat, part our legs and lean forward. The pose’s target area is the fascia on our inner thighs. You want to feel a strong stretching sensation (not sharp, burning, bone-on-bone pain).

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2. Remain Still

Stillness is key to achieving the benefits of yin yoga. If we move around in our postures, our muscles get involved, which is not desirable because we are trying to keep them cool in order to dig deep into our connective tissues. Stillness focuses on the target area and allows the deeper “plastic” tissue of our ligaments, joint capsules and even bones to expand and change.

The only times to move in a yin practice are:

  • To ease out if you’ve passed your edge and experience “bad pain”
  • When the intense stretch eases up and you can deepen your posture to find your new edge

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3. Hold for a Time:  Each yin posture is held for 1-5 minutes or longer. (Some seasoned yogis hold up to 20! I’ve done 10 and that was enough for me for now.) It takes time to stretch our deep connective tissue. Think of muscles as elastic tissues, like rubber bands. Our muscles easily stretch and return into shape, whereas our deep connective tissues are like credit card plastic: They don’t stretch or bend as easily as muscles, and they take longer to retract into shape when the stretch is over.

A Fourth Tenet

I have added a fourth tenet that I find critical: to mindfully come out of the posture. The reason is, you are in a posture for a long time, and if you bounce up too quickly, you can injure yourself. (Most yoga injuries happen coming out of a pose, not going into or holding it.)

When we come out of a yin pose, it can feel like we’ve aged 20 years because those deep plasticky tissues take time to stretch and to return into shape. This achiness will dissipate fairly quickly if we slowly and mindfully come out of a posture and rebound in stillness for a bit.

Of all the benefits of yin, I think my favorite one is letting go of doing/trying/thinking a posture must look a certain way. Instead, it’s about sinking in and remaining present.

Yes, my physical body loves yin. But when I let go and let the yoga posture work on me instead of me working on the posture, I can transfer that ease and surrender into my daily life as well.

All yoga, but especially yin, has helped me let go of knee-jerk reactions and let life flow. Now I approach stressful situations with a sense of calm and presence.

I invite you to experience yin by taking one of my weekly classes at Pure Yoga for Life

I leave you with a line from a poem about letting go by one of my favorite yoga poets.

“Let go, and the wave’s crest will carry you to unknown shores, beyond your wildest dreams or destinations. Let it all go and find the place of rest and peace, and certain transformation.” — Let It Go by Danna Faulds

Namaste.


Penny Amann is a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT-200), an American Council on Exercise (ACE) group fitness instructor and a Total Body Resistance Exercise (TRX) Level-2 coach. She teaches at Pure Yoga for Life in Clermont.

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