Yin Yoga: Love it or hate it?

I see two types of people in the studio – those who love Yin and those who hate it. Here’s the top reasons people dislike Yin and why they need to give it another go:

  •     I hate being still
  •     It’s boring
  •     I can’t stop thinking
  •     It’s not a workout

1. I hate being still

For busy, active people, Yin yoga can seem a waste of time. “I can’t sit still, I have too much to do”. Think of a car. We turn the car off when we’re not using it otherwise we’ll run out of petrol and it will overheat. Think of your phone, it stops working when your battery is flat and needs to be recharged. Have you ever thought that constantly being on the go or ‘on’ will leave your inner energy reserves depleted? What if you were always on standby, waiting for the next thing – what does this do to your devices? Being always busy or ‘on’ drains our energy and also over-stimulates our nervous system leading to chronic stress.

How many times have you experienced after a busy, stressful day that your body is exhausted yet your mind is over-active or wired? How many times have you found yourself unable to switch off mentally? This is what happens when we are always ‘on’. This constant state of ‘on’ leads to anxiety. Being still is our chance to switch off, power down and recharge. It can be difficult and uncomfortable but being ‘on’ is a habit that can be broken. You and your body need to switch off and learning to be still is the first step. You will get the urge to fidget, to shuffle around, to scratch or adjust your clothing – these are all tricks of the mind trying to keep you from powering down and switching off.

2. It’s boring

Boredom is a sign of a busy mind. The inherent nature of the mind is movement, so left unwatched, the mind jumps from one thing to another. When we ask it to be still, such as in a Yin Yoga class, it rebels like a naughty child that doesn’t want to be told what to do. If we learn to practice mindfulness and become engrossed in the fullness of what we are doing there is no boredom.

Boredom exists when we are not paying attention or concentrating on the present moment. Boredom is a distraction of a busy mind.  We have become so accustomed to multi-tasking that some people watch TV while playing on the computer and phone (3 screens!). We multi-task so often that we’ve forgotten how to single-task. Ever been out with friends or family to find them regularly reaching for their phone to check emails/Facebook? Maybe this is you?

We really struggle to give our full attention to anything these days and the result of our shortened attention span is boredom.We find everything boring and nothing satisfying. We are always seeking something better, something more interesting. Yet this is just a vicious cycle, leading to more boredom and less satisfaction. The antidote, as boring as it seems, is concentration. Coming back to focusing on one thing at a time and in our Yin Yoga practice this means our body and our breath. If we are truly present we will not be bored.

3. I can’t stop thinking

This is something I hear all the time. Guess what? You’re not the only one. The Yoga Sutras written approximatley 2500 years ago define yoga as ‘the stilling of the movements of the mind’. So a busy/active mind is not a new phenomenon, as it was recognised by the ancient sages as the barrier to inner peace.

So what to do? Most people ignore it and don’t realise it’s a problem until you ask them to be still for 5 minutes and focus on their breath. “But I can’t stop thinking!” Welcome to the club! Acknowledging the issue is the first step to transformation. “But I like thinking”, sure you like thinking when you want to, but isn’t it annoying when you want to stop and you can’t? It is this constant, incessant thinking that can lead to anxiety and even depression.

The only way to slow down the mind is to turn it upon itself. Ask your mind to watch and become aware of what it is doing. Don’t try to control the mind (for that is a losing battle), rather try to create space for your thoughts and watch what your mind does. Bringing awareness to our mind and its’ activities will help it to gradually slow down. The same principle applies when we observe our breath – it starts to slow down without effort. Most people give up as it can be confronting and uncomfortable to pay attention to your thoughts. But what’s the alternative? Do you prefer to be a slave to your mind?

We begin to cultivate mind/body awareness in our Yin yoga practice and this is why so many people feel lighter and refreshed after practice – they’ve stopped being a slave to their thinking and have found some mental space.

4. It’s not a workout

There are many people who come to yoga for a workout. I get that. However, the true essence of yoga is a ‘work in’. We do inner work. The whole intent behind the physical poses is to prepare the body and mind for meditation. It’s not the latest exercise fad. People often think that if they’re not working up a sweat or burning calories then they’re not doing anything and there’s no point.

So let me tell you the point of Yin yoga. Yin doesn’t use muscle activation, it is a release of the myofascial tissue that surrounds the muscles, ligaments and joints. It is in this tissue that tension and stress is stored. Yin is designed to work on releasing this tissue and the energetic meridians contained in the tissue that support our major organs. It promotes relaxation, improved vitality and brings balance back to the body.

Yin is passive and is about softening, releasing and surrendering. There’s no effort or struggle (this is something people often fail to grasp), we let go of any holding, clenching and tensing. One of the key benefits of our Yin yoga practice is that is soothes our over-stimulated nervous system helping to restore the body and mind to equilibrium. For those of you looking to lose weight, you won’t be able to if your nervous system is over-stimulated and your body is filled with stress hormones. Cortisol, the body’s hormonal response to stress increases our appetite, increases our cravings for sugary food, leads to fat storage and is often responsible for us not being able to lose weight. So if you’ve been trying to shift those kilos with a strict diet and heavy exercise then maybe you need to chill out and calm down with a Yin class.

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