If you go to yoga for the purpose of getting a workout, I’ve got news for you.
You might need a little more balance in your life.
Remember, poses (called asanas) are just one of the eight limbs of yoga.
Yin yoga helps you achieve that balance, in ways that will challenge your mind, body and spirit, as opposed to just your body.
My first yin experience was interesting to say the least, considering I knew nothing about it… below are 10 thoughts I had when I tried it out, and how it changed me for the better.
1. Are we about to have a séance?
The first yin class I ever walked into, the room was dark except for these little LED candles flickering on the ground. For a second, I thought we were all going to sit in a circle with clasped hands and try to strike up a conversation with some local spirits.
2. There are more props than a Hollywood film set…
The yoga studio I frequent is typically minimalist, with no furniture besides cubbies to hold your purse and shoes, and a water jug. I looked around and saw baskets of straps, big cushioned pillows and sandbags all over the place. All that was missing was the film crew.
3. Those big pillow things…they’re called bolsters and wow are they great
The first pose was butterfly, where you lay back flat, bend your knees and press the soles of your feet together. We were instructed to lay down against the bolsters so our shoulders would be elevated slightly above our hips, close our eyes and try to connect with our breath.
It occurred to me that I couldn’t remember the last time I did something to just be.
4. I feel like I am in kindergarten and it’s nap time
Woah, this is yoga? I could fall asleep right now. How can this be yoga? I thought I was going to sweat! I pop one eye open to see if I’m doing something wrong — allow me to paint a picture for you: Here we are, a group of adults — plus a handful of seniors — laying back on our bolsters in a blissful state. It occurred to me that I couldn’t remember the last time I did something to just be. It was nice. For about a minute.
5. WHY ARE WE STAYING IN THIS POSITION FOR WHAT FEELS LIKE AN ETERNITY?
After a minute and a half, I thought Carol, the yin instructor, had either completely forgotten about us or packed up all of her chakras and left to go grab a late brunch. But then, her voice filled the room and washed over me like a cool, gentle wave — she explained how we hold a lot of stress in our hips, and this pose is a hip opener that increases blood circulation to our connective tissues, helping to loosen any pent-up tension we have.
After two minutes and forty-five seconds, I started to get irritated at the general stillness of the pose. Shit, Carol! Is this a joke? Are you messing with me right now? We stayed in this pose for a little over three minutes.
6. Maybe we’re loosening up for some intense, bendy fast-paced poses! Right?
Wrong. This is not a yang practice like you’d find in a power or fast-paced vinyasa yoga class, which places emphasis on effort and strength. This is yin which focuses on ease and softness. The next pose was pigeon: one leg straight out behind with the other in front of us, flexed at the knee with shin parallel to the mat. Another three minutes. So, this is the nature of yin: holding poses for three-to-five minutes, with the intention of surrendering yourself to the discomfort and finding peace in stillness.
Another three minutes.
So, this is the nature of yin: holding poses for three-to-five minutes, with the intention of surrendering yourself to the discomfort and finding peace in stillness.
7. Thinking about not thinking is hard
After completing the second side of pigeon I lay in a seated forward fold trying not to fidget, I realized how hard it was to just accept being still and keep my mind clear. Try it. My mind always seems abuzz with thoughts. Enlightened speaker Eckhart Tolle said, “Thinking has become a disease. The mind is a superb instrument if used rightly. Used wrongly, however, it becomes very destructive.” You’re onto something, Mr. Tolle.
8. Breathing is hard
In yin, the idea is to connect with your breath, inhaling and exhaling through the discomfort of each pose. I never realized how much I held my breath. I felt like I was casually suffocating.
9. The thoughts that surface in these moments are…weird
I was trying to relax and surrender to the discomfort, or whatever, and suddenly I had a flashback of third grade, when I gave my crush (he was an older gentleman, a fifth grader) a note professing my love, and was subsequently rejected. I felt the same rush of embarrassment as if it were hapenning all over again. Then, I thought about my mom and that I should call her more often and be a better daughter in general.
The first goal I scored in soccer. The fact that my best friend of years and years and I don’t speak anymore for a number of broken reasons. I felt things that were unsettling and made me sad. I felt that clench in the pit of my stomach, the one that you feel right before you’re about to cry.
10. Then, just like that, I let that shit go.
My thoughts flushed with every exhale. I practically melted into the ground during Savasana, feeling as if my mind had just run a marathon. Afterwards, I didn’t walk out of yin, I floated. I realized I wasn’t just challenging my body to push through its uncomfortable limits. I was putting my mind to the test, too. Suddenly, something dawns on me: Humans are like electricity — we prefer to take the path of least resistance. We’ve trained ourselves to run for the hills whenever anything makes us uncomfortable, and default to what’s familiar and easy.
As a result, we fall into a static state, missing out on exposure to new experiences, relationships and even opportunities that will add layers to our perspective and depth to our personalities. We must face the discomfort that comes with change in order to grow. Like the lobster that sheds its old shell every few months in order to mature, we must do the same with our mind-body. Okay, yin. I see you.