WHAT IS MINDFUL YIN YOGA?
Well, in my humble opinion all yoga should be Mindful.
Why do yoga and check out when you can check in? (that’s a rhetorical question, BTW).
So I”ll begin with What is YIN YOGA?
This from Bernie Clark. “In Yin Yoga we literally marinate in the juiciness of the pose, and pay attention to the flow of sensations. Yin Yoga gives us a chance to learn what sensations are, where they are, whether they are healthy, albeit challenging, or too much. We learn what an edge is, which is something that can be missed entirely in our yang practice.... With Yin Yoga, we have time to learn how to pay attention to sensations, to our edge.”
Sounds like the marriage of the Body and the Mind to me. Hatha Yoga – the more Yang, physical practice, doesn’t really give us time to do this. We DO the pose and then we DO another one. Marinating takes time. And it also takes a willingness to show up and feel – something that we all need in this busy, over-stimulated culture.
My Mindful Yin Yoga classes begin with Mudras (hand gestures) and Breath that are cooling, calming, and receptive- getting students out of their busy thinking minds and into their body and the moment. We then flow into simple movements from the Joint Freeing series. This practice clears the energy pathways, or meridians, and comes from the Bihar School of Yoga in Northern India. Along with the Mudras and Breath, these practices prepare the body for the Yin Yoga Sequence.
The body of the class consists of 6-8 poses that all take place directly on the earth. Prone. Supine. Seated forward folds and Twists. There are no standing poses and the focus is on the lower body. There are cues, but they’re different than structural alignment. The cues are based on setting a foundation from which to drop into the target area – hips, inside of the spine, outside of the spine, feet, ankles, sides of the body... Setting the foundation is key whether it’s a groundedness in the pelvis or stable shoulders. Then the target area is invited to soften, to drape.
In Mindful Yin Yoga, the student is encouraged and invited to feel sensations of stretch and compression as the body drops below the surface of the muscles into the YIN tissues of the tendons, ligaments, fascia, and bones. When you gently stretch connective tissue by holding a yin pose, the body responds by making those tissues a little longer and stronger – nourishing and hydrating the connective tissues and joints and improving bone health. The practice is one of allowing – and it can feel pretty challenging. Yin yoga isn’t just laying around on the floor and breathing. It can be uncomfortable, Physically students often report feeling challenged by sensation as they hold the pose and fragile as they release them. “I feel like I’m about 100 years old”, said my 38 year old client as she released Butterfly pose. The sensation doesn’t last very long – and if it does, it means a modification is necessary next time – perhaps a prop that doesn’t allow you to go that deep, or a platform that lifts the foundation higher so you can actually feel the pose at the point where the meridian flows through the body. Modifying for sciatica, for hip replacement, for injury, is essential. And often the only way to know how to do that is to feel, to listen, and to adjust. That’s the practice.
Poses are held for 3-8 minutes and in Mindful Yin, we fill the time with Mindfulness. Paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally. I include a Mindfulness technique each week to frame the meditation time. It isn’t a time to figure things out. It’s a time to notice where our thoughts tend to go –what we worry about – ruminate about - not why. It’s noticing what emotions are hanging around and coming back to the present moment, which is the heart of Mindfulness
The Mindful Yin Yoga practice ends with Savasana or Deep Relaxation, just like in a Hatha Class. Instruction here is minimal – an opportunity to absorb the practice on all levels of being. After Savasana, we come up to sitting (either in a chair or on the earth) and practice a balancing breath called Alternate Nostril Breathing. This breath technique draws students out of their Yin fog (which is a pretty nice place to hang out) back toward an alert, grounded place where they can do things like walk down the stairs from my 3rd floor studio and drive.
Yin Yoga is a simple practice. But its not easy, or lazy, or all that interesting sometimes. In my experience, it is relaxing, but that’s not the goal. The goal is dropping below the level where we spend the majority of our day. It’s deep and energetically abundant – even though it seems like the practice is still. It’s subtle and challenging in its passivity.
You may still have questions. My intention is to offer the experience of Mindful Yin Yoga as a way of entering into the moment in way that many people find refreshing in Body and Heart. It’s not a replacement for the cushion or sun salutations. Just an option you might want to try.
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