Since moving to China (again), I figured I may as well take advantage of being in the Far East to indulge in activities – and food – which are not easily available in Western civilization. Last time I was here, I tried Kung Fu for a few months. While the warm-up exercises were a great workout, my feeble little mind failed to memorize the order of the movements and my studies were doomed from the onset.
This time, I’ve decided to commit myself to getting away with wearing the weirdest outfits in public Yin Yoga. I absolutely love yoga and words cannot suffice to express just how much it has changed my life for the better, dissipating needless anxieties. I first tried Hatha yoga in college, and after experimenting with Vinyasa and Acro-yoga, decided that Ashtanga yoga is more my cup of tea. I love sweating and feeling that I’m actually getting a workout when practicing yoga, plus performing the same sequence of poses every class really let’s you notice how much your strength, balance, and flexibility are consistently improving. A couple of years ago, I discovered Bikram yoga. Though seemingly masochistic, it became a sort of addiction. Though there are worse addictions, aren’t there?
Anyway, all of these types of yoga are Yang yoga. Now that I’m in China, what better time or place is there to hone the yin to my yang?
What is Yin Yoga?
Yin Yoga, aka Taoist yoga, comes from the concept of yin and yang. In Chinese philosophy, Yin elements, or the feminine/negative principles, are described as dark, wetness, cold, downward moving, passivity, and stability (wait, did the ancient Chinese actually equate the feminine with stability?!). On the other hand, Yang elements, or the masculine/positive principles, are described as light, dryness, warmth, upward moving and activity. In nature, the moon is yin; the sun yang. In the body, stiff connective tissue such as tendons, ligaments, and fascia, are yin; the more pliable muscles and blood are yang. In yoga, passive asanas are accordingly yin; more active asanas, which generate heat, are yang.
Like the yin elements, the asanas in Yin yoga are passive, mainly performed on the floor. They target the lower parts of the body – namely the thighs, pelvis, and lower spine – which are areas rich in connective tissue.
One is supposed to relax slowly and gently into each asana, falling deeper while softening muscle and moving closer to the bone. Each asana is held for minutes at a time (usually 3-5), combining extreme stretching with meditation. Blood flow is restricted to each area – similar to the “tourniquet effect” of Bikram yoga – enabling better circulation to each area when the pose is finally released.
Many Yin yoga poses actually resemble the asanas in Indian Hatha yoga, though they are sometimes performed slightly differently, and obviously, they have different names. You think holding a Supta – Vajrasana (Fixed Firm pose) twice for 20 seconds in Bikram yoga is bad? Try holding it for five minutes straight! And good luck coming out of it! Having to sit in a sometimes excruciating pose (there is a lot of groaning, giving up mid-pose, and even the occasional getting stuck in class) for so long forces you to quiet your mind and embrace stillness.
My Personal Experience with Yin Yoga
Though I’ve only been practicing for around a month, I try to attend 6-10 Yin yoga classes a week. Each class is an hour long and in a slightly heated room, for flexibility’s sake. I’ve already noticed a huge difference in my posture (less slouching!), my patience (it is now existent), and my sleep (goodbye, insomnia and restless nights).
I’ve learned to deal with pain in different ways. I usually try to avoid pain, or in extreme cases (such as laser hair removal without numbing cream), dissociate. However, Yin yoga taught me that sometimes the only way out really is through, cliché as it may be. There is a moment in every class in which the teacher will come over to me and push me deeper into a pose than I think I can possibly go. As she pushes my body down, I realize that yes, I can go deeper. Though my ligaments burn, I embrace the pain. I remain immobile and let the pain transform itself into “just another feeling” and start to meditate on something else.
The shift from Yang to Yin, or active to passive yoga, has been rewarding in some respects. My meditation has improved, and I’m becoming pretty flexible. However, I must admit that Yang yoga is a much better physical workout.
I still believe Bikram yoga has given me results I desire (abs, smaller thighs, more muscle definition) in the shortest amount of time. This is not surprising, for Yang yoga is, by definition and by nature, much more strenuous than Yin. The postures are more intense, strengthening your core and developing muscle tone while drastically improving balance and stamina. Yin yoga, on the other hand, is more focused on improving flexibility, enhancing circulation, and meditating on your breaths.
Keep in mind, both Yin and Yang yoga are said to be more effective if practiced together. I try to do one hour of either Yang yoga or Pilates after each Yin yoga session. There is a reason that if you observe the Yin-Yang symbol, there is a bit of each element in the other – Yin and Yang arecomplementary elements, not opposites.
If practicing Yin yoga alone at home, it is recommended that you use a timer as to not to stress as to whether or not you’re holding each pose long enough. Just focus on meditating! If you’re an absolute beginner, try holding each pose for only one minute and then working your way up.
Benefits of Yin Yoga:
- Focused mental energy
- Calming of the mind
- Better sleep
- More lubrication in the joints
- Better posture and flexibility
- Intense stretching of the body’s deep connective tissues
- Stimulates qi, clearing energetic blockages