My Discovery of Yin Yoga
Several months after completing my Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga Teacher Training in 2015 I spent a week on a Yang/Yin Yoga retreat in a beautiful, lush retreat centre, buried in dense Eucalyptus forest in rural Portugal. I was about to embark on a new job, new life, new career path, and I needed to rest. Most of what I had known, practiced and taught in yoga up until that point was the intense, sweaty, strong, and thoroughly disciplined practice that is Ashtanga Yoga, which was the only class I took that seemed sufficiently ‘challenging’, fast-paced, and ‘serious’ when I was looking for a yoga practice to counterbalance a career in Sales back in 2012. It would be ironic if it weren’t so predictable.
Each morning on this beautiful retreat in Portugal we practiced a Slow Vinyasa Flow class, and each evening we spent another 2 hours on our mats practicing Yin Yoga. This was my first introduction to Yin Yoga, and while the very slow and gentle pace of the practice with its long-held poses should, I thought, have been easy, this simple practice transpired to be unexpectedly challenging: physically, mentally, and emotionally.
There were different sensations to contend with than those I was used to in Ashtanga… and we spent about 5 minutes in each pose having to sit with these dull, achy, mildly bitter sensations deep in the body. In Ashtanga, we spent no longer than 5 breaths in most poses, but in Yin we spent at least 5 minutes. Some poses felt luxuriously pleasant and relaxing, and some felt unbearably frustrating and uncomfortable. And yet after each practice, there was a whole-body, mind, and heart sense of peace. My mind was stiller, clearer, and less agitated; my body felt beautifully soft, light, and unencumbered. I slept soundly and deeply each night after the Yin practice and woke feeling more rested than usual and with plenty of energy for our 2-hour Vinyasa practice.
It hit me on day 3 of the retreat that this level of energy was one I hadn’t felt in years. I felt more energised ( in a grounded and balanced way rather than in a frenetic and fiery way) than I could remember feeling… ever.
So this was the effect of three days of a two-hour per day Yin practice? It was pretty miraculous!
Practically speaking, I must, of course, acknowledge the fact that I was also sleeping more, eating delicious healthy food, and spending my days lying by a pool in the sun… and that this environment, no doubt, helped my energy levels greatly. However, given my experiences of Yin Yoga since this retreat, I am certain that this practice is a powerful one for restoring, resetting, and re-energising ourselves. I have had four more years of experimenting personally with the practice and have completed many more retreats and teacher-trainings in Yin Yoga since the beginning of this obsession in 2015.
The Benefits of Yin and Restorative Yoga
The physical benefits of Yin Yoga are plentiful. It provides an excellent means of creating a healthy stress on the denser and deeper connective tissue in our bodies which can result in increased mobility, stability, and strength in our joints. This, in turn, boosts our physical wellbeing and resilience, ensuring we maintain a healthy range of motion as we age. This topic of the physical benefits, however, is for another day.
In the context of our new weekly addition of Sunday evening offerings of Yin Yoga or Restorative Yoga in FFS Yoga, this post will delve specifically into the broader reasons for which such yoga practices are invaluable as a counterbalance to our fast-paced, always-on, more-is-better culture.
There is a quote at the beginning of one of my Yin textbooks (Yin Yoga by Bernie Clarke) which reads:
‘Our goal in life is not to become perfect: our goal is to become whole’.
This quote, for me, beautifully and succinctly captures much of the value of the softer, stiller, and more inward-focused practises of Yin Yoga and Restorative Yoga.
Yin Yoga and Restorative Yoga, energetically speaking, can represent the ‘other half’, the slower, darker, deeper half of our yoga practice, or our life… that we so often neglect and deprioritise. As human beings, we are made up of yin and yang, or feminine and masculine energies and aspects. Yin and Yang exist in relation to one another and are constantly evolving and shapeshifting, as are we. Our yin nature is more passive, inward-focused, slow. Our yang side likes for us to push ourselves to be better, faster, more accomplished, more productive, extroverted, bright and busy. Neither way of being is superior or inferior, and yet we live in a world that tends to focus obsessively on the more yang aspects of our being. We are constantly reminded of what more we need to do, consume, achieve in order to just be enough, in order to become closer to perfect, and less likely to be made feel that we are in fact perfect and enough exactly as we are.
The irony of this situation, as the coaches in the FFS gyms will most-likely agree, is that in order for us to strive towards our goals and achieve them most successfully, we must balance our hard grind with rest and our desire to change ourselves with an acceptance of and contentment with exactly where and who we are today.
In addition to this human requirement and need to rest and just be on a regular basis, there is also significant value in creating a space and time in your days or weeks to go inwards, observe, and connect with our feelings, emotions, and inner-knowing. Doing so regularly offers us the opportunity to ensure that all we are working towards is indeed guided by our own internal compass, rather than by an external driver which has us functioning on automatic pilot, or following some well-trodden and familiar path that may not be of our own making.
Surrendering to the Silence
In both Yin and Restorative Yoga practices, we also invite ourselves to cultivate a gentler, kinder and more forgiving inner dialogue and attitude; to move our bodies with great care and sensitivity into and out of each pose. Some of us may work and live in environments that provide us with the nourishment, care, and kindness that we need, but I’m going to hesitate a guess here and predict that most of us do not. The advent of the technological revolution was supposed to enable us to work less, have more leisure time, and evolve into the human beings that we didn’t have time to become back in the industrial age. Somehow, however, the opposite has happened, and we find ourselves working more than ever, with the added advantage of bringing our email everywhere with us in our pockets. Switching off is the exception rather than the norm, and it takes serious self-discipline, awareness, and, even, organisation to facilitate.
While we, of course, need nourishment, care, and kindness in many guises, our own self-talk and inner dialogue is a good place to start. In my personal experience, this has been one of the most powerful and transformative aspects of a Yin Yoga practice. It is a dedicated space and time for me to be kind to myself, to observe and gently release and the harsh commentary of my inner critic, and to accept myself exactly as I am. We surrender to stillness and allow our bodies to soften and be supported by the bolsters, blankets or floor. We release any false ideals we may have about how our bodies should look in a given pose, and instead bring our awareness to how the pose feels in our bodies. We use the sensations in our bodies as an opportunity for self-enquiry and a developing understanding of what it means to be a person living in a body that may at times feel uncomfortable, and at other times blissful.
And then… as the cherry on top… THE most transformative aspect of these practices is that we get to take them off the mat and into our day-to-day lives. We find that little by little this self-care, slowing down, gentler attitude towards ourselves begins to seep into other aspects of our lives, that the softness and inner stability it cultivates empowers us to feel stronger, calmer, and more flexible in our dealings in the world.
Find out More
If you are interested in experiencing the benefits of Yin Yoga & Restorative Yoga, sign up for one of our 6pm Sunday evening classes in FFS Yoga via the Mindbody app on Apple Store or Google Play for Android. You can also find out more info on the ffs.ie/yoga and sign up via the schedule.
About the Author
Jane Feighery is a teacher of Yin Yoga, Yoga Nidra, Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga and Functional Yoga. She is a committed to sharing these grounding, nourishing and reenergising practices to support students in stilling their minds, and cultivating physical mental and emotional resilience.
You can catch her teaching Yin Yoga Workshops on Sundays. Check out FFS Yoga's Class Schedule for more information.