When people think of yoga class what comes to mind first might be vinyasa or flow based practices. That's understandable. Flow-based yoga is available widely these days.
Often what we find first has the best chance of becoming our preferred type of practice simply because it is most familiar. And there are other reasons to love it - vinyasa is a truly transformative practice. I love a challenging vinyasa class as a student and teacher, including hot vinyasa. The way my mind and body feel when I sync movement with breath is nothing short of moving meditation.
But, there are many types of yoga and each has benefit.
But Yin yoga?
Well, most often people don't come to Yin first.
As teachers, often the opening begins during our very first training. Once we dive deeply into yoga our curiosity about other styles is heightened - at least that's how it was for me. The more vinyasa practices I did the more benefit I also found from quieter or yin types of practices. And this makes sense because these practices exist as a complementary opposite.
The balance of yin and yang in yoga and life has real merit in my life. Too much yang, not so great. Too much yin? Also not great. Balancing out my vinyasa practices with yin when I need it? Wonderful!
But if you've never been to a quiet and slow practice, it can be difficult to perceive the benefits. And that's understandable when we live in a society that undervalues rest days, and has slogans like 'no pain, no gain.'
So here are three tips for getting started with a yin-style, slow practice.
1) Be open to your body's messages.
Yin was a practice I found when I was needing some quieter types of practices. However, I had no idea that I needed a quiet practice. years ago during a time when I was battling an injury.
Sometimes when the body cannot whisper to us... it has to scream. And we're likely to listen when the message is loud. With regular practice, and also sometimes from one truly significant event, we learn to listen to the whisper first.
2) Ditch Your Expectations.
I didn't know how to slow down and the first few yin classes I took were really hard!
But, wait. Wasn't I supposed to love this?
I struggled to stay still.
I struggled to not fidget.
I found my mind wandering.
And honestly, even though my body was seemingly doing nothing in the pose, I really found this more challenging than more active practices.
But, if I had held on to the expectation that I must love or even like something in order for it to be worthwhile, I would never have returned to Yin yoga. I am so glad I let go of my expectations long enough to let the practice sink in. That's what I would encourage everyone to do. Allow the experience to be what it is - easy, hard, comfortable, or uncomfortable. The moment we are certain something is not for us... something very often shifts.
What started out as a real struggle quickly became very liberating. As I softened into the discomfort of stillness, I found transformation happening. I became more comfortable with the sensations of body and mind, relaxed with the thoughts drifting away, and leaving the practice refreshed in an entirely different way. It wasn't instant, but those changes came at a time that helped me see yoga in a different way. It was then when I saw changes from yin that I started to see the deeper aspects of yoga in more active practices too. Now I see a good class as one where I can just drop in and be in the moment, making it a meditative movement experience. My practice has changed and my yoga journey has drastically changed and looking back it all started when I was willing to be uncomfortable with the stillness of yin.
3) Remember that Yin is in Partnership with Yang.
If you are like I was and always doing the active vinyasa and flow types of classes, maybe try yin & restorative. You might find it's hard to be still at first, but the release you feel in your body alone can be powerful. You also might find stillness can becomes powerful in its own right.
So often people feel like they need to tribe up into a camp. "I like Yin and restorative yoga, and I don't like flow." Or, "I only do gentle practices. The fast classes are not for me." And, it's totally normal to have preferences, but when we cling to them, we miss out on what these classes have to teach us - balance.
Approaching the practice with the intention to learn from it, rather than a requirement to 'like' it or be 'good' at it, opens up an entirely new layer of meaning.
There is a quote I love about yoga that has been attributed to both Jigar Gor and Judith Hanson Lasater depending on which resource you consult. No matter who said it first, it is relevant for everyone. It says, "Yoga isn't about touching your toes. It's about what you learn on the way down."
This could apply to any practice of yoga, but yin is the practice that started me to see how much there is to learn on the way down. It's why I have such a passion for the practice of yin and love sharing that with students!