The Tao of Yin

A cool­ing Yin Yoga prac­tice just may be the an­ti­dote to feel­ing over­heated and on edge—this sum­mer and all year round.

Yoga Journal - - CONTENTS - By Josh Sum­mers

WHEN I FIRST STEPPED ONTO the yo­gic path 20 years ago, I was quickly hooked by the rig­or­ous dis­ci­pline and self-con­trol that Iyen­gar Yoga in­spired in me. For two hours a day, I prac­ticed asana se­quences as scripted by B.K.S. Iyen­gar in

Light on Yoga. I sought spir­i­tual pu­rity through a raw ve­gan diet, be­liev­ing it was the only way to uplift my soul and purge my body of tox­ins. And I be­lieved that with the right con­di­tions, teacher, and amount of prac­tice, lib­er­a­tion was at hand.

It’s clear to me now that my sin­cere ef­fort to find peace and hap­pi­ness through yoga was turn­ing me into a neu­rotic freak­show. In fact, the Iyen­gar method’s em­pha­sis on ex­ac­ti­tude

had prompted con­trol­ling ten­den­cies in me that started to col­o­nize my en­tire life. It wasn’t un­til I found my­self in acupunc­ture to treat a back strain—from prac­tic­ing Urd­hva Dha­nurasana (Wheel Pose)—that I got the first hints that my best yo­gic in­ten­tions may have been do­ing more harm than good. Acupunc­ture was so fas­ci­nat­ing to me that I de­cided to be­come an acupunc­tur­ist. And it was dur­ing my first year in acupunc­ture school, when we ex­plored the fun­da­men­tals of yin-yang the­ory, that it oc­curred to me just how yang-dom­i­nant I had be­come.

Yin-yang the­ory, from tra­di­tional Chi­nese medicine, is a sim­ple but use­ful way to an­a­lyze and un­der­stand any ex­pe­ri­ence. Yin qual­i­ties in­clude traits like re­cep­tiv­ity, al­lowance, tol­er­ance, re­flec­tion, and pas­siv­ity. Yang qual­i­ties in­clude do­ing, di­rect­ing, im­prov­ing, achiev­ing, con­trol­ling, and be­com­ing. From a Chi­nese-medicine per­spec­tive, yin and yang qual­i­ties are both es­sen­tial, and nei­ther is su­pe­rior to the other. When we un­der­stand their re­la­tion­ship, we can pro­mote bal­ance and har­mony be­tween them.

It turns out that in my yang-driven ef­fort to cul­ti­vate peace, I was re­in­forc­ing a qual­ity of rigid­ity by try­ing to con­trol my body and diet. I started prac­tic­ing Yin Yoga to find more bal­ance, and I im­me­di­ately no­ticed some big changes. First, my ex­pe­ri­ence with med­i­ta­tion dra­mat­i­cally im­proved. My body started re­leas­ing deep ten­sion

that had been caus­ing my knees to ache and my feet to go numb. This alone kept me com­ing back to the five-minute Yin holds that are stan­dard for the style, and I learned to tol­er­ate the bit­ter ach­i­ness of the sen­sa­tions I felt when I did the poses. I also no­ticed how this re­lease of ten­sion fa­cil­i­tated a more grace­ful flow and bet­ter mo­bil­ity in my yang-dom­i­nant Iyen­gar prac­tice.

I be­gan to per­ceive an in­ner soft­ness and deep re­lax­ation in my body that lasted far be­yond the nor­mal 30 min­utes of zen I ex­pe­ri­enced af­ter a yang prac­tice. Per­haps most pro­found,

I had a greater aware­ness of my in­ter­nal en­er­getic state. In acupunc­ture school, peo­ple of­ten talked about feel­ing their en­ergy as flow­ing or be­ing blocked—but to me, per­ceiv­ing sub­tle en­ergy was as out there as see­ing auras or re­mem­ber­ing past lives. But when I started prac­tic­ing Yin, I fi­nally be­gan to sense the sub­tle cur­rents of en­er­getic flow that rip­pled through my body. Turns out it wasn’t so mys­te­ri­ous; it just re­quired a more mag­ni­fied lens of mind­ful­ness, which is some­thing that nat­u­rally gets stronger when you prac­tice Yin Yoga.

What, ex­actly, is Yin Yoga?

The term Yin Yoga gets tossed around a lot these days, yet as a yoga style, it’s in­tended to achieve some­thing very spe­cific: to bal­ance and har­mo­nize the body and mind in tan­dem with other, more yang styles of prac­tice. Gen­er­ally speak­ing, yang styles of yoga (like Iyen­gar, Ash­tanga, and vinyasa) em­pha­size rhyth­mic and repet­i­tive con­trac­tion of mus­cles. These styles fo­cus on mov­ing the body through dy­namic flows that stim­u­late, stretch, and strengthen the mus­cles and their fas­cia (con­nec­tive tis­sues). Yin Yoga em­pha­sizes pas­sive, static pos­tures, held for long pe­ri­ods of time, with mus­cles in a re­laxed state. This way, the dense con­nec­tive tis­sues in and around the mus­cles and joints are stim­u­lated, some­what stretched, and ul­ti­mately strength­ened. Yin Yoga is meant to com­ple­ment and sup­ple­ment one’s yang yoga prac­tice. Yin isn’t a stand­alone prac­tice; it’s just the other half of prac­tice.

A first, Yin Yoga may feel coun­ter­in­tu­itive. For ex­am­ple, af­ter you al­low your body to soak in the mild stress of a Yin Yoga pos­ture, you will likely feel a no­tice­able fragility in that area upon com­ing out of the pose. Rather than feel­ing won­der­ful, you may feel stiff—al­most as if you’ve aged a decade or two. How can some­thing that looks like it should feel so good feel so un­com­fort­able—at least at first? It’s due to some­thing I call in­stan­ta­neous tis­sue sore­ness. Think about it this way: The im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of any good ex­er­cise, which in­volves tax­ing your mus­cles, is tem­po­rary weak­ness in those mus­cle tis­sues. But with time to rest and re­cover, the body re­sponds to that ex­er­cise by re­in­forc­ing the stressed tis­sue, mak­ing it stronger and health­ier. This is what hap­pens dur­ing Yin Yoga, and it is the main dif­fer­ence be­tween Yin and restora­tive yoga. Where Yin aims to put spe­cific kinds of stress on the tis­sues to pro­mote strength, hy­dra­tion, and mo­bil­ity, restora­tive yoga seeks to prop the body in such a way that a deep re­lax­ation can oc­cur with­out stress­ing the body in any sig­nif­i­cant way. Two dif­fer­ent in­ten­tions, two dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences.

The sci­ence be­hind Yin Yoga

To more fully un­der­stand how the mus­cles, lig­a­ments, and fas­cia are stressed dur­ing Yin Yoga pos­tures, it’s help­ful to look at the pi­o­neer­ing re­search of He­lene Langevin, MD, PhD, di­rec­tor of the Osher Cen­ter for In­te­gra­tive Medicine in Bos­ton. Langevin is a med­i­cal doc­tor and an acupunc­tur­ist who has stud­ied the mech­a­nisms of acupunc­ture and what hap­pens to our tis­sues when they re­ceive a gen­tle stretch over sev­eral min­utes.

Her re­search shows that when an acupunc­ture nee­dle is in­serted into a point and rapidly twisted back and forth, the col­la­gen fibers of the loose con­nec­tive tis­sues wrap around the nee­dle “like spaghetti around a fork,” she says. That wind­ing of the col­la­gen around the nee­dle gen­er­ates a mi­cro-stretch in the con­nec­tive tis­sues that lasts as long as the nee­dle is left in place. Af­ter 30 min­utes of this nee­dle-in­duced stretch (which is of­ten ac­com­pa­nied by a dull, achy feel­ing), the cells in the nearby tis­sues re­spond by re­leas­ing cer­tain pain-re­liev­ing mol­e­cules.

Langevin was able to repli­cate this ef­fect—with­out us­ing nee­dles—by us­ing a gen­tle, man­ual stretch­ing tech­nique for 30 min­utes, very sim­i­lar to how we ap­proach stretch­ing our bod­ies in Yin Yoga. Of course, you likely won’t stay in a Yin pose for 30 min­utes. Yet within a Yin se­quence (like the one on the fol­low­ing pages), the cu­mu­la­tive gen­tle-stretch­ing time an area of your body re­ceives may start to ap­proach the 30-minute mark, en­abling you to ex­pe­ri­ence the same kind of ben­e­fits.

Langevin’s re­search has shown that long, gen­tle stretches (10 min­utes, twice a day), lead to de­creased in­flam­ma­tion and restora­tion of healthy mo­bil­ity in con­nec­tive tis­sues. And an­other study, con­ducted by Robert Sch­leip, PhD (who has ded­i­cated his life to study­ing fas­cia) showed that when con­nec­tive tis­sues are gently stretched for 15 min­utes, 30 min­utes af­ter the re­lease of the stretch, they be­come more hy­drated than they were be­fore the stretch took place.

To­gether, these stud­ies sug­gest that on a phys­i­cal level, Yin Yoga helps pro­mote the strength, vi­tal­ity, hy­dra­tion, and mo­bil­ity of our con­nec­tive tis­sues. Yet Yin Yoga works on an en­er­getic level, too. To wit: Langevin found a cor­re­la­tion be­tween the lo­ca­tion of tra­di­tional acupunc­ture points and planes of in­ter­mus­cu­lar con­nec­tive tis­sues. As an acupunc­tur­ist my­self, this makes sense to me. Of­ten, tra­di­tional acupunc­ture texts de­scribe the lo­ca­tion of points as be­ing found in the space be­tween two mus­cles, be­tween a mus­cle and bone, or be­tween two bones. What’s be­tween these things? Con­nec­tive tis­sues, which are also home to the merid­i­ans, or lines of sub­tle body en­ergy, in Chi­nese medicine. As a re­sult, Yin Yoga is one way of pro­mot­ing greater en­er­getic flow and en­hanced en­er­getic cir­cu­la­tion. With both acupunc­ture and Yin Yoga, deep en­er­getic stag­na­tions are un­blocked, par­tic­u­larly at the joints. When one’s en­ergy cir­cu­lates with unim­peded ease, the en­su­ing re­sponse is one of calm­ness and con­tent­ment. This may be one rea­son why many Yin yo­gis re­port feel­ing a deep parasym­pa­thetic (rest and digest) ner­vous-sys­tem re­sponse af­ter the prac­tice, marked by a last­ing feel­ing of re­lax­ation.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.