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Many popular yoga styles focus on yang, the energetic and fiery aspect of a yoga practice. Popular yang styles include ashtanga, power, and hot yoga.
Yoga Sutra 2.32 recognizes this fire as tapas, a necessary yang style observance to help us burn through our distractions and focus on our yoga. Yet while we need tapas, we can’t always be in a state of yang. The opposite of yang, yin, and other restorative styles of yoga are growing in popularity as more yoga practitioners are realizing the importance of being still. This cultivation of stillness, arguably one of the hardest parts of life, can be learned through practice.
The Head and the Heart’s song, “Let’s Be Still” perfectly encapsulates the yin of life. The poignant lyrics represent our hectic lives, “the world’s just spinning, a little too fast. If things don’t slow down we might not last, so just for the moment let’s be still.” Sounds like our lives, doesn’t it?
Who remembers being a little kid when time seemed to drag and you always wanted to be older? You couldn’t wait to turn thirteen, get your driver’s license, or graduate. Yet as we become adults we longed to slow time down. How are we going to hold on to these moments, and cultivate slowness, when we can’t even sit still long enough to just breathe?
That is where yoga enters our lives. We find stillness through practicing yoga. Yoga teaches us presence and mindfulness. Thich Nhat Hanh, a famous Buddhist monk and Mindfulness Master, teaches us to walk slowly, make tea slowly, and to take a bath slowly. Moving slowly makes time more valuable, peaceful, and easy.
When our yang is too high our brain runs in circles. Our day-to-day activities seem to speed up our thoughts, our worries, and our brain. These anxious thoughts keep us from being still and living in the moment. This is when we need yin or restorative yoga more than ever.
When we step into a yin or restorative class we focus on the pose, the moment, the feelings. We hold each pose for anywhere from one to five minutes. Sometimes we use props to restore our bodies back to their natural state. Other times we go without props to really feel the stretch and challenge of the pose. We hold the pose so our bodies and brains can melt, which allow us to melt into the moment.
These classes teach us how to be uncomfortable and how to deal with the discomfort of life. You come in all wired and hyped up, then by the end of class, you are grounded and at ease. You have learned how to be still, at least for a little while. Through this practice, we learn how to be still in the discomfort.
So next time you want to be still, even just for a minute, put on “Let’s Be Still.” Lay back, put your legs up the wall, and breath. Breathe in the moment. Breathe out the excess energy. Cultivate your inner yin and reap the benefits of being still.
Read also: Stroking the Yogic Fire