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We all know (or should know) that proper rest and relaxation are essential for healthy living. So often, throughout the busy week, the busy month, the busy year, we look forward to our weekends, vacation days, even just those few moments throughout the day to sit and breathe. And yet we rarely seem to take advantage of the spare time we get to truly relax. “I wish I had more time for…” for what? An hour or two in front of the TV? Surfing the internet? Reading a book? All various forms of entertainment will help us pass the time more or less enjoyably, but do we really feel more rested after? Or just more restless?
Yin yoga offers space and time for true rest. Yin yoga is, basically, the opposite of yang yoga – a simpler, quieter sister to the typical hot flow most people associate with hatha yoga classes. Yin is a chance to stretch and feel into the spaces of your body, but more importantly it’s an opportunity to, in a way, stretch and feel into the spaces of your mind. And that is what makes it so HARD to do.
I often find five minutes of solitary meditation difficult to sit through. My mind wanders to to-do lists for the day, distant plans for the future, and daydreams of every sort. Focusing awareness to my breath and body in the present is no easy task. During a yin practice that sort of meditation is extended to around 75 minutes, while also adding in bodily poses that, when held for five minutes at a time, can get very uncomfortable indeed. The combination of mental and physical distraction (and discomfort) makes yin yoga quite possibly more challenging than any other form of yoga. Coming to terms with the ins and outs of your own body during physical exercise is one thing, something many people, including myself, find a worthy and often fun challenge. Coming to terms with the often-neglected, dusty, and dark corners of your own mind? Even more intimidating, if you ask me.
Still, true rest for your body and mind relies upon a level of contentment and peace that can only come from acknowledging what is within. When you come to your mat not to work but to let go, tuning in to what is internal rather than external, you recognize that everything you need to be content is already within you. If your body is sore, you allow yourself to feel it. If your mind is worried or distracted, you allow yourself to feel it. And when you allow yourself to feel, you allow yourself to heal (cheesy, I know – but true!). You come to realize that your current state of mind is only that – a state of mind, which can change. Your mat is a space of transformation: as you would release the tension and toxins from your body in the form of sweat during exercise, so you release the stress and anxiety from your mind in yin. In yang yoga you give effort; in yin yoga, you give in to rest.
Giving in is not the same as giving up, which is the sly distinction that makes yin yoga difficult to practice. We don’t want to succumb to the fears and stresses that plague our minds, so we avoid the space where facing those discomforting thoughts occurs. But it’s not a failure to recognize what thoughts and feelings exist within us, but rather a surrender to what is. You may not be able to change every circumstance life throws your way, but you can control your reaction to it. Yin yoga is all about practicing that control over reaction. It is the master at teaching the individual that no matter where you are, you are.
Odd, that I find myself seeking motivation to do what I know from experience is the ultimate R&R work out. I only know that when I do give myself time and space for yin, I come away more complete in mind and body than I was before. Maybe that’s what’s so hard, is that that self nourishment may appear to be mere self indulgence. Yet without it, we are no more loving or beneficial to those around us than we are to ourselves. Maybe we all need a little more time and space for yin in our lives.