On the surface of it, yin yoga looks quite straightforward. You manoeuvre yourself into a position and stay there for a bit of time – job done; big tick; move onto the next pose. And yes, yin can be exactly like that, but if this is all you see when you approach the practice you’re missing out on a whole lot more.
One of the key elements of yin yoga is the encouragement to find stillness within the pose. The science here suggests that the fascia we are working with benefits from being stressed for a length of time. By holding a position in yin yoga we are targeting a specific area of the body, to encourage a lengthening of the tissues, creating more space when we move out of the pose. The challenge is to come into the position and find the elusive stillness which allows the magic to happen.
For some this stillness will be in the form of arriving in the pose and not moving until the time is up. The boundary of resolving to remain motionless can be freeing to some, as we spend much of our days busily moving from position to position. The idea of staying still may offer a sense of freedom even though we are applying a boundary of not moving. Other people may find this idea of being completely motionless too much.
Top Tip – when you first enter a yin yoga pose, take some time to settle into the pose, make any necessary adjustments to ensure you can remain in the position without fidgeting. A good idea is to come into the pose to 50% of your maximum effort, there’s always space to deepen the pose later on with yin!
We can also explore stillness of the breath by placing our focus on the action of respiration and allowing this to guide us through the physical position of the body. When the breath is still there is little effort in breathing. The inhales and exhales come naturally, perhaps with a slightly longer exhale the more we settle into the physical position. The breath offers a natural gauge, telling us immediately if we have gone too far too soon in a position. But if we tune in enough, the breath can also invite us to move a little more deeply into a pose. Remaining with the breath, can take the experience of yin yoga to a new level, as familiar poses take on new meaning when we explore them through this filter.
Top Tip – after you have settled the body in your yin yoga position and have found a space where you can be physically comfortable, take your attention to the breath. A good place to start is to count the breaths – inhale 1, exhale 1… all the way up to 10, then return to 1 and begin again. This can help you stay in the present moment with awareness and attention.
Another way of looking at the idea of stillness takes us back to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, ‘Yoga is the calming (stilling) of the fluctuations of the mind.’ Just as we have found a motionless option with stillness in the physical body, and the breath has became calm and steady; we can now turn our full attention to the mind. Finding the stillness or calmness in the mind is only really possible if the body is comfortable and safe, while the breath is calm and steady. Here we can watch the thoughts flit across the screen of our minds and choose to not become involved. It’s often our minds which are ready to come out of a pose in advance of the body. The mind tells us plenty of stories to entertain us and to remove us from the discomfort of a long-held yin yoga pose. We need to take care to really listen and tune in, so that we know when to remain in the position to get the maximum benefit and when to move out of it.
Top Tip – if you have managed to calm and steady the body and the breath, the mind will often follow along, for a short time! Be prepared for the mind to wander, often, and to practise compassion and kindness as you gently draw your attention back to the body, the breath and the present moment.
The beauty of stillness
As I’ve learned more about yin yoga through studying, reading and practising I’ve managed to notice these moments of stillness while on my mat. I don’t profess to being able to remain perfectly motionless in every position, but I don’t need to in order to benefit from my yin session. When I find a physical position offers a challenge to this concept of stillness in the body, I look to other ways I can embrace the idea. I calm and steady my breath, taking the focus here helps me to remain in the present moment for a few breaths more. It also helps the thoughts to slow down, helping me to find space. Occasionally shifting focus in this way leads to a physical release where the body is able to find that little piece of stillness. But the true beauty is in coming back the next day and exploring what stillness means from a fresh perspective.
Next time you step onto your mat for a yin yoga session consider the idea of finding stillness. Begin with the body, move onto the breath and the work up to stilling the mind. This will add a new flavour to your practice and offer you the chance to explore your yoga on a deeper level.