Why do yin yoga?

Following up on my recent posts about yin yoga (what is is, what to expect in a yin class, and some typical yin poses) and in honour of teaching yin yoga at Body Harmony for the first time today, here’s why I do yin yoga.

The physical benefits of yin yoga are elongated myofascial tissue (a fancy name for muscles and the fascia or connective tissue that surrounds them) and increased mobility through joints, which can prevent degeneration.

My hips feel more mobile after a yin yoga practice… sort of like I could salsa dance out of class! Being in dragon pose for a few minutes, like I’m doing in the photo to the right, is particularly good at getting my hips to salsa – although actually holding dragon often makes me feel more like swearing than dancing 🙂

Yin yoga mostly accesses the body between the knees and shoulders (lots of stretching through the thighs, hips, and spine and wonderful compression and release through the back), but I’ve also found that a yin practice often releases tension in my neck and shoulders. Forward bending postures, like dangling, work wonders for making my neck and shoulders feel looser and more relaxed.

I find the psychological benefits of yin yoga are even more impactful than the physical ones. In addition to the sense relaxation that comes from hanging out in poses for a few minutes, I’ve also found that settling into that Goldilocks place in a posture, which can be a bit uncomfortable, has helped me settle into discomfort in the rest of my life when I really can’t change the situation.

The philosophy of finding a balance of relaxation and intensity in a posture has aided me in looking for balance in the rest of my life. I find myself asking;

  • “Can I make this more comfortable?” – the yoga equivalent of adding props
  • “Is this focusing on something I want or need?” – the yoga equivalent of identifying the target area
  • “Can I let go of some tension or holding?” – the yoga equivalent of relaxing the target area
  • “Is there anything gained by fretting or being frantic – can I just be?” – the yoga equivalent of settling into a pose, breathing, and letting thoughts go

Perhaps that last question is most important. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to let go of worrying or letting my mind spin, but at least I can be conscious about it.

If you want to experience the benefits of yin yoga for yourself, join me for classes at Body Harmony on Saturdays at 4:30pm and at Bound Lotus on Mondays at 1pm, Tuesdays at 8:15pm, and Fridays at 6:30pm.

What is yin yoga?

Child's pose is a great yin yoga posture

My basic definition of yin yoga is: A series of yoga postures held for longer than in a usual practice. But that’s a really short explanation that leaves a lot of room for expansion.

In yin yoga, the postures tend to be relatively easy ones (not balancing or strength poses) and the hold times are generally between two and five minutes. I like to find the middle ground in a yin yoga pose, which I often describe in Goldilocks terms; it’s not painful (like burning your mouth on really hot porridge), but it’s more than nothing (like sinking too far into a ridiculously cushy bed) – it’s that perfect balance. Enough of a stretch to feel it, but not so much that your muscles tense up and fight against relaxation.

My intent in a yin practice is to relax and gently stretch, as well as mentally settle into stillness. Holding a posture for two to five minutes (or even more) tends to be a mental test, far more than a physical one. The commitment to being in the moment -letting go of thinking, planning, and doing- is a challenge for most people.

Spending last week with Paul & Suzee Grilley really got me thinking about how I define yin yoga. It’s not a trademark or a specific limited number of postures; it’s not proscribed sequence or a meticulous list of dos and don’ts. I think it’s an attitude.

My new working description of yin yoga is: The desire to be still in a yoga practice and the intent to affect parts of the body beyond muscles through long-held postures.

Of course, if that definition fails, I can always fall back on my favourite tongue-in-cheek way to describe a yin yoga class: Lazy yoga 😉

Cozy, lazy yoga

The weather in Vancouver has again turned to the rainy coldness of February, which makes me want to do nothing but get cozy and be lazy. Thankfully, this kind of weather is perfect for the yin yoga class I’m teaching tonight.

The last Friday of each month, I do an extended savasana with a long yoga nidra (or guided relaxation) in my 6:30pm class at Bound Lotus. The class is a short set of yin yoga postures followed by 25 minute yoga nidra, where  I guide students through relaxing every part of their bodies and coming into deep relaxation. It’s a beautiful practice that really allows students to go inward and completely relax.

The weather tonight seems perfect for laying out on a couple of meditation cushions, cozying up under a blanket or two, and settling into a deep, conscious relaxation. Join me at 6:30pm at Bound Lotus, where we’ll indulge in some cozy, lazy yoga and create haven of warmth and relaxation!

Songs for savasana

These songs are particularly lovely for that beautiful relaxation period at the end of a yoga practice. Click on the iTunes button to purchase a specific song.

  • Aad Guray by Deva Premal Aad Guray - Dakshina
  • Awake My Soul by Mumford and Sons Awake My Soul - Sigh No More
  • Into the West by Howard Shore & Annie Lennox Into the West - The Lord of the Rings - The Return of the King (Soundtrack from the Motion Picture)
  • Keep Breathing by Ingrid Michaelson Keep Breathing - Be OK
  • Long Time Sun by Snatam Kaur Long Time Sun - Celebrate Peace
  • Never Ending Road (Amhrán Duit) by Loreena McKennitt Never Ending Road (Amhrán Duit) - An Ancient Muse

Visit the Listen and Meditate pages full lists of songs that are great for a yoga practice or for meditation

The final quarter

Laura from the back in sat kriyaToday was my 31st consecutive day doing the sat kriya meditation… into the final stretch of the first 40 Day Meditation Challenge of 2012 at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre! Yay!

Sat kriya is a pretty intense meditation and it feels good to have gotten this far in the challenge. At first, the prospect of holding my arms above my head for 11 minutes was very daunting; now the 11 minutes passes amazingly quickly. Figuring out how to use props to keep my knees happy and prevent my feet from falling asleep has certainly helped, but I think I’ve also developed a stronger sense of willpower and settled into the meditation.

Perhaps I’ve tapped into the power of the first (or root) chakra and I’m feeling the abundance and unlimited energy that’s associated with that energy centre.

One of the unexpected benefits I’ve noticed is how quickly I’m able to sink into deep relaxation during the savasana (or rest period) after sat kriya. It’s also much easier to quiet my mind and fully relax my body in savasana following a yoga practice. It used to take me several minutes to let go, by which time the teacher was often bringing us out of savasana and finishing the class, but now it’s just a few breaths before that sense of calm and peace comes over me.

Kundalini Yoga Boot Camp has great information All about the practice of sat kriya if you’re looking for more info.

I’ll be attempting solo meditation this weekend as we’re going out of town. I’m hoping to ride the meditation-momentum of more than 30 days at Bound Lotus to carry me through the 11 minutes alone… and then keep that momentum going until day 4o on February 11!

Beyond a good night’s sleep

Laura in corpse pose for yoga nidra

One of my few positive memories of summer camp is of a counsellor quieting us down at night by doing a guided relaxation. I remember feeling peaceful and weightless; letting go of all my tensions and forgetting any stresses of the day. Given that I didn’t like summer camp much, the comfort and security of the guided relaxation was very welcome!

I had no idea that the counsellor instructing a cabin-full of girls to relax from their toes to their earlobes was actually doing a form of the ancient practice of yoga nidra – or yogic sleep. Yoga nidra isn’t really sleep as the intent is to stay conscious, but it is deeply relaxing. Making a choice to release tension from all of your muscles and surrender to gravity is powerful and profound.

It’s a different feeling from sleeping as every moment of yoga nidra is a conscious decision to relax rather than giving in to the unconsciousness of sleep. It can be even more restorative than a nap of the same duration and some studies show that half an hour of yoga nidra is equal to two hours of sleep.

Sometimes students do fall asleep in yoga nidra and that’s okay, too. I see being comfortable enough to drift off in a yoga class as a huge compliment for the teacher 🙂

I love the way I feel after doing yoga nidra – relaxed, refreshed, and calm. I also love leading yoga nidra and I end all of my yin classes with at least five minutes of guided relaxation to help settle students into savasana (the relaxation period at the end of class).

Join me at Bound Lotus tonight at 8:15pm for Yin Yoga and check my schedule to see when I’m teaching and join me for a class – including a yoga nidra-infused savasana!

The strength of stillness

Laura relaxing at Prana

At the end of this morning’s meditation, one of my favourite teachers at Bound Lotus encouraged us to find the power in the relaxation that comes after 11 minutes of Sat Kryia.

That struck a cord with me. So much of my life (and I suspect yours, too!) is filled with rushing and running around that it’s easy to miss the profound satisfaction of being still. Not being vegetative or twitchy, but being consciously relaxed and tuning into the body.

Sitting or lying still for any longer than a couple of minutes (and not falling asleep!) is a challenge for me. My mind wanders… thoughts stray to what needs to be done and where I need to go. My body suddenly discovers itches and small discomforts that weren’t there moments ago… I invent reasons for moving.

But when I get past that first bit of twitching and let my brain clear, I start to feel the strength of stillness. Not doing or worrying or wanting… just being. The stillness brings calmness, relaxation, and a sense of rejuvenation.

Come join me at Bound Lotus for yin yoga and a bit of stillness on Mondays from 1-2:15pm and Fridays from 6:30-745pm.