These days, the most popular yoga classes seem to be the most physically demanding, fast paced ones that leave us sweating and wondering whether we can make it home or not. I put this down to the fitness trend that my generation has bought into, heart and soul, posting on Instagram every day about their workouts, runs and super healthy foods. People seem to like extreme things that they can dive into and use to block out everything else, and things that seem ‘easy’ or not productive enough just don’t get a look in. We feel like if we’re not getting faster, stronger, sweatier, then we’re not doing enough.
My first yin yoga teacher told me that she thought yin was the hardest kind of yoga, because it forces you to sit with discomfort in both your mind and body. This has definitely been part of my experience of yin, and at first I struggled so much with the urge to get out of the uncomfortable positions that it was true mental torture. I had battles going on in my head that made me hate doing yin at times, but I kept going back because after every class I felt a change in my mental state that I had never felt before. In yoga we are used to focusing on the body changing, but yin combines this with changes in the mind that I haven’t experienced in any other kind of yoga.
In a fast-paced ashtanga or vinyasa class, many people burn through the poses using adrenaline to keep themselves going. Even though we’re meant to be focusing on the breath and the mind, we don’t. We use the practice to blast our bodies and feel like we’re exercising, and when we feel discomfort we run away from it. In yin, though, this is not possible. The practice of yin requires sitting for up to five minutes in poses that can be very intense, causing extreme feelings to arise in both the body and the mind. In yin we push the boundaries of our comfort zone and learn to sit with discomfort, both physically and mentally.
A friend told me today that she honestly thinks yin has changed her life, and she isn’t usually one to make such grand statements. I can absolutely see what she means, as I came to yin at a time when I was feeling very anxious and conflicted with myself. Yin helped me to acknowledge and accept discomfort not only in my body, but also in my mind. Instead of running away from difficult thoughts and feelings, I found that I could sometimes sit with them, let them be there, and watch as they gradually dissolved. This lack of resistance to negative thoughts was a revelation for me, as I always thought that the only way to get rid of such thoughts was to attack them. By simply letting them be there and not moving out of the discomfort, I found that I could be more comfortable in it.
As with all things we learn on the mat in yoga, this is something that I’ve tried to apply to my life as a whole. When difficult feelings and thoughts arise from day to day, I try not to freak out or attack them, but instead to relax and let them be there. Sometimes I find that being okay with them being there is enough for them to drift away. Of course, this is so much easier said than done, and it’s a constant practice that needs to be developed over time. But this is why I love yin yoga.
If you want to try a light and relaxing yin practice that isn’t super intense, I highly recommend the video below. If you live in Glasgow and want to try a yin class, get yourself to Katie Boyle’s class at Merchant City Yoga on a Tuesday night , you won’t regret it!