A few months ago, we started introducing moon-day Yin classes in the Mysore slot at AIR. Now, as every Ashtangi out there knows, moon days are for resting. So why would we advocate doing yoga when we’re meant to rest? The answer, of course, is that Yin is in so many ways the opposite to Ashtanga. Yin is to yang what moon is to sun, passive is to active, and rest is to energy. Our practice, Ashtanga, is an active pursuit: energetic, athletic. Of course we aim for balance. It’s essential for the mind to be as focused as the body, but that’s easier said than done. While enjoying improved strength and flexibility, one can sometimes forget to put equal effort into cultivating stillness of mind – Yogash Chitta Vritti Nirodhah This is where Yin is perfect. Unlike Ashtanga, with the very active vinyasas, and postures held for just five breaths, Yin asks you to slow down completely. Only a handful of postures are covered in a class, and each is held a long time: Around three minutes for beginners, building up to five to seven minutes for intermediates and twenty for the really advanced. This leaves you no option but to sit with your mind, and breathe through the thoughts.
What’s more, while Ashtanga builds muscular strength & flexibility, Yin essentially bypasses the muscles, working instead on the deeper tissues: connective tissue, the fascia (which runs through the muscle, and tend to be pretty inflexible, compared to muscle) as well as ligaments. The benefit to flexibility, with regular practice, is enormous. Ballet dancers and gymnasts know all too well that long holds make for flexibility. But they also strengthen areas you don’t typically reach with Ashtanga. So this is another way in which the two forms complement each other: Ashtanga for muscular strength; Yin for stronger ligaments and stronger joints.
Yin and Meditation
For those who wish to explore meditation, Yin is a great place to start, largely because it gives you the extra flexibility in the hips to be able to sit comfortably for long periods. But the major bonus is that Yin, with it’s practice of stillness of the body & mind, is a meditation in itself.
The power of letting go
Do you, like many of us, frustrate yourself in Ashtanga, just with your own monkey mind? Does your head try to skip forward to the next pose, while your eyes flit around the room looking at all the pretty colours? (“Ooh, a baby blue mat, hmm, purple, hey look, there goes a squirrel!”) Or do you have a hard time silencing the inner critic in your mind? You know, “Why can’t you bind here yet, why can’t you do what that guy does, you should, you could, you must …” Yin invites you to sit with just one pose at a time, just to breathe through it, to let go, let go, let go. And as you try to relax into those tight hips, and find comfort in the discomfort, your body, too has to let go. And who cares if you don’t actually look like Rudolf Nureyev (even if you’re becoming nearly as flexible)! So, next moon day, come try it out. You might just be amazed.