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Why I love Yin Yoga by Tara Burke

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Many of these ideas have been incorporated from practicing on my own for many years, and from teaching Yin Yoga at The Space Above for almost 2 years.  I am also indebted to Cindy Evans, RYT500, a teacher in Richmond, Virginia who gave myself and other teacher trainers the opportunity to expand our training in a weekend intensive yin yoga program in 2013.  I regularly consult www.yinyoga.com and the book “The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga” by the master Bernie Clark.  
In addition, my studies in yoga philosophy have merged with my interest in Yin, and I incorporate
and am practicing many of the ideas and tools that I have learned from Anna Pittman (www.thebreathingspace.org) and her work in Hatha Yoga and Wisdom Teachings.  

I tell my students in every class that Yin Yoga is a big blessing, but it can be slow to reveal itself.  Yin Yoga takes full trust in your own body and its ability to relax and release while focusing on a sensation, or a supported, but deep stretch.  If you’ve ever had the opportunity to peek in on a Yin class, you may have thought it was restorative and peaceful.  Although these are two goals of Yin – to bring peace to the body and mind while exploring sensation – the practice can be challenging in whole new ways, especially to the student who practices only vinyasa or power yoga, for athletes, and for anyone who has a hard time sitting still.

Another thing I say to my students is to let Yin Yoga be a gateway to meditation and mindfulness.  You don’t even need this as your intention – sitting still and focusing on the breath and the body in a stretch already is a practice in mindfulness.  Over time, you may find it easier to sit still and relax with awareness and presence: this is meditation!  You don’t have to be perfectly clear and empty in the mind or in your emotions to be in meditation.  The mind will think, the body will feel, and every day will feel different.  Finding stillness and resolving to be there – even if you must adjust from time to time for comfort – then breathing and being with whatever comes up without attachments, all of this is the practice of meditation.

A mindfulness or meditation practice helps us live in the moment fully awake.  Simply put, mindfulness is the balance of an open attention on the present moment in a calm and grounded state.  Yoga philosophy, as well as many other spiritual paths, agree that this is about accessing a deep witness to life as it is – when we see things clearly as they are, we can respond to our circumstances with clarity and newfound strength.  One can practice mindfulness in any yoga class and moving meditations to reap many benefits.  However, the reason I love Yin Yoga for this is because it is quiet and still, cool and spacious.  The idea is to resist action, reaction, and the need to burn everything up.  (Fire and force – the more Yang side of life and yoga is important, too, but our culture is addicted to this kind of transformation. We can’t seem to sit still with presence.)

During a Yin class, the student holds seated postures for 1-5 minutes at a time, deepening and breathing into the sensations of the body, mind, and heart without wavering, gently exploring what comes up.  This brings us directly into mindfulness practice with stillness and humility – instead of waiting for a perfect tomorrow we’ve conjured in our minds, we must be with ourselves and cultivate a self-love and acceptance right now.  Until we love our body, our breath, our minds, and our lives as they are, we cannot approach the world, others, injustice, challenges, and celebrations with the same openness and awareness.

Of course, this is yet another practice, and there are many tools to mindfulness: meditation, breathwork, holding passive yoga postures, kriyas, mantras and facets, practicing simple presence, and more.  The key is to practice detachment (not indifference) and allow yourself to feel and accept all aspects of the human experience, all of our repressed emotions and lives, to see them all as good and true as they are, even if our mind wants to say otherwise (this is not good, I can be better, I have to move past this, etc.)  The quickest way to surpass this monkey mind that wants to attach and avert (fight or flight, react and contract) is to find the right mindfulness practice for you in your everyday life.  We don’t have to travel the world or find the perfect peaceful retreat to be mindful and fully AWAKE.   We can use these tools anywhere, and everywhere.  It is not about perfectionism; it is about seeing the perfect nature of every moment as it is.

One word to describe this openness, especially in Yin, is to say we practice being passive instead of active.  This does not mean we become passive in the negative sense.  On the contrary, when we allow ourselves to be open, to be fully human and alive, with many tendencies to emote and judge and make mistakes, when we don’t identify with these and recognize that who we are is deeper than this (the inner, calm witness) then we can respond and approach any situation with more clarity.  We know when to act and when to let go, when to stand up for ourselves and speak truth and when to let others speak theirs. There is more space.

It is easy, too, in Yin and in other quiet, meditative practices and postures to still adapt a forceful, heated, active nature.  This is normal, especially for us Westerners.  Once we begin noticing this tendency to still perfect and force, we can begin to breathe and let it go.  We don’t have to keep identifying with it!  Yin is great because we use the practice to find relaxation and ease even in discomfort, but we also learn how not to push ourselves into pain.  We use the posture to get deeper into the inner body; we do not use the body to get deeper into an idealized posture.  What a metaphor, too, for our lives!

There are, of course, many physical benefits to Yin Yoga.  There is great literature about these physical benefits – they range from anatomical, muscular, joint, bone, and connective tissue benefits, to energetic benefits that are said to affect hormonal balance, glandular health, and other esoteric advantages.  I’ll let you explore those benefits on your own, in your own body and life.  For me, a supported Yin practice is about attention and relaxation, breath and awareness.  It can be a profound gateway to understand yourself and bring kindness back to your life – always, so we can share and spread this kindness in every moment of our lives off the mat.

Come experience Tara as the beautiful teacher she is!
You can find her Yin Practice on Monday nights at 5:00pm
and Align and Flow on Tuesdays at noon.

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