Yin Yoga is not restorative Yoga
by Shelly Bivins / Sandra Radja (Ayurvedic commentary)
Yin classes have become very popular but perhaps misrepresented by some. Yin yoga and Restorative yoga certainly have similarities in being both meditative and calming practices and in their resulting benefits to the practitioner, but those benefits and results are reached by going down different roads. Restorative Yoga is a wonderful practice that relies heavily on many props to assist in maintaining the postures, which does not require the same mental or physical preparedness as Yin practice.
Ayurvedic practitioners may include yoga as part of the treatment program. It is vital for them to understand the nature of the practise they are advising on. Some yin practises may not be as calming to Vata/Pitta as first imagined. It's important to break down the practise into the intention and subsequent results to see whether it can be a medicine or a poison. It's important to not just rely on the Yoga flyer's description when make recommendations.
WHAT IS YIN YOGA?
Yin is not a practice for beginners. In my opinion Yin requires a good deal of body awareness in order to know how far to push, or surrender, and remain injury free. A Yin practice can be quite intense at times and this is where the challenge of the practice is presented. The challenge is committing to not only the time of the long held postures, 4 to 8 minutes or longer, but committing also to stillness in the posture. Not an easy task for many. The mind can be quite creative and persuasive in coming up with reasons to not stay with the practice. Bernie Clark, a leading Yin yoga teacher, says; “Yin yoga is not meant to be comfortable; it will take you well outside your comfort zone. Much of the benefit of the practice will come from staying in this zone of discomfort, despite the mind’s urgent pleas to leave.”
Often times Yin is practiced in silence. No well thought out playlist to potentially distract from the work being done. In this practice one learns to be comfortable with and more attuned to the voice of the body. Few verbal cues from the instructor leave room for the student to have their own unique experience. How can this mental chatter be stilled? Anchor the mind to the breath; the inhale and the exhale will help quiet the mind. Bringing stillness to the mind and physical body can have a domino effect of stillness to the entire system.
AYURVEDA AND YIN YOGA
Most postures are seated, working into the hips, legs and spine. This allows for a root connection to the earth. From this vantage point it can be a beneficial practise for the Vata dosha, however when Vata is feeling depleted the extra energy required in the intense focus needed for a yin practise may feel exhausting. Vata dosha that is out of balance may prefer a restorative class that relies on the passive postures and support of props. When Vata is balanced, approaching a yin class mindfully and with a prepared breath may be very helpful to gain strength and focus in an otherwise chaotic mind.
Pitta may find it gets competitive and ambitious in the results. An instructor that understands the pittas in the room would be wise to gently (and sweetly) coax the ideas of surrender to inspire the Pitta yogi to treat the journey with the same respect as the end goal. The focus on being still and grounded are good for Pitta and having something to "chew on" will keep the mind from becoming bored.
Kapha requires invigoration. The heat generated from the intensity of focus will benefit the sedentary and unmotivated Kapha individual, however the instructor needs to crack a whip a few times to wake them up and remind the Kapha student to remain focused on the agenda. Ultimately Kapha requires stimulation and a practise that involves physical body movement, such as a vigorous vinyasa, would be preferable. Alternately postures in a yin class that requires chest openers or standing postures that are not so geared towards being earth bound, may do the trick.
A CHANGED FOCUS OFF THE MAT
What happened for me after my first Yin class was my plans for that day changed. I no longer felt the need to go the gym for what I previously thought would be a welcome round of high intensity, yang, activity; something the normal pitta aspect of myself would have craved. I wanted to stay in the mental, as well as physical, space that had been created. I wanted to ride the Yin wave. The practice had brought a balance to my state of mind. My mind was more calm and focused and my body felt wonderfully relaxed.
A Yin practice can be formulated to be more energizing or calming but the essence should remain the same. It can be a deceptively physically and mentally challenging practice and that is an aspect that draws me nearer, and the quiet and stillness keeps me there. Use the time and intensity of the practice to work in to the postures edge by edge. Be strong yet adaptive to what arises and expand that knowledge to situations off the mat.
I'm a practitioner of the Rolf Method Structural Integration practise and a yoga teacher in Austin, Texas and am often inspired to write about it. I encourage people to slow down and look within; if you're not happy with what's there change it! Spending time in nature with my dogs is essential to staying balanced and grounded.