Gentle Giants: the Power of Yin and Restorative Yoga
In a time when the pace of life and the world seem to be gathering dizzying speed, when our sometimes-cacophonous environment is so full of input that we have to consciously make time to be still, to do less, the benefits of decelerating Yoga practices like Yin or Restorative are becoming increasingly acknowledged and implemented by teachers across the Yoga spectrum.
In my experience, teaching an ever-evolving hybrid kind of hatha/vinyasa flow yoga for five years now, I have worked with a range of students, from the young and fit mountaineering population in southern Bavaria to seniors at the gym with degenerative arthritis and an extremely limited range of motion. I have observed across this spectrum that dynamic, strength-based classes appeal to many – the feeling that something has been accomplished, that something is being built up or toned is seductive and deeply connected to our cultural belief that we are worthy only when we perform/ act/ do. It is then all the more rewarding and moving to see what happens after a Yin or Restorative session – this is often a revelation on another, perhaps deeper level.
Though Yin and Restorative are two individual practices with distinct goals, backgrounds and principles, they are the two most-known labels for what has become a much-needed supplement within the Yoga world to the performance-based dynamic systems like Power, Ashtanga and Vinyasa practices. Yin and Restorative hold in common the principle that the pose and the practice deepens through less doing – through release and surrender, and through long holds, enabling us to feel more, to tune in deeply. What happens on the mat during a gentle practice is wonderful and precious, however I think that this way of practicing has an even greater potential to create positive transformation off the mat.
Here are three ways that your Yoga may transcend the mat if you incorporate Yin or Restorative practice into your weekly Yoga routine:
You may find yourself remembering to soften when confronted with resistance or obstacles along the way. We become easily conditioned to believe that pressure must be met with pressure, and it can be delightfully surprising to observe what happens when we, in a conflict situation for example, choose to soften rather than to engage. Often, a potential conflict simply deflates then, having been comprised mostly of misunderstanding inflated with the ego's need to assert itself and feel understood.
In moments when we feel the swell of tension in our bodies, like the rising of cockles, we can use the practice of cleansing breath, as learned in our time on the mat, to expel and release unnecessary and often disproportionate emotional reaction. A few deep inhales through the nose and out through the mouth can be deeply transformative and cleansing.
Through the long holds and the layers of peeling back that occur during a slow, passive practice, we develop a new understanding of our ability to work through and move on. We observe on the smaller scale of our Yoga practice that feelings and sensations come and go – and that we are able to endure and even support ourselves in this process. That we are our own greatest ally, healer, mother and best friend – and that we can come to rely on this quiet strength and endurance in moments when we need support.
So, give yourself the gift of incorporating deep surrender, stillness and release into your Yoga practice – you won't regret it!
Images: Sanjin Kaštelan and Ulrike Reinhold