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Yin Yoga: A Practice of Self-Inquiry

In this article, I recap my relationship with Yin Yoga, and I describe my greatest takeaways from the practice.

Before traveling to New York last week, I joked that I would be luxuriating over bolsters for 50 hours. Yet I knew from experience that Yin is much more challenging than it appears. In my Yin Flow & Essential Oils 50-hour Teacher Training at Laughing Lotus, led by Susan Derwin and Brandi Ryans, my prediction was accurate: I had moments of struggle, moments of bliss, and most importantly, moments of profound learning.

Yin Yoga differs greatly from the fast-paced, sweaty flow classes I’ve taken at Laughing Lotus and the alignment-precise yoga classes that seem to be popular in Boston. In Yin, students are held in postures for 3-5 minutes at a time. The intention of these long holds is not to build muscle, nor to attain a specific shape, nor to nap over a bolster, but to replenish the connective tissue in our bodies. In the process of rehydrating our fascia by settling into a sensational stretch, we learn to sit with discomfort. We are taught to find our edge – the place of intensity that feels interesting to explore but is still sustainable and fully breathable for the duration of our hold. Our edge constantly changes, day to day and moment to moment, so understanding how to access it makes Yin a deep process of self-inquiry.

When I first started practicing yoga, I was quite resistant to Yin. As soon as moments of silence arose even in Vinyasa practices, my mind would scream out in protest. In college, when I was deep into my eating disorder and during the first few years of healing that followed, I experienced too much anxiety in the intense stillness of slower holds to cope. I came close to having panic attacks in Savasana several times, and the few Yin classes that I willingly participated in were torturous. I remember leaving a fourth of the way into one Yin class because my anxiety was manifesting in intense nausea. Stillness may have been the anecdote that I needed for my restless mind, but my body simply wouldn’t let me sit long enough to access healing.

It wasn’t until I became a yoga teacher that I finally became comfortable in Yin. Soon after finishing teacher training, I flew to Myanmar to spend the summer as an intern at Yangon Yoga House, where I served as their default sub, among other tasks. One day, the Yin teacher called in sick with Burma Belly (which seemed to happen quite frequently and unsurprisingly for ex-pats living in Myanmar). The studio owners asked me if I could please cover the class, which I met with great resistance. “I’m not certified in Yin. I don’t know how to teach it. I’ve only taken a handful of Yin classes, and I’m still struggling to get my mind around teaching Vinyasa.”

My emotional excuses were met with the owners’ firm business logic. “Okay, but you’re free at 7, right? So you can teach it?”

I found myself feverishly Googling, “How to teach Yin” and “Yin sequence for heart-opening”, knowing that I had no choice but to fake my competency in the practice. Yet as soon as I began teaching, something seemed to click. I could feel the physical and emotional tiredness of the three ex-pats who showed up to class, and I could sense their readiness to sink into practice. I realized quickly that I didn’t necessarily have to say anything poignant, but rather I just needed to hold space. For the first time, I felt like teaching yoga became intuitive. I found ease in teaching, and I felt that I had found both my presence and my voice. I had been committed to the idea of taking a Yin training ever since, which is how I found myself learning among a bright group of teachers at Laughing Lotus last week.

Although I love teaching strong Vinyasa practices and fast-paced Barre classes, I still feel that my natural teaching style shines through the slower, softer portions of class. Vinyasa with Deep Relaxation classes feel like my bread and butter because they allow me to convey the pieces of the yoga practice that have been transformative for me: learning to find my edge, learning to sit with discomfort, learning to soften around my edges both in shapes and life alike have dramatically altered my life.

Yin Yoga is a practice that I have learned to appreciate greatly over time because it is a process of deep self-inquiry and a roadmap for healing.

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