Modern Technologies are Yang
In the past, I have enjoyed many professional and self development programmes which have stood me in good stead throughout a professional career which many entrepreneurial goals running alongside. As I’ve studied Yoga, and maybe just got older, it has occurred to me that the message of these programmes has an element missing. You see the ultimate goal is to live life to the full and in the modern West, that always means more and more of something… More money, more success, more competitive spirit, ultimately more power. This is even reflected in the Yoga where there has been a rise in popularity of Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Power and Hot Yoga and even the exercise world has been able to adopt Yoga so long as it has an element of competitiveness and sport added to hit, hence the rise in short courses for gym instructors, missing out all the spiritual elements of Yoga entirely (oops)!
The Development of Yin Practice
According to Paul Grilley in ‘Yin Yoga: Principles and Practice (10th Edition)’ “An overemphasis on yang qualities has polluted the planet, split our families and emptied our homes while both parents work to get ahead or just stay afloat. Yin yoga can help bring balance to an overly yang lifestyle”. Grilley is the founder of Yin Yoga practice though he is quick to point out that really it is an old practice with a new name since all Yogic practice was a mixure of both slow floor work and more intense standing work in the ancient texts. He acknowledges influences from esteemed anatomist Dr Garry Parker; from martial artist expert and teacher of Taoist Yoga, Paulie Zink who holds his poses for up to 10 minutes at a time and from Dr Hiroshi Motoyama (residing in Japan) who is a Shinto priest and has doctorates in philosophy and physiological psychology and who is able to demonstrate that the meridians of acupuncture are water-rich channels in the connective tissues that interpenetrate all the structures of the body.
Since my sister is a very sucessful animal accupuncturist and vet, and since I have seen excellent results in my own animals from her treatment as well as having personal experience of it, this has led me to an interest in Modern Meridian Theory which has equated the ancient system of chakras and meridians to what modern anotomy text books label as connective tissue – aliving matrics that conducts life-giving energy to every tissue, cell and organ.
A useful resource if you want to find out more about Yin Yoga Practice is Bernie Clarke’s (from www.yinyoga.com) Yin Yoga YouTube Chanel – click here.
Balancing Life’s Energies
In Yoga, living life to the full means embracing the balance of all things in life, you could think of it as “the middle way”. Sometimes less and sometimes more depending on need at the time. Yin is traditionally the stable, unmoving, hidden aspect of an object. Yang is the changing, moving, revealing aspect of an object. You can never have one without the other. In our practice at the Millstone, we practice both elements. There is in fact, no styel of Yoga that can be called “Yin” however it is generally accepted, since Grilley’s conception of the art of Yin Yoga, that if our class is based on less movement and more stillness, then the stily will be more of a Yin Practice.
This is reflected in knowing when our bodies need us to practice in a Yin like or a Yang like fashion. Since I’ve been heavy with cold, my practice has been forced this week into the Yin category and it is with great pleasure that I bring you a Yin class program this week. I’ve also got to be honest with you, when I am practising just for myself, and not in preparation for teaching you, then my chosen practice is Yin in style, especially since I teach dancing for a living which is filled with Yang energy – so the last thing I want when I get to the mat is more Yang! My mat and me want to be acquainted in a gentle pleasing way and I came “backwards” into Yoga in that I studied meditation for 20 years and taught it for 10 before I came to Yoga so the meditative element to my practice is very important to me. That isn’t to say that Yin practice isn’t demanding in its own way.
Yin practice means we are concentrating on balancing ourselves emotionally and mentally but just doing a Yin practice won’t suddenly achieve a state of calm. We try not to have an anxious or aggressive attitude and definitely leave competitiveness with ourselves away from the mat. Sometimes the practice can produce the opposite result of instant peace and calm! ‘Hanging out’ in a pose can instigate a bored mind to wander and become irritated or reaching an edge and finding a little pinching or challenging can have the mind screaming to move on quickly when in fact, hanging out in the pose is the thing that gives releif, though it may not be instant (as we have come to expect everything to be in the West). A cultivation of ‘Yin Attitude’ develops inner calm which requires as much practice as developing an athletic Yang practice of advanced Yoga poses because you need to deal with both physical and mental distractions.
If you want to live a noble, kind and tolerant life of gratitude and giving back then we have to control our impulses which are often, in our current cultural ideology, to be obsessed by constant accumulation, ambition and taking darwinian survival of the fittest ot its extreme.
Working Connective Tissue
Connective tissue is not what we thought it was. It is a structure, within the facia that is an electriaclly conducting, water structure, contracting / expanding and this regulates how cells function. Every organ in our body is formed by a framework of this sponge-like material and all of our 100 trillion cells are nested within the spaces of this elaborately interconnected system of pockets and tubes. This is a semiconducting communication network that can convey bioelectric signals between every part of the body.
When we work with the muscles, as in some of our difficult standing poses, we find the heat begins to rise and we are moving blood around, then we are doing Yang Yoga. Stretching muscles is a Yang activitity because they are soft and elastic. Ligaments and fascia (broad bands of connective tissue) is stiff and inelastic and when we are working on the floor with the still poses we have done this week, we are compressing the joints and doing Yin work. Remember, connective tissues don’t like rhythmic movement (muscles respond well to that) and it will snap, like a credit card will with constant bending backwards and forwards.
Grilley states that “it is not muscular strength that gives us the feeling of ease and lightness in the body, it is the flexibility in the joints…. Athletes don’t reture becuase of muscular problems, the retire because of joint problems. Yin yoga postures gently stretch and rehabilitate the connective tissues that form our joints”. This activity isn’t about bouncing on the joints but by gently allowing the tissues of the body to adapt to the stresses put on them through holding the poses in floor work. A bit like using braces to change the position of teeth. You wouldn’t ask the dentist if she or he could put them on the top level so you could get all the work done in a week, instead it takes months to change their position.
If we never bend our knees or stretch and twist our spinal column, it will shrink and shorten and suddenly we find ourselves with many limitations in movement as a result. Exercising the joints then is as important as putting muscles under tension to creat strength. But we do this by reaching our edge and holding the pose so the element of time is very important. Therefore a Yin practice is necessarily slow and meditative as we put a moderate level of stress on the joints.
To stress the connective tissue around a joint, the muscles around it must be relaxed. If the muscles are tense, the connective tissue doesn’t take the stress. Try pulling on the middle finger of your left hand. When the hand is relaxed, you can feel the connective tissue in the finger joint. But if you tense and extend the fingers they muscles resist the pull and the connective tissue isn’t being stretched. Immediately after a long-held Yin pose, the joints may feel fragile and vulnerable but this is brief
and it is the reason why we come out of them slowly and mindfully.
What you need for Yin Yoga Poses
There are always fewer poses in a Yin practice. There is no need for repetition. It is common to practice in a Yang way first, so you could try some more energetic Yoga Flow moves, like a Salute to the Sun sequence.
THE REASON WHY WE ASK YOU TO HAVE BLOCKS, BRICKS AND STRAPS in class is because you need to support yourself when the joint is under stress in order to relax into it whilst it gently gives. Landing your head on a couple of stacked bricks for instance would facilitate relaxation into a deep forward fold. Just handing around in space will increase your aggitation, and even produce an agressive mind and certainly not help you to stay in the pose long enough. By the way, we now have everything in stock at cheaper-than-the-shops prices so please email me at email@example.com if you need anything.
A healthy spine has nice, full curves and easily flexes forward and back. Forward bends done with a rounded and relaxed spine are yin. They bring the head level with the heart, making it easier to pump blood to the brain, reducing blood pressure. They also mean you are practicing with more relaxed legs since the spine is not straight. Backbends are more Yang and aren’t held for as long as a result. Lying spinal twists where props are used for support produce excellent results as well as lying side bends. These moves are often given different names to their Yang counterparts for instance a forward fold is called a Caterpillar (round back) rather than Paschimottanasana (flat back forward) which are done in a different way using more muscle power.
I hope you enjoy the practice this week. Remember that not all postures are right for all bodies if you are experiencing pain, rather than discomfort, come further or completely out of the pose.