The rise of yin yoga has been steadfast over the last five years within yogic communities with as many as fifty weekly classes popping up across London, but is it popular culture attracting the masses or is this a sign of something that runs deeper than the latest trend.
Is this a city awakening?
Originally brought over from California and first practised in this country in the early 90s, yin yoga is still relatively infant comparatively to its yogic sister of yang movement.
Yang yoga is what the majority of our modern culture associate or think of when it comes to yoga. We imagine instagram feeds of long limbed models in complex and seemingly impossible positions. Of course, yang is so much more than that, but when you live in a society dominated by trends and the herding of sheep, it’s easy to see why people who may be new to the practice of yoga can be led to think, and to even feel, overwhelmed and alienated from the practice of yoga itself.
In short, yang is all about getting out of the head and into the body, creating heat and dynamic movement. Whilst yin is about slowing down, fewer poses and holding those poses for longer, concentrated periods of time.
If yang yoga is for the body then yin yoga is definitely for the mind. Yin asks nothing more of us than to go inside, to hold yoga poses for several minutes, and notice what happens when we do. To simply notice what happens when we give ourselves time. Time to be freer and time to be calmer. Yin, quite literally, as it suggests in the name, is in. In an ideal world, any regular exercise regime would consist of both yin and yang elements to counterbalance the pushing and pulling of life.
If you’ve just about got your head around yin and yang, then let’s throw in restorative yoga to add even more confusion to the mix! The boundaries are becoming blurred between restorative and yin yoga with studios and practitioners using the terms interchangeably, when in fact, they are both quite different. In yin yoga, you hold poses for anywhere between 2-5 minutes to encourage the release of fascia tissue. In restorative yoga, it’s exactly that, designed to restore the body, and it’s not uncommon to hold a pose for anywhere between 5-20 minutes. Restorative emphasises the healing of the body whereas yin activates change at a much deeper level.
Perhaps you may have been to a class titled ‘yin’ but found yourself doing more restorative postures. Often, we sign up to classes not really sure of what to expect or even understanding what part of the body we are going to be working. The criteria for many, is simply to burn as many calories as possible or to act as punishment for what we ate or drank over the weekend. People often stumble across yin by accident.
My favourite takeaway from both yin and restorative, is their capacity to teach you to feel.
Rather than rushing through a sequence or the workout itself, restorative and yin both cultivate a powerful inner awareness. And, whilst it’s important for studios and practitioners to correctly inform you of the practice you are about to undertake, the main thing, is that you’ve been able to experience that chance to slow down, tune in and to listen to what’s going on for you individually at that present moment.
Whether it’s yin, yang, restorative or otherwise, no class will ever be the same, even if you took the same class every day for 20 years. Just as we are not the same from moment to moment, we feel stress, we lose concentration, we don’t eat enough, sometimes have too much caffeine to switch off, we fight with loved ones, and sometimes, even when everything else aligns, our mind or body just aren’t able to get us where we’d like to be on the mat, on that day. When life happens, as it does, it’s understandable that our movement of mind and body will mirror that. It’s important for us to allow ourselves that grace and kindness, even if on that day, you simply thank yourself for nothing more than showing up.
Never before has our society seen pace and movement at the rate in which we are experiencing it today. There is quite literally no off button and this is having detrimental effects on our health and wellbeing. Health is multifaceted and it exists in the irreducible complexity of our lives and identities.
Yin offers people a chance to be inspired by mind and spirit as much as they are by bodies and shapes. It stands to teach men and women movement that builds strong minds, learning to cope and navigate their internal landscapes. The byproduct of that, will invariably be strong outer health anyway. Our bodies constantly change as we go through life and when that happens if you've worked on a strong mind, along with those strong abs then you'll surround yourself with acceptance, self love and kindness instead of constant punishment, unachievable goals and negative self talk.
Yin is arguably a fantastic tool for people within our modern and often frantic culture, and in particular those living and working in big cities. It may be the masses attracting people to encounter yin, but like any fad they eventually fade, what keeps people coming back to practice yin is the magic that happens off the mat. It can help people navigate more patience and calm through stressful moments such as rush hours, dealing with tricky personalities in the office, meeting deadlines, staying centred around friends and family when otherwise we might lose our cool, and many other intricate pieces and facets that make up a whole person.