Mary Wade: Explore Yin Yoga this winter
The winter season is a natural time for Yin Yoga, as the colder days invite us to turn inward. Today, this ancient form of yoga is being rediscovered and revitalized.
Have you seen the black and white yin-yang symbol? In the Taoist tradition, “yang” encompasses everything active, outward moving, and assertive, while “yin” is everything inward, quiet, and contemplative. Yin Yoga is a good way to rebalance your body after exercise, whether that’s working out, skiing, hiking or a strong yoga-flow session. Most fitness activities strengthen our muscles, bones, hearts and lungs. Yin Yoga nourishes and heals the joints and connective tissues. These tissues need slow, subtle movement to be healthy and “juicy.” This is important at any age and more so as we get older.
Yin Yoga is practiced seated or lying down. After moving slowly into the Yin “shapes” (poses), we allow the weight of our bodies and gravity to gradually work with the connective tissues of our joints and main muscle groups. This includes the lower back, hips, and knees, and the shoulders, neck, chest and rib cage. Newcomers to Yin Yoga remain in each shape for a minute or so. People who’ve practiced Yin Yoga for a month-plus can stay in the shapes longer, when they feel that’s appropriate. In Yin Yoga we accept our bodies as they are, without stressing or striving. The body gradually and naturally becomes calm and open.
Yin Yoga works similar to a sponge. After we come out of a Yin shape, blood flows into and nourishes the connective tissues that were worked by that shape. This is similar to how exercise builds muscles. When we place safe workloads on our connective tissues, this stimulates the body’s healing response. Over time, practicing Yin Yoga can repair and strengthen your connective tissues. This is true even if you’ve had an injury in an area, such as the lower back.
In contrast to relaxing in Restorative Yoga, during Yin Yoga our awareness is fully engaged. Once we “arrive” in a Yin shape, we tune in to the body’s sensations. This can include experiencing our breath in ways that support being with our body and emotions. With self-compassion we meet our body just as it is rather than pushing ourselves to do more. In this way, we become present, aware, kind and peaceful. These benefits of Yin Yoga practice can help us in our daily lives.
Yin Yoga can also help people feel awake and at ease when they’re learning or practicing meditation. The ancient, original yogis created yogic practices called “asanas” to prepare the body-mind-heart for meditation. “Asana” actually means “seat.”
In the 9 years I’ve practiced and taught Yin Yoga, my lower back and hips have become healthier. Though I’m growing older, my body feels flexible and strong. Other activities —such as snowshoeing, daily life tasks, and “Yang” yoga-— are now more doable and enjoyable. I recommend Yin Yoga for folks of all ages who want to feel healthier and increase their mobility. This includes you skiers, hikers, runners, bikers, Yoga practitioners and other athletes.
Mary Wade teaches Yoga & Qigong for Energy and Ease, Tuesdays, 5:30 to 7:00 pm, Full Life Yoga Studio, Nevada City (fulllifeyoga.com). All are welcome, including beginners. After teaching for over 15 years in the Bay Area, Mary Wade moved to Nevada City in 2016. Training: Insight and Yin Yoga, Qigong, and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. Ongoing study and practice: Mountain Stream Meditation Center, Spirit Rock and other retreat centers. Core Yogic teachers: Scott Blossom, Chandra Easton and Sarah and Ty Powers. Other work & experience: writer-editor, health and medical online content for Kaiser Permanente and other publications. For more information contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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