It’s been 6 years since I first immersed myself in the yoga teacher training stream. As many often tout, it started as a spirited attempt at deepening my yoga practice. I did enjoy the honeymoon period of increasing mobility, physicality and endurance that hatha yoga styles offered. However, in the years that followed my Vinyasa Flow teacher training, I would recoil at declaring myself as a yoga teacher because I didn’t think I had the physical image or prowess to show for. With the habit of shirking from the centerstage of dynamic yoga, I often relegated myself to tread on the gentler style of yoga practices, cherishing the soothing and therapeutic aspects of Restorative yoga and Accessible yoga for different age groups. It was at a point in time I felt pummeled by yoga injuries to the mind and body, as well as unmanageable hardships in life, that I sought solace in the practice of Yin yoga under the tutelage of Dona Esteban and Victor Chng.
If contemporary yoga has been characterized by dynamic movements and strength building in Hatha yoga, then Yin yoga is about holding static poses in relative stillness over a period of time and mindfully attending to the sensations and reactions that arise from the mind and body. The name Yin lends itself in its philosophical roots based on ancient Chinese Taoist wisdom. Where the notion of Yin-Yang may be taken for its dualistic appearance and contrasting qualities, such as Yin being ‘in the shadow’ representing darkness and Yang being ‘in the sun’ representing light, the concept is neither static or absolute. It is a recognition of the circular quality of nature, in that it relies on respectful coexistence of Yin and Yang, honoring the harmony and balance with each other, as well as the quality of the other that resides within each half to make the whole.
Yin yoga was a practice unlike any other I was accustomed to then. Somehow, seemingly like Restorative yoga in that it afforded one space for introspection. But it didn’t come with the gratifying sweetness you’d savor. Instead it offered a meandering array of flavors that were not always pleasant and tasty. In fact, there were yin postures that made me grimace with the intense sensations of losing a limb, a toe or three. Staying in poses for several minutes would slowly peel the layers of the old you in each long-held pose. The passive stretch of the fascial network and positive stress to the joints revealed many untold stories of the mind and body. In moments of discomfort, I was reminded to navigate my way to a safe harbor of smoother breathing, softer demeanor and true concern for my holistic wellbeing. Where, once upon a time, I used to constantly fight and swim against the fast tide of do more and be more, I was finally granted the time, space and grace to understand the nature of being and breathing. The resulting freedom in the knees, hips and spine after coming out of a pose were heaven sent. The slow process of yielding and unfolding through Yin yoga gradually formed fissures in my many barricades that eventually gave way to the dam breaking.
And this is how I started to reclaim energy that I kept losing before as an overwrought empath and began to recognize ways to conserve, replenish and expand my energy. My notions of physical and mental tension that no amount of massage and stretch could melt away started to morph into embodied learnings of Yogic and Taoist philosophies. It gave more gravitas and meaning to the balancing of sthira (steadiness) and sukha (easeful), which would often get featured in classes I was teaching. Where the world was often presented in the binary of black and white, haves and have nots, strong and weak, I began to see the gradations of flavors, colors, experiences and accepted the multitude of lessons from the pleasant, unpleasant and everything in between.
In moments of stillness, thoughts may manifest as opinions and judgements that tug at your ego. The transformative aspect of the Yin practice shows up when one learns to observe what comes up without attachment or aversion, with increased strength in inner resolve and mental flexibility as a much appreciated by-product. So come take a walk on the wild side, the Yin side. The only beasts you’ll encounter are the ones you will learn to let go as you practice.
Rina Nakayama teaches Stress Free Gentle Flow, Restorative, kids yoga classes and now Yin Yoga in Urban Ashram Yoga. She is also certified in Thai Yoga Massage and teaches Laughter and Gentle Yoga for seniors. Her caring and nurturing nature has students coming back to her relaxing yet strength building classes.