Written by: Jessica Dameron
Anyone who has ever gone to a yoga studio can relate to realizing that the word yoga encapsulates many, many different styles. Although the word yoga is used very loosely, more experienced yogis and yoginis are more likely to ask what type of yoga you practice. Something I was intrigued to learn is that the broad yoga spectrum spans from more “yang” forms of yoga to more “yin” forms of yoga. So, what is yang and what is yin? The terms originate from the ancient Chinese, the Daoists, who observed patterns of opposites or complementary forces which are interdependent and present in all existence. For example, yang corresponds to the sun, while yin represents the moon. Yang is masculine, bright, active, hot and yin is feminine, dark, passive and cold in nature.
Some examples of yang-like forms of yoga are the widely known Vinyasa, Jivamukti, Ashtanga and Power Yoga practices. These practices are dynamic, involving repetitive movements that heat up the body. Yin Yoga, on the other hand, is a practice of stillness. It is a passive style of yoga where the intention is to allow the muscles to remain cool in order to target the deeper connective tissues of the body. Yin Yoga is a simple practice but rest assured it is a practice that offers a long list of energetic, mental/emotional and physical benefits!
What I have noticed about Yin Yoga is how much you are encouraged to adapt the practice to suit your body. There is an overarching attitude of acceptance that seems much needed in today’s society. Not surprisingly, Yin Yoga is becoming more and more popular in the yoga world, and Crystal Carnival was lucky enough to have an interview with Yin Yoga instructor Jo Ishiguro, who teaches in Paris.
Jo explained that there are three principles to the Yin Yoga practice:
1) Appropriate depth (also known as playing your edge)
“The point is not to go to your maximum edge, but instead to find the middle path. Be where you feel some resistance in your body – your just right edge. Discomfort is normal, sharp or painful sensations are signs that you have gone too far.”
“Once you come to your appropriate edge, resolve to be still. Explore what stillness feels like for you and allow yourself to settle into the experience of your breath and your body.”
“Instead of holding the pose for 5 or 10 breaths, we stay in the posture for 5 or even 10 minutes. We need to give our body time to soak up the stress of the posture.”
“Following these principles can bring you to new places within yourself and your body, sometimes posing new and unexpected challenges, while leading you to experience many physiological, mental, emotional and energetic benefits. When I practice, I find it helpful to ask myself, ‘how can I embody a spirit of acceptance and surrender toward each of the 3 guiding Yin Yoga principles?’”
One of the most interesting parts of Yin Yoga is realizing how different everyone’s body is naturally. In Jo’s classes, she demonstrates how different people are flexible in different ways. It’s amazing to look around the class and see how some people can fully do a posture without any practice at all, while others take years. Jo’s classes show that this is because different bodies have different limitations.
“Our bodies are far more unique than we think when we get down to our bone structure, proportions, and other aspects of our anatomical structure. Thankfully, within the Yin Yoga practice there are different postures to choose from that work the same area of the body and there are many ways to modify each posture to target these tissues at just the right depth.
“When taking a Yin Yoga class, one of the objectives is to place a place a healthy stress on the ‘yin’ tissues of your body (the deeper connective tissues, ligaments, joints and even bones). This comes back to the 1st principle of Yin Yoga, explained above, playing your edges. By paying attention to what you feel when you come into a pose, you learn to identify your body’s natural limitations. During my Yin Yoga teacher training, Bernie Clark would often say, ‘if you can’t smile, you’ve gone too far.’”
“When I teach, I often use my body to demonstrate that we all have limitations and that’s okay. The essence of Yin Yoga is acceptance and surrender. I have found the practice can be instrumental in acknowledging and accepting your own body, just the way it is. Taking a modification is often a sign that you know your body well. You understand the importance of doing what’s best for you despite what the person beside you or the rest of the class is doing. This can be both a modification in going deeper in a posture or a modification to ease up and lessen the intensity. Your body, your practice!”
Jo teaches Yin Yoga, Vinyasa and Yoga Nidra in Paris. She gives private, corporate, and group lessons, all in English. She also frequently holds workshops and other events.
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(Note: This article was originally published in 2015. Due to a server crash in 2018, it was deleted and reposted.)