Yin Yoga: The Bittersweet Practice

Yin Yoga can be described as a bittersweet practice. This phrase, summing up beautifully the very essence of this style of yoga, and it also speaks to what is so challenging about it.

My teacher Jo Phee, calls it her “Yin medicine”, and I would wholeheartedly agree with this.

Yin Yoga is a deeply healing and therapeutic tool that can be used to improve mobility, especially as we age. It can also be helpful to improve ones’ ability to meditate and remain still.

A common experience when students first enter a Yin Yoga class, is that they want to feel good throughout. Especially, when it is a style of yoga that on the surface appears to be gentle, quiet and meditative.

Nevertheless, this is not the usual experience of Yin. At some stage usually during the second or third pose, practitioners' will start to fidget and faces will begin to contort into expressions that reflect concern and sometimes even alarm.

Yin Yoga wants you to relax deeply, supported perhaps by props, but also actively looking for stress, stretch and sensation. As Bernie Clarke describes it ”... in Yin Yoga we want to feel sensation, but we don't want what we feel to be sensational”.

Initially, when people embark on a journey into Yin Yoga it can be incredibly challenging. On a physical level there is no escaping that there is a lot of bitterness during a yin yoga practice, in the body you are asked to tolerate achy sensations that are likely to be outside of your comfort zone. I often refer to Yin Yoga as an advanced practice, it requires incredible courage, patience and willpower. 

This doesn’t mean that every minute of every pose will be defined by bitterness, but, in the beginning the realisation that a lot of the poses are not entirely comfortable, can plant more than a few seeds of doubt in your mind. Learning to ride the waves of sensation and not always needing to fix or solve problems is another big takeaway from Yin.

The real challenge of Yin Yoga  is in the stillness of the posture, that your likes and dislikes, preferences and judgement will rise to the surface.

It can be helpful to try and suspend your judgement during the practice, and become a conscious and curious observer of sensation. It is only after the practice you will really feel the sweetness that has developed in your body. There may be pockets of sweetness during the pose (savasana and rebound), but largely there will be challenge. 

Afterwards, the body might feel more hydrated, less restricted, unencumbered by aches and discomfort. A sign of sweetness that emerges from the bitterness of gently stretching the dense connective tissues during a yin yoga practice.

Consider Yin Yoga like going for a massage. Pressure and sometimes force is applied to manipulate and free areas of tension. The therapist will work on you in a way that doesn’t always feel comfortable.  Afterwards when those tissues have been released, we generally feel more at ease, like a load has lifted and the same can be said of the Yin Yoga experience.

Candlelight Yin is a special 3-week workshop with Tania running 11-28 September. Register here. You can also join Tania for Yin Yoga every Wednesday and Saturday at 12noon.

Brian Orloff