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When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough do Yin Yoga!

Sometimes life seriously pulls the rug out from under us, and we’re not even sure we can stand up! Perhaps in stressful, traumatic times, one of the very best things you can do for your body and mind is to lie on the ground. Times like these, yin yoga can be our very best friend!

When I’m down, I can’t do anything!

Everyone reacts differently to hurt, grief, and sadness. For some, getting out for a sweaty vinyasa class is the perfect way to get some perspective on a situation and start to move on. For some of us, however, our bodies become lethargic, depleted of energy, and resistant to much physical exertion at all. Yet we know some yoga would be beneficial and healing. What to do?

Because there is very little exertion involved, and most of the poses happen on the floor, we can commit ourselves to a gentle yin practice without having to expend tons of energy. Just a tiny, baby push can get us through a small, safe practice that can enact a world of good in difficult times.

How does yin yoga help me when I feel this way?

Yin poses promote the unencumbered flow of energy – prana, or chi in the Chinese tradition. In traumatic times, our bodies often tense up as fear and grief course through us. Our nervous system attempts to create an armor to protect us from pain. This tensing, of course, has the opposite effect. Not only do our muscles get sore, we also become tight and achy in our connective tissue and fascia.

Many yogis and scientists believe that the energy channels of the subtle body travel through this sheath of connective tissue that wraps around all of our muscles. Applying gentle, static stress to these tough, yin tissues helps to gently open them so that blocked energy can flow. This leads to a greater sense of connection and wellbeing.

Holding a yin yoga pose, while not physically challenging in the way that yang poses are, produces intense sensation in the body. This sensation can helpfully mirror the painful, difficult thought patterns one is experiencing in the mind. Committing to staying with this physical discomfort for three to five minutes can help us to experience what we’re feeling more fully, and thereby begin to release it.

Yin poses are focused on the lower half of the body, which is where – according to both chakra theory and the meridian system of Traditional Chinese Medicine – we tend to hold onto trauma. Stretching these areas while experiencing such emotions helps to prevent these emotions from becoming stuck in the body. Many students report that holding a long hip-stretch such as Sleeping Swan (the yin version of Pigeon Pose), brings them to tears where they previously felt unable to let go and cry.

Even if you can only muster a pose or two, the therapeutic benefits of yin yoga can be very real, and soothing. So next time life whumps you hard and all you want to do is lie face down on the floor, don’t beat yourself up. Use this slow, quiet energy to practice very gently, and rest in the stillness your body and mind require to heal.

Julia Tausch practices yoga and writing in Hamilton, Ontario. She is a certified yin yoga instructor, as well as the author of the novel Another Book About Another Broken Heart. She is currently completing her second novel and blogging about the process.

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