Are you flexible? Not just physically but mentally?
In Western terms, “flexibility” is just the ability to move muscles and joints through their complete range. It’s an ability we’re born with, but that most of us lose – according to the Yoga Journal. When it comes to yoga, it actually doesn’t matter if you’re “flexible.” It’s the emotional, mental, and spiritual flexibility that are most important and rejuvenating with any yoga practice.
When I teach classes, I always encourage my students to just sit and breathe on their mat the entire time if that is what they feel they need at that time.
The 6 Key Aspects of Yin Yoga
Yin Yoga promotes a sense of awareness as well as physical and mental flexibility that may help you in your everyday life challenges.
Here are six key aspects of a Yin Yoga practice:
Awareness allows you to make an intelligent choice between pushing on and backing off—in order to avoid injuries. Having awareness allows you to sense whether the tightness in your legs is due to poor body alignment, stiff connective tissues, or nerve reflexes that are designed to keep you from hurting yourself.
Uncomfortable sensations may be warnings that you’re about to go too far. Or, you may just be entering an unfamiliar space that was left unattended for a while.
Flexibility is the first thing most people develop by practicing yoga. By stretching, bending, twisting and folding our bodies, as well as our minds and spirits, we develop the ability to work through more difficult positions. This flexibility can then help us sustain ourselves under the stress of real life situations.
As we age, our body will begin to stiffen and become dehydrated – even if we are active. As an adult this increases the chances of our tissues becoming less supple and more prone to injury. The joints become stiff and immobile from tight muscles, ligaments, and fascia.
Stretching slows the process of dehydration by stimulating the production of tissue lubricants. Yin yoga helps to bring more juiciness into the tissues and joints by holding the postures for 2-10 minutes long. It also lets you practice awareness and the feeling of being present as you let your breath flow through and surrender into the pose. This allows gravity to bring you deeper to the earth and helps you to become more grounded.
Strength is cultivated in yoga when our muscles move and hold us in challenging postures. In our lives, we play to our strengths, and sometimes they carry us right where we wanted to go. But other times life asks for more or even different strengths than we have. We must work hard to meet the demands of a challenging job, a difficult relationship or shifting social and financial situations.
Strength learned during Yin yoga practice can help teach us how to be strong in our everyday lives.
Your breath is the key to the connection of the body and mind.
If you use your breath to help you be present, it will give you that moment to think before you speak, make a decision or most importantly – before you react.
Balance is key to life, and can also be achieved through yoga practice. Rather than flowing vigorously between postures, as you would in a fast-paced, “yang”-style ashtanga or vinyasa class, Yin yoga teaches you to relax into the simple poses that you hold.
These long holds promote time for inner reflection, meditation and peace which helps to balance your mind, body and spirit.
Physical Benefits of Yin Yoga
As you age, your fascia becomes inflamed and will actually stick to your muscles. It will cause pain and restrict movement. Fascia is described as the connective tissue surrounding your muscles, blood vessels and nerves. It can bind parts together and also help promote smoother movement over one another.
Yin poses and stretches help by penetrating the connective tissue (fascia) in your spine, hips, and other joints. It is important to attend to this tissue to support and maintain joint flexibility.
Yin yoga is not necessarily easy. I tell my students that a dull achy feeling is normal, but sharp shooting pain should never be felt. A feeling of uncomfortably comfortable is the best balance between too much and too little. After a few breaths, the dull achiness subsides and is replaced by a feeling of openness and length in your body.
But the best benefits from yin may be how it calms your mind, creating a sense of deep rejuvenation. In yoga teacher, Sarah Power’s words, it’s as if you’ve taken “an inner shower.”
The Psychological and Emotional Benefits of Yin Yoga
The psychological and emotional benefits of any yoga practice, but especially Yin Yoga, are very healing to your entire well-being. As Sonia Doubell explains on her Blog, The Secret Bliss,
“The nervous system is calmed, the mind stilled, and in this state the body returns to its natural healthy rhythm.”
In the stillness of the long Yin poses, you’re able to focus your attention on your breath and bodily sensations, which may help you address buried emotions you may be denying. The simple continual Yin yoga practice can help you develop an emotional maturity that will allow you to transform your ill feelings into ones that are more pleasurable. You can literally turn feelings of rage, impatience or anxiety into feelings of happiness and joy.
Plus, the quiet relaxation time at the end of a yoga session, also called savasana, allows the benefits of your practice to be integrated deep into the memory of the cells of your body and mind.
How to Become More Deeply Rooted and flexible
Life demands us to be flexible – to respond to factors planned or unplanned. We need strength to carry the weight of our responsibilities, and balance to hold it all upright and move forward. When we attach ourselves to anything—thoughts, beliefs, positions, possessions—and aren’t willing to let the heart and mind sway back and forth a bit through daily occurrences we can easily be uprooted and knocked down. Even something as simple as a hurtful text or email message can overwhelm you. Or, someone else’s negative energy can ruin your day.
But – does it have to?
It doesn’t have to, if you can allow yourself to stay grounded but remain flexible. Here is a quote I found that explains it well:
Compared to reeds in the field, trees look strong. But when the storms come, the trees can be uprooted, while the reeds move back and forth with the wind (changes in life) and remain grounded. They’re still standing when the storm (challenging times) pass.
Being like a reed doesn’t mean being weak. It means moving a little with the winds of the time and change while remaining grounded in the earth. In other words, it means being flexible while still deeply rooted.
The next time something new challenges you, try to be in the present – right here and now. Think of the challenge as a journey – not a judgment of yourself. You may notice on that journey that you aren’t as open and emotionally flexible as you thought or hoped, which is great, because now you have awareness and can take simple steps toward change.
Having an open, loving heart and mind will truly bring more happiness in your life.
Have you discovered the amazing health benefits of yoga? Yoga teacher training programs can help beginners get started on their journey to better health.
Tell us what it’s done for you in the comments section below.
About Erika King
Erika is the Assistant Manager of Natural Healthy Concepts Retail Store. Erika has completed the Yoga Teacher Training program with the Kanyakumari School of Ayurveda & Yoga, and is a Certified Ayurvedic Educator and Practitioner. She is committed to helping others regain balance of mind, body and spirit, and believes true healing of the world begins within each of us.
Image Credits – Yin Yoga poses by Missy N. via Flickr.com