Let it Be: a Bit on Yin Yoga
by Stephanie F. Earls
Yin yoga is a phrase that describes an approach to Hatha yoga postures that is slower, less muscular and more meditative. It is a chance to practice being still within the parameters of 3-5 minute stays in postures to promote joint health. The physical movements help create space in the body so that being still becomes easier. The mental/emotional component promotes ease in the heart and mind. In time.
I could write a book (and many have) about all there is to yin. Today’s blog is about the
approach or mindset of yin yoga which is, in a word, receptivity. Nicknamed “the quiet practice”, I think of yin yoga as a chance to, as The Beatles sang, “let it be”. In setting an intention of receptivity, we cultivate a sense of openness to ourselves and our experience as we sit still and listen. Sometimes easier said than done.
Central Mass Yoga sits conveniently on a busy road. Sometimes the quiet space of the studio is accented by roaring 18 wheelers and revving Harleys outside studio A in the front of the building, and a garbage truck that comes to empty the dumpster outside studio C in the back of the building.
At 9:30 on Monday mornings, yin yoga happens in studio C. Once class begins, quiet descends and is decorated in summer months by chirping birds, a humming fan or distant rooster. We center our minds and settle our bodies, becoming still to take a look at what’s inside ourselves and whether it’s one of those days when we find peace of mind or a mind in pieces, a whole heart or a hole in the heart. It all seems pretty serene. And then the garbage truck shows up.
Typically the truck rumbles in before 10:00 am but these last couple of weeks have been exceptionally quiet through the first half of class, windows open and a sweet breeze. I anticipate the truck’s arrival, knowing I’ll have to raise my voice and hoping it’s not enough distraction to discourage yogis from returning to class the next week. When the truck was late in recent weeks I hoped it was final reprieve. Its absence kept things simple for me, maybe simpler for the yogis too. But by the quietest closing moments of class, the truck banged in, crashed around while it unloaded the dumpster and took the trash away.
Yin yoga is one way to unplug and quiet the constant whirr, just like reading a book or having a cup of tea or taking a nap. Like any moment of quiet, as we become still we also become astutely aware of the slightest rumble: an ache in the body, a worried thought, a harsh self judgement…or on the other side, an elated emotion or pleasurable sensation. The garbage truck’s weekly showing is the perfect metaphor for the experience of quieting down to listen to ourselves. Inevitably, our peace is jostled by something disruptive and unexpected. Or, in anticipation of the unexpected, maybe to the point of needless worry, it never comes and we’ve spent those quiet moments bracing for the bang.
On the outside at the studio it’s rumbling garbage trucks, clanging dumpsters or revving motorcycles. Internally it might be garbage thoughts, clanging emotions or stale memories. Whether we consider them positive or negative, pleasurable or painful, the experiences that come up when we get quiet are part of the process while we steady our roots in the foundation of our inner truth. Ripples of doubt and delight, gratitude and grievance, whether they be physical, emotional or mental are not markers of success or failure when we practice peace of mind and self care. They are just ebbs and flows in the tides of our experience. We drop the anchor when we remember that sitting with ourselves need not be about denying any of the garbage (or grandeur) that surfaces and likewise not riding away with the garbage truck. We drop our anchor when we see the garbage truck come, do its thing and go, knowing it will be temporary.
In yin yoga the practice moves slow. We linger in the poses to create space in the body, while we give ourselves time in mind and heart to practice and reaffirm that what comes up is simply part of being a person. We listen to ourselves the way we would listen to a good friend who needs our attention: with an open ear, soft eyes and tender heart. We know each pose (and the thoughts and feelings with it) will last a few minutes but like the truck, will come and go.
With slow, receptive practice we have the chance to break free of the dumpster collections in the corners of our mind, heart and body. Some of that garbage clears out quickly. Some we practice with for decades. We try to remember that everything in the dumpster was at one point nourishing (yummy or useful or helpful). The thoughts, feelings and sensations circulating have served us and will continue to until it’s time for them to go. Allowing things to be as they are, we strengthen our ability to open a path so that what needs to come in can come in, and what needs to go out can go out without our gripping or pushing or forcing.
We can use the practice to handle anything that clutters the scene while we root to our inner truth. With awareness we can choose to shift focus to where we want it to be. When our inner voice sounds muffled under rubble, when we are not sure where we want our focus to be, the practice is here without pretense, without expectation, providing a structure to anchor ourselves in. And when we hear our inner truth again, we can steady ourselves regardless of the grievances or gratitudes at hand. We can settle roots in our truth so that no matter how many garbage thoughts or garbage trucks come roaring by, no matter how many motorcycles of the mind startle us, we know our way back to that healthy space where we are still and able to hear ourselves. In that fold rests our freedom, not a finish line to cross, but a path to walk or rumble along.