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Yin Yoga: A Practice of Quiet Power

by Biff Mithoefer

The physical practice of Yin Yoga is based on yoga asanas that have been practiced for thousands of years. The way that these asanas have been approached has always reflected the needs and experiences of the practitioners, the place, and the time. We live in a time of action, a time when we often forget the value of stillness and quiet in our environment and within ourselves. Yin Yoga gives us an opportunity to let go of our need to strive, our need to make things different, and instead invites us to quietly sit with what is.

Yin and Yang are Taoist terms of relationship. They represent aspects of ourselves and of all things manifested in the Cosmos. Yang is more forceful, more striving, more masculine, while Yin is gentler, more accepting, more feminine.

Yang goes forth while Yin returns.

Yang strives while Yin accepts.

Yang speaks while Yin remains silent.

Yang knows while Yin just is.

Yin yoga is at its heart a practice of returning to who we really are through the quiet practice of acceptance.

Physically, the most Yang parts of our bodies are the muscles, those parts that crave movement, whose job it is to strive, to change things. Muscles remain healthy and strong by moving, by exerting energy through effort. If we don’t exercise our muscles, if we don’t stretch them, they begin to atrophy, to lose their ability to move our bodies as we wish. This is something most of us understand. In Yoga we address the muscles with movement and with postures that stretch specific muscle groups. In general the more effort we exert, the greater the results. The more Yin parts of our physical selves are in some ways very different. They are the parts of our bodies that move less, that change more slowly; they are our bones and connective tissue. Although our bones change little once we are full grown, our connective tissue, particularly our ligaments, the tissue that joins bone to bone, reacts slowly but surely to the stimulus to which it is subjected. This is particularly true for the large joints of the femurs, and lumbar spine. If we don’t move these joints to their full range of motion periodically, just like our muscles, they begin to shrink and tighten the joint. Yin Yoga helps us to maintain these parts of our bodies through long held postures that allow us to relax our yang muscles and gently bring compassionate attention to our yin connective tissue.

The human body exists in form because of energy. In the yogic tradition this energy is known as prana. In Taoist terminology it is called Qi. This energy brings life, heat and movement to our physical selves. In Taoism, the free flow of energy through invisible channels called meridians is what keeps us healthy both physically and emotionally. The flow of this energy can be blocked as it travels through out the body by many different factors. Ancient cultures developed a number of ways to help promote the free flow of energy or Qi through the body in order to maintain and promote good health. Some of these ways are acupuncture, shiatsu massage, acupressure, Thai massage and yoga. In the Chinese medical tradition there are 6 major meridians that run through the hips, sacrum and lumbar spine, the parts of the body most addressed by Yin yoga. These meridians most affect the health of the spleen, liver, kidney, urinary bladder, gall bladder, and stomach. The six Meridians are paired with other meridians in the upper body and therefore affect the whole body. The energy in these meridians is most often blocked in the massive connective tissue of the hips, sacrum and lumbar spine. By gently bringing this tissue to its full, natural range of motion in long held Yin postures, we can release this energy and help maintain the health of all the organs and systems of the body.

Just as Yin and Yang represent different aspects of our physical and energetic bodies, they hold the framework of our emotional selves. The masculine parts of us, the parts that need to strive, to exert themselves and influence things around us, needs to be balanced by our feminine selves, the Mother in us that accepts, and nourishes us. This emotional balance, this deep feeling of equanimity is where we return to our natural state of joy. Within this balance, we can see our place in the nature of things and realize that we really are part and not separate from the cosmos and from each other. We live in a time when great importance is placed on what we can do, what we can influence, and much less in who we are and how we can be kind to the Earth, each other and ourselves. It is a time when the voice of our minds is valued above the quiet whisper of our hearts. Yin Yoga with it’s emphasis on quiet acceptance, can help us let go of our dissatisfaction with who we think we are, and instead let the light of our true selves be what guides us.

All Yin Yoga postures or asanas are practiced on the floor and are usually held for around five minutes. As the postures are held, we are encouraged to let go of effort, and instead become aware of the natural pattern of our body, heart and mind. Yin Yoga is a very personal practice. The form of the asana becomes less important than how the postures feel to us, how they affect our own bodies. Yin Yoga is a time for us to just let go and be present with who we are.

All conscience forms of yoga can bring healing in physical, energetic, emotional and spiritual ways. In these hectic times, the quiet practice of Yin Yoga, seems for many of us, to offer a much needed and welcome balance to our lives.

Biff Mithoefer Teaches Yin Yoga throughout the U.S. and internationally. He is the author of The Yin Yoga Kit, and co-author of The Therapeutic Yoga Kit. Biff is a founder and director of the Jamtse Sponsorship Project, for the support of Tibetan refuge children. He lives with his family in Dorset, Vermont. For Biff’s workshop schedule or to contact Biff see www.biffmithoeferyoga.com   

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