Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Yin Yoga – a restorative practice   

Most of us are familiar with the Yin/Yang symbol, an image that depicts ultimate balance.  Even with extremes there can be found an influence from the opposite end of the spectrum. Yang is seen as the masculine form, heat, light, movement, impulsiveness; Yin is the feminine, cool, dark, still, reflective.  When balance is present life moves smoothly, when extremes occur problems arise - consider the impact nature can have, extreme weather conditions causing devastation through flooding and arctic temperatures, or fires ranging out of control, prolonged heat leaving landscapes bare and lifeless.  
Imbalance is also a human condition.  Modern life with its  patterns of addiction, depression, digital overload reaps havoc on our bodies and our minds. More and more we see patterns of addiction, depression and digital overload adding to the emotional and physical stress that daily life can bring..   There are many avenues open to us to help bring the elusive balance into our lives, yoga is one of them.   Yoga provides the movement and strength of Yang through dynamic practices such as Ashtanga and Vinyasa flow; and the stillness of Yin in meditation and pranayama.   However, within each we must find the other, Yin brings to a dynamic practice a sense of containment, control and focus, the ability to return to centre.  Yang energy stops a Yin practice sinking into lethargy or becoming dormant, it provides the spark of interest and exploration.
But Yin and Yang are more than energy, the systems of the body can fall into either camp, those responsible for controlling and containing our energy or those that monitor and purify.  We also have the structure of the body itself, the extreme yin of bone marrow to the yang of the digestive organs, and somewhere in the middle our connective tissue, or fascia,  – that which binds, borders, supports. Without our connective tissue we would have no form, it wraps around every cell, every muscle, it is the ground substance through which our hormones travel, it attaches bone to bone, muscle to bone. It provides us with tone and tension, it can be to the point of rigidity or almost fluid.  If every other organ or structure was removed from the body, the network of connective tissue that was left would maintain our physical form.
It is the health of the connective tissue that gives our bodies a sense of ease, the ability to move unhindered through a range of motion, when it is out of balance we see the extremes of hypermobility or stiff unresponsive joints and limbs. Many factors are involved in the quality of this tissue, as we age it can become drier, losing its flexibility and tone. Posture and stress impact as well, holding patterns set in, raised shoulders, tight lower back or chest – fascia that was there to support movement becomes hard and stiff, restricting us, causing pain and discomfort.
So how do we bring back that sense of ease?  Bodywork can help, a good massage will bring warmth and movement to stiff tissues encouraging fluidity back into muscles and joints.  Movement itself is invaluable, walking, swimming or stretching.  Good diet and hydration are paramount, but one of the most effective ways to open and stretch the connective tissue is Yin Yoga. Yin yoga approaches asanas slowly, supports such as belts, bolsters, and blocks are used to reduce strain.   Participants are encouraged to find their edge in a posture and then back off, maybe a millimetre, maybe into a different posture. The aim is to create enough space to allow the body to sink down or ease open.  The breath remains calm.  Postures are held for between 3 and 5 minutes, as tension releases deeper poses can be found and explored.  Some poses may be tough with an element of strength required, other will be deeply relaxing, both physically and emotionally.  An extended relaxation at the end of a class will allow the work done to be realised throughout the body.
A regular Yin practice is a valuable addition to fitness and wellbeing.  The connection it gives us to our inner selves both physically and emotionally, will reap benefits long after we step off the mat. 

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