“The Gentle Strength of Letting Go”: The Benefits of Yin Yoga

by Jee Moon, Yin Yoga instructor

When you think of the practice of yoga, your mind might jump straight to an image of a pretty model meditating in full lotus, standing on her head or balancing in a one-legged tree pose. But even those who have spent years on the mat sometimes forget that yoga isn’t just about flexibility, athleticism, or even achieving those impressive-looking arm-balances. Yin Yoga draws on the culture of Far-East Asia to help remind yogis of the importance of rest and restoration as well as physical activity, and gives them the skills to seek that crucial balance between the active yang and passive yin , both in their practice and in their everyday lives.

The concept of yin and yang is the foundation of the Eastern perception of the Universe. It is believed that both yin and yang exist in every living creature, as well as in objects. The coexistence of yin and yang is considered to be Dao, (the way, truth) in the Universe, and everything in the follows “the way”. In order to better explain the principles that underlie Yin Yoga, I will lead a three-part Yin Yoga and Anatomy certification course this summer at Urban Breath Yoga. Consider the following metaphor.

Imagine a hill in the night, without even the light of the moon or stars to illuminate the trees, flowers and animals that may exist there. Although nothing can be seen in the darkness, something seems to be there; this concept is called Mukeuk (limitlessness, boundlessness), the state before yin and yang. At dawn, when the sun rises, the hill is immediately divided into two sides: the sunny side—yang—and the shaded side—yin—though it is hard to tell which side comes into being first. Just like this, yin and yang are two different qualities of energy existing in one being.

Throughout the day, as the sun moves from east to west, the sunny portion of the hill becomes smaller while the shaded portion expands. In the morning, the sun energizes the trees and flowers; as the sun goes down, the trees and flowers prepare to rest. Similarly, yin and yang energy is constantly moving and changing in our bodies to try to keep balance with each other. Sometimes yang energy is greater than yin, such as in the morning when we need energy to begin our daily activities. In the evening, however, we lean more toward yin energy as we wind down and rest.

Yin and yang are inseparable and ever changing in our bodies, minds, and in nature; finding a balance between the two energies is essential to wellbeing. Modern lifestyles don’t often encourage this harmony, and so we must be deliberate in achieving it. When we say to ourselves, ‘I need exercise,’ we think of that sweating, burning, huffing-and-puffing type of activity that ignites our ‘yang’ and tires us out. But once we’re exhausted, too often, we lay down in bed with our cell phones and check a few emails before we go to sleep—we keep our minds going and going, even right before we plan to shut them off! As much as we need to be active and energetic to keep striving and take on new challenges, we also need time to calm down, soothe ourselves and surrender. We need to find a balance between passion and contemplation, competition and compassion.

Yin Yoga reminds us that, if we want to find our restful, peaceful ‘yin’, we need to pursue it as intentionally as we do our ‘yang’, finding the gentle strength of letting go. Through a combination of meditation and sustained, quiet poses designed to penetrate deep into the fascia, students gradually work to increase joint pliability, calm the mind, and bring a new level of equilibrium and joy to their yang practice and their entire yoga lives. The Yin Yoga and Anatomy Certification, a three-part course, will give yoga teachers and dedicated students alike a deep knowledge of how Yin works within the structures of the body, one musculoskeletal group at a time. Part 1, which will focus on the femur, will be held June 21-23.

Please visit urbanbreathyoga.com or call 314.421.9642 for more details.