Yin Becoming In

Yin Becoming In

By Norman Blair who teaches Yin Yoga at the Shala | South London

Fifteen years ago and yin yoga was an unknown form. A few might have heard of it and there were classes and workshops in America – but that was that. Nowadays it is becoming increasingly popular: there are several books about the practice and in London there are more than fifty weekly yin yoga classes plus frequent workshops, trainings and intensives. Many teachers use a yin element in retreats and in regular classes. Yin is becoming in… 

But this does not mean that it is ‘new’ – for as long as people have been practicing yoga/mindful movement/transformative enquiry, there have been times of stillness and postures of staying. This is one of the ways we can describe yin yoga: stillness and staying. An example of the longevity of this way of practicing is that the 20th century yoga master Krishnamacharya (teacher of Pattabhi Jois and BKS Iyengar) advised in his ‘Yoga Makaranda’ published in 1935: “Janu Sirsasana…one can stay with the forehead on the knee for between five minutes and half an hour”. From the 1960s BKS Iyengar was popularising what he described as ‘restorative yoga’ where poses are held for ten minutes and more. 

Going back to the 15th century, the Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā listed many poses that are predominantly sitting (without a triangle or down dog in sight). This can be another definition of yin yoga – that the shapes are sitting. In this world of speed where the senses are intensely stimulated, in our culture of distractions and instant gratification, what we often most deeply require is…slowing down. This is a society out of balance and there is a real need for some ‘yin’ to assist sustaining and ensure sustainability. 

The term ‘yin’ comes from a Chinese philosophy where everything is seen as being composed of these two elements – yin and yang – which are continually in relationship with each other. Yang is outer, faster, warmer, ruling – while yin is inner, slower, cooler, revering. The key is about being balanced: so we are less easily thrown, these high winds of life that we all experience last less long, we are grounding as much as we are transforming. Yoga as commonly practiced in the west is active, dynamic, energetic – it requires muscular engagement and poses are rarely held for more than thirty seconds. 

I have practiced ashtanga yoga for twenty years and I deeply appreciate its many benefits. It has been part of paths of profound transformation for me over this time. If someone told me that all they did for practicing was yin yoga, then I would strongly encourage them to take up an engaging muscular activity like weights or circuit training or some dynamic form of yoga. I have also been practicing yin yoga since 2001 and I greatly value the qualities – stillness, staying, slowing down – that this has bought into my life. Too often we are trying too soon to do too much: we are like those moorhens on the pond of life – seemingly serene above the surface yet underneath frantically paddling desperately to stay afloat. Beneath our busy ways of living there can be oceans of exhaustion. 

Yin yoga could perhaps help to readjust this unbalanced way of being. Sure, it is great to stretch and sweat in a yoga class – but what about softening, where there might be more space to be slowing down, where there might be more space to dive deeply within this being. Our inner experience is incredibly important, the outer appearance is fleeting and in many ways trivial. In practicing this way – where postures are regularly held for five minutes, where there is an emphasis of relaxing the body into a stretch, where the focus is on feeling – there can be possibilities to go deeper into this being. 

Of course there are allowances for individual circumstances. I sometimes say that if you are in a yoga class and the teacher says that there are neither alternatives nor other options, there definitely is one: which is that you leave sooner rather than later because it is simply unsafe being in such an environment. I do really believe through my own practicing and having taught yin yoga for more than ten years that this way of yin yoga is available to everyone. Yes naturally there has to be sensitivity and individuals taking responsibility and some people will need to make significant modifications (pregnant women, a person with hyper mobility, someone with injury). There is great potential in this practice for a rebalancing of this being: from helping us to move more towards meditation to stretching out that stiffness that is so common around the centre of body, from quietening the brain to encouraging a deeper awareness of body. 

There is now a website for yin yoga teachers/classes in London and the south-east. There are plenty of resources from youtube channels to books and other events. Yin is becoming in….

Norman Blair will be bringing his monthly yin workshops to the Shala from the 2nd May.

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The Shala is a well-established yoga and Pilates centre with a reputation for inspirational teaching. Housed in a beautifully refurbished Victorian warehouse, the centre offers a range of holistic therapies and over 30 classes a week. With a focus on offering a personalised service to enhance physical, emotional and spiritual well-being, The Shala is a unique, inviting and peaceful South London haven.