I came to yoga from an exercise perspective, I had previously done it in the London gym I used to attend regularly on a Saturday morning for a good stretch and to relax after a busy week. I didn’t stick at it and carried on with my gym workouts and then fell into long distance running. After a few years of running everything was stiffening up, my knees, back and shoulders were all tight and painful. It was around the time Bikram was becoming popular and I was drawn to it for the challenge, the weight loss, and the stretching.
I suspect this is how many people come to try out a yoga class, especially a dynamic style of yoga. I believe Ashtanga became more well-known after Madonna and Gerry Haliwell’s transformed bodies, I remember people taking to it to try and shape their bodies like theirs. The challenge of a class in 40 degree heat appealed to body conscious too and more men felt it was ok to give yoga ago. It wasn’t just a light fluffy yoga class, this was yoga for the driven, the strong, for the yang in us.
Through the recession life became more challenging. Many lost their jobs. Many either started their own businesses or were on a tightwire not knowing whether they’d keep their jobs or find new ones. Life stepped up a gear and became more stressful. The rise in the use of technology and smart phones only added our stress levels. Bosses started handing out smart phones so staff could be on hand 24/7.
If you weren’t, if you didn’t show to be available, there was a risk of job loss. The strong and ambitious survived. I believe this all lead to many of us becoming way more yang (goal orientated and driven) than yin (soft and allowing).
I was one of those that started my own business, by the time I started at Bikram I had trained to be an image consultant and a life coach. My business was in helping people accept themselves and make positive changes in their lives. I was goal orientated myself, I wanted to find enough clients to be able to do my business full time. I was working in my old job part time and doing everything I could to make my business work in the spare hours I had. I was still partying, training for half marathons and generally burning the candle at both ends. I would say my mindset was striving, there was no stillness and certainly no presence. Life was all about getting somewhere, achieving goals, being happy one day. I was in a cycle of consuming anything to keep my energy high.
With my journey through personal development thought this didn’t start to sit well. I felt in authentic. How could I help people make positive changes in their lives when I was being so unhealthy?
This was London life to me and all my friends. I didn’t know any different. Surprisingly hot yoga helped to draw me into the moment as if my mind was anywhere else I would feel faint and sick. The peace I felt at the end of class lead me to slow down, I made a choice to only do things that made me happy. I cut out all the “should dos”. As time went on my my unhealthy lifestyle faded away as I favoured taking care of my body and mind; I stopped drinking to excess, I became vegetarian and learnt how to naturally manage my energy levels.
It wasn’t until I discovered Yin though that I really learnt to slow down. I learned that being a Pitta type in Ayurveda, which is fiery and full energy, I would naturally be drawn to the more high energy pursuits like power yoga. What I really need however is to balance my energy, to allow myself to slow down and soften, to release attachments to goals and allow myself to just be.
After completing a 10 day vipassana course I realised that Yin was my way of practicing that meditation. Either mindfully watching sensations whilst in the poses or as a way to prepare me to sit for meditation afterwards.
Yin helps me to soften my bodies tightness that builds up when I get busy.
“I am so busy” seems a common claim that I hear from most people I know. I catch myself getting caught up in the “busy-ness trap” too easily. I know it becomes a trap as when you state “I am so busy” it becomes your reality. Life can feel so busy with work, children, socialising, exercising, family time and everything else. When people come to a Yin class it allows them to just stop. To create some space, to breathe, and to release layers of tension that have been building up. Even when it becomes intense holding the pose, the practise of just being with sensation serves to be able to stay at ease in the other stressful times of life.
The rise in smart phones and the expectation of each other being “online” all the time has added to our busy-ness and stress.
Over the years our obsession with technology, being on line constantly, has become an addiction. With access being so immediate it's easy to feel pressure to respond to messages immediately and a fear of missing out can be created if social media is not constantly checked.
Phones beep and people expect an instant response. An email isn’t answered with in a few hours and people wonder what is going on. People feel the need to be checking their phones when with friends or out on a date. How often do you just stand in a queue or sit on your own at a table and just be with it, breathe and just take in what is around? The instant reaction is to reach for a phone. This all increases stress levels and can make it hard to focus on one thing at a time, reducing productivity.
Problems in relationships can also occur when the person you are with is left feeling like they don't have your full attention. There’s a whole new problem emerging of people cheating on line and thinking it doesn’t count. Ultimately being on line takes you away from being fully present with yourself and who you are within that moment.
Allowing yourself a break from it all and switching off will help you: Sleep better, to be able to focus your attention on the person/people you are with, enjoy the moment, relax, have space to think clearly and in perspective and creativity started to rise. All these are benefits from a regular Yin practice too and I think people come to Yin to find out what it’s all about and start to experience this.
I researched the effects of digital addiction a few years ago when I was asked to take a group of journalists to the Caribbean on a digital detox. It was a press trip to promote St Vincent and The Grenadines, these islands had little or no phone signal so it was a way to market them.
It was fascinating to observe the reactions of journalists who are so used to being switched on 24/7 for their work have to detach themselves from the laptops and phones, to just be in the moment. They really fought against it to begin with (I caught one on the first day sneaking online by the pool, only to jump in the air when I caught her!) but by the of it they all reports that it was so lovely to have a break and just be present with who they were with and where they were. We all really connected because we were each other’s company, there was nothing else to do but be with each other.
Interestingly after all saying how lovely it was to have a break when we gave them the option of having their phones back in Barbados or to wait until Gatwick they all wanted to get online immediately. The temptation was too strong of checking messages straight away.
As Sarah Powers says (in her book Insight Yoga), “Yin is an opportunity to dive inside and stay for a while”. It’s a chance to switch off from the external world and soften. The mindfulness of it gives people who find meditation a challenge an opportunity to soften into the moment without having to sit up straight for 20 minutes. It creates space in people’s bodies, minds, and hearts.
As with everything balance is needed. I went so yin at one stage I became lazy with not much motivation at all. I still practice Flow yoga, my body still needs some dynamism but I approach it now with presence, no rush, no striving, and inner power.
To conclude I think Yin is becoming more and more popular because so many people got into ashtanga and other forms of power yoga as an extension of their busy striving overloaded minds. To get fit. To have a challenge. To be strong. Then they’ve got an injury, they’ve got ill, stressed with life or they just happen across a Yin class and realise that you can still get a strong practice but in a slow mindful kind of way. There is power in slowing down, in listening, in allowing. Building inner strength of being with what is in the moment has an impact in the rest of life, discovering in the everyday stresses of life you can practice equanimity is a valuable tool. A girl in my class the other day told someone new to class “by the end of it you look 10 years younger!”, an effect of softening after a stressful day.
Life has got so fast paced, Yin teaches us to slow down. To be with what is. To be in the moment. It releases layers of deep tension that has built up from a usually yang lifestyle. No wonder it’s becoming so popular.