22 December 2008
I've been interviewed for an article for the health and fitness magazine supplement to my local newspaper that will come out in January. I thought I would post some of the questions and my answers.
How does yin yoga balance the mind, body, and spirit?
Yoga was never meant to be a purely physical practice -- the ancient yogis (the sramanas) knew this when they went into the forests thousands of years ago to use their own bodies and minds and nervous systems as laboratories for experiments in personal transformation. We are not just our physical bodies so whatever type of yoga is practiced will balance the mind-body-spirit.
All yoga styles work the energy body, however, I feel that yin yoga is in a sense a deeper practice because the emphasis is solely on the connective tissues, not the muscles. Both the ancient Indian yogis and the Chinese yogis (the Taoists) believed that the connective tissue houses energy pathways, called nadis by the Indians and meridians by the Chinese. These energy pathways contain our life force, prana as the Indian yogis called it, chi as the Chinese yogis called it. Our energy body (the total of all these energy pathways) tends to become dense or stagnate when we do not move our bodies outside of our habitual ranges of motion. This is why we do yoga. But by coming into a pose in a slow yin way and staying for many minutes at a time helps us get deeper within our natural ranges of motion in the joints of the hips, pelvis, and lower back.
Chi stagnation is what acupuncturists deal with so that is why yin yoga is also called "needleless acupuncture" because you can move and balance your chi via yin yoga postures by stretching and pressuring the connective tissues that house the meridians. Modern life is very yang, lots of movement, rushing around, no stillness -- this causes stress and burn out. Yin yoga is a way of slowing down and going inward. Life is always about balance, the yin and the yang. Too much yang and you burn out; too much yin and you become a couch potato. Think of all the physical ailments that people have from too much stress and burn-out.
Because of my own personal yoga and meditation practice, I truly believe that combining a yin practice with a yang practice (such as a strong vinyasa or astanga practice) offers a complete yoga practice not only on the physical level but more importantly on the psychic level. I believe that working on these deeper levels is what what leads or our own personal transformation and that the changes we make to our soft tissue have a profound influence on the emotional, mental, and energetic levels. My own yoga practice deepened in a very potent way when I began to move away from an alignment-based, precision-obsessed practice.
There is also a whole psychosomatic level to balancing the energy body. Strong and flowing prana (or chi) is important because it affects the way we feel and the way we think. Blending the physical with the emotional levels expands our possibilities within a complete yoga practice.