Some years ago I was introduced to the practice of Yin Yoga. In a mostly silent room I was guided into postures that were held for long periods of time, with little movement. Being used to a more energetic, flowing approach to Yoga, these postures seemed simple and insignificant at first. However, several minutes into the class, they began to reveal their intensity. I found myself shaking, as a kind of agony emerged from my body. Our teacher, Inna, encouraged us to welcome, breathe and relax into the sensations that would arise from our bodies. Counter-intuitively trying to release the reflexive tension, I closed my eyes and entered into a world of tense, shimmering sensation.
I’ve found myself being pulled toward the passive, slow burning practice of Yin once more this Summer. Working early mornings in a bakery, I come home midday feeling a little over-heated, bleary eyed – tired but awake. In times like this, I’ve usually gone straight to coffee, running out of the house to keep my energy going until I crash. But something about this sleepy Norwegian summer has led me to pause. After a year of fast changes in a new country, I’m feeling a need for slowness, and re-orientation. I’ve been drawn back to the dark, brooding world of Yin Yoga, courtesy of my ever-reliable youtube yoga teacher Kassandra.
As opposed to yang-centered Vinyasa practices that stimulate qualities of heat, dryness, and movement in the physical body, Yin’s quality is dark, moist, and still. It is like a body of water slowly eroding a rock. Yin waits, and it moves with gravity: with the natural forces of pressure, weight, and time.
In the long-held postures of Yin Yoga we are aiming to reach the elusive, unseen places within the body – the connective tissue, fascia, and joints. A posture is entered, the hips open, head bows, the arms move forward finding a holding place. What feels comforting at first begins to creak: an opening is being created, the body is being excavated, disturbed. In applying steady contraction, and vulnerable opening to these unseen tissues we are beginning a therapeutic release of these points.
Yin teachers speak of the Edge; The point where we feel sensation, but not too much. When we Edge we are searching, moving toward precipice, skirting on the perimeter of feeling.
Reaching the edge and knowing we don’t want to go further, the objective becomes Holding. Holding allows the openings we have created to be stimulated. As our reactive impulses attempt to resist and flee, we hold still, breathing, softening. Blood begins to flow, joints are unfolded, knots of tissue and cartilage are provoked, massaged, and soothed as new energy is allowed to flow through.
I keep thinking about Temperance. The angel who walks with two cups in hand mixing and sloshing water from one cup to the other. Searching for the right mix, they seem caught in a moment, between states. This image always makes me think of trusting the path you are on, a state of becoming, a search for harmony.
Perhaps I have been drawn to Yin this summer as I’m a little uncertain of what’s ahead, and like the mountains in the distance, what’s behind feels far away. Like the angel in Temperance I find myself in a middle ground, an Edge space. Sometimes this angel can be seen as hesitant, a little unsure of where to go; so it just neurotically mixes the water back and forth, not knowing whether to take a step into the water or back onto the land.
The practice of Yin has its roots in traditional postural Hatha Yoga as well as well as the Taoist philosophy of Chinese Medicine. According to this philosophy, the body can be understood as hundreds of energy points called Meridian lines. These energy lines are responsible for moving Chi throughout the body, Chi can be translated to something like, ‘Life Force’; the force that animates our life and body.
Our ‘Life force’ will from time to time, become blocked. Restlessness, fatigue, depression, anxiety, and all other de-stabilizing stagnations within the body will stop the healthy flow of energy. Like the water of Temperance, our water is held between two poles, held still, it will eventually thicken, cluster, and clog, needing to be shifted. This feels like a perfectly normal thing, our bodies and life are fluid, we are changeable, and not meant to be in one state forever.
As Temperance moves they keep the water moving from one cup to the next, two feet between two states. They are in a state of flux, they hold their water, their life force, and wait for the right moment.
Yin is a watery practice. Becoming like water we release, and connect to our body’s water-like intelligence. As water moves through cracks in rock, we move through the density of our flesh, bones, and cartilage in passive patience.
Like the tides, lakes, or oceans, our watery body is a place of residue, of collection. In the crevices and corners of the unseen, we store memory: as Bessel Van der Kolk has said, The body keeps the score.
Being at the Edge is about moving toward the still, murky waters of life. Where we move toward the scores, and rhythms of affect that have washed up, fragmented, and dispersed through the lakes and tides of the body.
My time of Yin this summer has allowed me to sink into uncertainty, to not look for a way forward, but to enter into the residue, the unclear density. Sometimes before we move forward we must first acknowledge the confusion of where we find ourselves. In becoming there is a loss at what has come before. And before we can move into a new realm with clear sight, sometimes we have to take stock of what has been gathered.
One definition of Temperance is moderation. As the water is mixed slowly and with care: the right formula is searched for, the correct temperature. When the right conditions arrive water changes, stagnation is released, and new rivers open into wide expanses of sea.
As we hold at the Edge of our bodies, we are at the edge of the Self, of becoming; shifting toward a self that is unseen, authentic, and beckoning.
Artwork and text created by Jack O’Flynn. 2022.
Yin Yoga: Stretch the mindful way. K. Reinhardt.
The Body Keeps the Score Bessel Van der Kolk.
Yoga with Kassandra (Youtube Channel)
Inna Costantini, online Yin Yoga teacher https://www.innayoga.com