The benefits of yoga are well documented. There are few of us that still need convincing that spending at least some of our time on a mat is a worthwhile endeavour, but it has to be said: not all yoga is for everyone. Everyone has a favoured style, and location and physical ability are very likely to play a pretty significant role in picking a style. For me, personally, nothing beats a good, sweaty vinyasa flow, particularly with teachers who play with creative sequences. But if you ask around, everyone has a most (and least) favourite.
I was pretty partial to a good Bikram class while in the midst of a London winter, but the idea of extra-hot here in India makes me wince. A dear friend (who is launching a very cool line of yoga gear in the coming months) is a die hard ashtangi with all the laser focus that it requires (and resultant lean limbs), but my wandering attention span means that I just can’t work on the same sequence class after class, much less spend a lifetime in pursuit of perfecting one sequence.
If you’ve skimmed the schedule of any yoga studio worth its (pink, Himalayan) salt, you’ve seen, and very likely skipped right over a listing for a yin yoga class. I’d see them and even the description would bore me, including words like “slow”, “hold” and “mindful”. Er, no thanks.
I ended up in my very first yin class entirely by accident (I’d forgotten to check the schedule), but I’m so glad I did because it ended up being the happiest accident of all time.
Yin yoga’s roots lie in Taoist yoga, and the philosophy at the heart of it is basically this: your muscles are yang and your ligaments are yin. If you consider your physiology from this perspective, yang tissues (like muscles) are soft, elastic, and filled with fluid, while yin tissues (your connective tissues, ligaments, tendons, fascia) are more stiff and inflexible. Any exercise that focuses on muscle tissue is yang (HIIT, cardio, running, dynamic yoga streams), while exercise that focuses on one's connective tissue is yin.
Things you should know before your first class:
- You do yin yoga either sitting or lying down on the floor. There aren’t any standing postures at all. There are no sun salutations, no moon salutations, no skyfacing salutations of any sort, in fact.
- The class is slow but intense, and works for beginners and advanced practitioners alike. In one class you’ll probably only do anywhere between 4 and 9 postures, but you’ll hold each one of those postures for 2-5 minutes (or more, depending on your teacher), and I promise you, you’ll feel every one of those minutes.
- And finally, if it’s winter, wear something warm, because while you will lengthen, open, and expand, you will not warm up as the class progresses.
They say that yin’s longer holds enable you to access and lengthen your ligaments, but don’t for a second think that these classes are a doddle. In my first class I resentfully breathed my way into the first posture, but was surprised by how difficult holding a stretch at the edge of your comfort zone is, and how long five minutes really is when you’re perched at that precipice. The real challenge, I discovered, is staying present in your body through the discomfort the postures bring up, and these aren’t always physical. I might’ve rolled my eyes a little at the start, but mid-way, wrung out, stretched to an inch of my body, and trembling with the exertion of staying still, even that eye roll was too much of a distraction to attempt again.
Savira, who used to lead the yin classes at Seema Sondhi’s studio in Hauz Khas, is a goddess. She’d talk you through the postures, and walk you through what’s happening (always, fortuitously, at the very moment that your mind started to scream ‘what’s happening?’). Sadly, she is also a goddess who’s moved to the UK. I recommend following her (her website is here) to find out when she’s next leading a retreat somewhere you want to visit, and for signing up as soon as she plans a retreat in Goa, but in the interim, the studio continues to run yin classes at 7pm Tuesday evening and 9.30am Friday mornings.