Yin: the yoga of stillness

yin yogaAs I think I’ve mentioned before, a bit over two years ago I trapped a nerve in the sacral area of my spine that caused a searing pain in my hip and down the outside of my leg. For a month moving and not moving were equally agonising; I couldn’t find a comfortable position to sleep, I managed to work propped up at my laptop but getting out of the chair was a slow, painful affair punctuated by several yelps.

Losing my freedom of movement terrified me – it was a glimpse into what getting old was going to be like if I didn’t start taking care of my body now. Eventually I dragged myself to the doctor (duh!), got a referral to the best physiotherapist in the world, actually DID the exercises she suggested and within a couple of weeks the pain had gone and I was more flexible.

Then, as you do, I started practising the exercises more sporadically and eventually only when I felt a new twinge. Inevitably – and who didn’t see THIS coming? – a few weeks ago the twinges turned into a spasm and I was back to wincing every time I changed position and standing up from a chair became a full-blown project.

I got over that before – thank God! – it got too painful by doing lots of stretches. However future Isobel (Isobel 2.0) is flexible and supple, which Isobel 1.0 patently isn’t. I’d started the whole trapped nerve thing off in a yoga class, over-extending in a stretch and then coming out of it too quickly, so I was loathe to try that again. I’d also given up belly-dancing, which I LOVED for its femininity and sensuality, because the movements put so much stress on my hip.

The Universe is Listening

Then completely “randomly” (thank you Universe) someone in a group mentioned “Yin yoga” and I latched on to it. My friend Google suggested a couple of places to start (I could probably have got to YinYoga.com by myself but Do You Yoga was a Google find), watched some introductory videos and started the next morning (the optimum time, when your muscles are cool).

I spent about 15 minutes on two asanas and I could feel the difference throughout the day. My spine felt more “open”, it was easier to sit up out of my hips and a nagging pain between my shoulder blades that had had me resorting to Ibuprofen completely disappeared.

On day 2 I incorporated some meditation while holding the poses and stayed longer in each one. Afterwards I felt refreshed as well as more supple.

Playing With Your Edge

In Yin yoga, you choose a few poses and hold them for an extended period, several minutes for each one, and come out of them very slowly. I chose two asanas to start with, Butterfly and Caterpillar, that target the lower back and open the hips. You’re basically stretching the connective tissue around mainly the knees, pelvis, sacrum and spine, rather than the muscles. I think all the poses used are either seated or lying down – my two are seated and I sit on the edge of a low pillow to raise my hips a little. Aids (blocks, towels etc) are encouraged.

The doyen of Yin yoga online, Bernie Clark, says “we don’t use our body to get into a pose; we use the pose to get into our body“. For each asana, each time you do it you move to your “edge”, the point at which you feel a significant resistance (and the edge can and will change each time you practise and during your practice), resolve to hold still in that position (stillness of the body, breath and mind), and then hold for several minutes, moving to a new edge as or if it becomes available and invites you in.


Yin yoga is a very feminine, surrendered practice of yielding to the world as it is rather than trying to change it, of accepting where you are and then receiving the invitation to relax and explore more deeply, trusting your body to guide you. After just three days I can sense how it counterbalances the Yang energy of action and always DOing; my mind is calmer, I don’t feel so “rushed” and my intuition feels more accessible.

I can also see that there are times when I NEED more Yang energy, when Yin yoga won’t be appropriate and I will need to do something more active. I’m wondering if Tai Chi will be Yang enough at those times or whether I’ll need something with more movement, maybe dancing; I’m going to experiment. I know I need to move more; sitting in a chair for hours on end is apparently “the new smoking” as far as health is concerned and while that’s not a story I choose to buy into, my body is giving me a message I’m not prepared to ignore any longer.

What kind of movement do you incorporate into your day? Has it changed as you’ve got older and do you feel you’re aware of your body’s needs? Drop a comment below and let’s talk about it 🙂

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