THE POWER OF YIN
Hello yogis, school kids, parents, marathon runners, festi goers, holidaymakers, small business owners, healers, neighbours, colleagues, commuters, friends, family and loved ones. Surrounded by the enormity of the surrealness of the situation we find ourselves in, overwhelmed by the shifting landscape that has changed our plans, taken things out of our hands and moved matters beyond our control; we feel heartbroken, loss and lost that all the things we took for granted and relied on so heavily for our joy and sanity have had to shift. Our coping mechanisms for the everyday stress and busy-ness of our lives, our yoga classes, our beautiful tribes, communities and gatherings, hugs with our friends and families have all had to adapt. I find myself drawing on those skills which we all have to keep us grounded and stable as we find ourselves on an emotional rollercoaster, some of the most mundane regular parts of our week have turned into surreal scenes that can be overwhelming and unsettling.
As I sat in our beautiful local forest the other day, listening to the trees, the birds and the wind, I spoke out loud, calling upon the angels, the trees and their spirits, the fairies and Pachamamma herself to take this time to breathe and heal.
I truly, strongly believe that we will emerge from this in a better landscape for Mother Earth, a brighter world, with major shifts having taken place, companies realising you don’t have to commute and be in the office 5 days a week to be efficient and productive, mass consumerism finally slowing, even halting in places. People’s perceptions of happiness finally disassociating from being attached to material stuff. Everyone realising the true wealth of quality time, slowing everything down to be grounded, appreciate the abundance within you. The skies are clearing, the traffic reducing, the birds are singing, more loudly than before.
This is a seismic shift, Pachamama gave us the warning signs which we all ignored. This is her bringing out the big guns, forcing us all to pause, stop. You only have to look at the Nasa maps with the thermal imaging of the air pollution in the world over those areas worst affected by Covid-19 and how, with the planes now grounded, factories closed, traffic greatly reduced, the air pollution in those areas has all but disappeared. There’s some brilliant stuff to read, look at the images from @Europeanspaceagency, there’s a great article on the @guardian Instagram page (24/03/20) showing images of the air pollution over Northern Italy, China and the UK.
Now is the time for us to distance, retreat, withdraw. To take this time, to harness our feminine energy, our lunar, our yin energy. To focus our gaze inwards, turn our attention to the more gentle, passive energy within us all. To welcome perhaps as an old friend or a newly invited visitor the beauty and deeply comforting power of Yin yoga into your life.
I first truly experienced Yin yoga relatively recently on my yoga journey, a couple of years ago in the idyllic surroundings of a rooftop of a beautiful old whitewashed townhouse in the traditional, peaceful, fishing village of Olhao in Portugal, on retreat with Steffy White (www.steffywhiteyoga.com). The release was so powerful it rendered me speechless and I cried so many, long, silent tears that my eye pillow was drenched by the end of it! While this was a truly amazing scenario, that welcome release often joins me like an old, welcome friend in my yin practice in the not so romantic setting of my front room, with the sofa pushed back once the kids are down, occasionally with Tom and Jerry the cats coming to join in.
My love of yin has gone from strength to strength, my candlelit yin classes at the beautiful local studio (www.fringeyoga.com) are deeply nourishing for me and the faithful tribe that joins me (we will again, worry not). I discovered Norman Blair, his beautiful book, ‘Brightening our inner skies with Yin and Yoga’ is so much more than a manual about a specific type of yoga (of which there are so many), it’s a very funny account of his deep wisdom, respect and understanding of the practice. Now, with time on your hands hopefully, get hold of a copy and indulge yourself. My friend and I travelled to a 3-hour workshop of his, the traffic was terrible, it took us hours to get there on a rainy, cold winter Sunday. We arrived bedraggled, late, deeply apologetic and slightly frazzled. The experience was so deeply nourishing, comforting, luxurious, attentive and funny, this dude is seriously funny, we left floating, munching on chocolate (yes, it’s a great way of grounding after a deeply relaxing, meditative yin class or workshop. If I didn’t have you before I’ve got you now right ? yoga AND chocolate, what’s not to love). We honestly both thought the time was wrong when it finished, how could that have been THREE hours, it felt like 20 minutes.
Norman describes Yin in the following way:
“Yin can be translated as ‘shady’ and yang as ‘sunny’. Yin is cooler, slower, inner; yang is warmer, quicker, outer. There are many possible permutations of these terms: feminine and masculine, soft and hard, moon and sun, intuitive and reasoning, implicit and explicit, hidden and obvious, acceptance and ambition, earth and sky, water and fire, midnight and midday. What is important is balance. With balance, there can be health and harmony”.
Described as a gentle, quiet and gradual practice, a soft and steady and sustained practice where we are grounding and breathing and releasing. It is slow, it is simple, Yin yoga is all about holding poses, passively, for longer, allowing the muscles to soften further, fall deeper and find that point of balance, often referred to as the edge, that point between stillness and flow, the mid-point between comfort and challenge. Bernie Clark, author of a bible of Yin Yoga describes Yin as the Goldilocks principle. Goldilocks came to the house where there were three beds. One was too hard, one was too soft, one was just right. Neither too hard nor too soft: that middle way with an ability to sustain stillness.
The following passage from Norman’s book talking about living in our modern world resonates so deeply with where we currently are:
“A widespread complaint is anxiety: being overwhelmed and being exhausted. There can be great weariness beneath the busy exteriors; behind the veneer, there is a wariness and many uncertainties. By becoming more balanced, by a shifting towards the energies of yin – accepting, easing, relaxing, softening – we might be more able to see more clearly. The Yin yoga practices with their calming and cooling, with their surrendering and slowing; maybe they can help us in resolving some of our unease. This is definitely not a ‘magic wand’; practising Yin will not necessarily ‘solve’ situations. But it could help us to be more grounded, more able to allow and to accept what is happening. More alert to constructively and creatively engage with life, more equipped to skilfully refuse and resist injustice and inequality. As we ground, as we breathe, as we release, as we stay, as we study – perhaps there could be a lessening of frustrations and materialism and fanaticism; perhaps there could be a realising that the primary purpose of practice is to be present; perhaps there could be a growing of gratitudes, a diminishing of defensiveness, a growing of receptivity – becoming brighter inside. Instead of tight and tense shoulders, there could be soft and relaxing faces”.
Yin has a tremendous power to shift your mood, your mindset. Try Yin of an evening or early morning, you don’t even need a mat. Light a candle or some incense, a blanket, some pillows and warm layers of clothing. For many of us at the moment it’s not that easy to find space, or time for ourselves, we are finding ourselves sharing our space with our loved ones (all.. the… time…). We may have been used to our routine of having time and space for ourselves, we all need to adapt, to tolerate, to accept, to unite with love. Yin is so quiet and gentle you can do it with the cat crawling on top of you (they actually can be very efficient sandbags, a lovely prop used in yin to increase the feeling of grounding in certain poses, if the cat can be encouraged to lie still long enough), you can even do it in the smallest of spaces that may still be crowded, not ideal but certainly possible. I’ve been getting up early while the house still sleeps and turning to my yin practice in the front room and it sets me up for the whole day. I often remain in a pose, supported balasana, childs pose, supported pigeon, or reclining goddess, being particular favourites of mine and can remain there for 15-20 minutes, when you emerge from the deep feeling of stillness, your mind calm, you feel stable, grounded and more able to respond to a situation as opposed to reacting to it, invaluable in the times that we currently find ourselves in, be it homeschooling, attempting Tesco or the enormity of the shift that is happening. The stillness envelopes you like a warm blanket, a hug from an old friend or loved one. Then there’s the chocolate, did I mention the chocolate.
Norman Blair suggests four points of Yin that can ground us:
Pause and soften
All qualities that at the moment are invaluable in helping us expand into these times of quiet, reflection and rest. Giving us an invaluable opportunity to listen to our body, to the messages it is sending us, with our fight or flight stress response no doubt triggered on a regular basis at the moment, giving yourself permission to be still is a rare and beautiful, free gift with immeasurable benefits. Many of us struggle to be still, always on the go, running from one thing to the next, yet now, physically we are unable to and as our lives begin to quieten we can find that our monkey minds can become louder, the chatter of automatic negative thoughts that are minds so easily fall into.
Yoga as defined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, is the stillness of the mind’s fluctuations. It is not something you do, rather, it is a state of mind where the person is experiencing union with the moment, with the action or stillness of that moment, and actually both simultaneously.
Open your eyes and look around you. Last week saw the first day of spring, the spring equinox, when night equals day and we welcome the return of the sun. A time for rebirth after the long-dormant dark winter months, from life, comes death follows life. Take great comfort from the fact that the wheel keeps on turning, the seasons change, Mother Earth provides us with the changing of the seasons, trust the process.
This is all happening for a reason, slow it all down. It’s not about goals, achievements or challenges anymore. It’s all about being happy, united and giving Mother Earth the chance to breathe and heal. Enjoy the stillness, the quiet, the abundance of time, try new things, read those books you’ve been stepping over for too long, bake the recipe you always thought sounded delicious, plant some seeds, get stuck into a box set, start a gratitude journal, read bedtime stories with the kids every night, try new things, fall in love with yin.
I was sent this reading the other week, it’s by Brother Richard and for me captures the essence of this new chapter beautifully:
Yes there is fear
Yes there is isolation
Yes there is panic buying
Yes there is sickness
Yes, there is even death,
They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise,
You can hear the birds again,
They say that after just a few weeks of quiet,
The sky is no longer thick with fumes,
But blue and grey and clear.
They say that in the streets of Assisi,
People are singing to each other across the empty squares, keeping their windows open so that those are alone may hear the sounds of family around them.
They say that a hotel in the west of Ireland is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.
Today people are busy spreading fliers with their numbers throughout the neighbourhood so that elders may have someone to call on.
Today churches, synagogues mosques and temples are preparing to welcome and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary.
All over the world, people are slowing down and reflecting.
All over the world, people are looking at their neighbours in a new way.
All over the world, people are waking up to a new reality.
To how big we really are.
To how little control we really have.
To what really matters.
So we pray and we remember that.
Yes, there is fear.
But there does not have to be hate.
Yes there is isolation
But there does not have to be loneliness.
Yes there is panic buying
But there does not have to be meanness.
Yes there is sickness
But there does not have to be a disease of the soul.
Yes, there is even death.
But there can always be a rebirth of love.
Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic.
The birds are singing again
The sky is clearing
Spring is coming
And we are always encompassed by love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able to touch across the empty square, sing.
Emma teaches at Fringe Yoga, runs workshops and retreats (@emmasmithies)
I’ll be bringing my Sat morning class at Fringe live via Zoom, check out www.fringe.yoga
Check out Steffywhiteyoga.com she’s got some great online videos at the moment
Norman Blair’s incredible book – Brightening our inner skies with yin and yoga