For most people, yoga is considered a physical exercise, an asana practice. Seating meditation, the primary form of yoga practice, has been separated from yoga. If you like to do meditation but feel it is hard to sit still, then Yin yoga can be an approach to start to settle down. Yin yoga has a lot of hip-opening poses, which also physically prepare us for sitting meditation.
Yin is a Chinese concept, and it’s always mentioned together with Yang. Yin and Yang are two sides of the same phenomenon. As mountains and rivers have two sides and naturally present these two sides in harmony, we also have the potential to balance the action and stillness side of our nature, to demonstrate equilibrium in life.
While fitness yoga is regarded as the Yang style of yoga, it usually moves from pose to pose, and standing poses are a big part of the exercise; Yin yoga holds poses for 3-5 minutes, and most poses are done on the floor, seated or reclined.
We can practice the Yin yoga pose Butterfly and see how we feel. Sit on the floor. Place feet in a comfortable position with the bottoms of feet together. Hands on the floor, or holding ankles. Move the pelvis forward. Start by staying for one minute and gradually work towards three minutes.
If we are used to moving around in fitness yoga, holding poses without moving can be challenging. We might feel restless or irritated. We want to do something! There’s one thing we can do: observe! Observe the feelings, observe the breathing, and observe the relationships between our feelings and the flow of Qi (breath, energy). An expression from traditional Chinese medicine says: “Anger drives Qi to flow upwards; joy slackens Qi; sorrow exhausts Qi; fear makes Qi sink; fright disorders Qi; contemplation binds Qi.” These feelings effect the flow of Qi.
After the observation, we can use conscious breathing to settle down and find stillness in ourselves. Reciting the following verses from Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh is a simple way to stay in the pose and be calm.
Aware of a feeling present now, I breathe in.
Smiling to this feeling, I breathe out.
Practice Butterfly again for 3 minutes, pay attention to breathing, manifest the Yin side, the stillness side of yourself.
- 「怒則氣上，喜則氣緩，悲則氣消，恐則氣下，寒則氣收，炅則氣泄，驚則氣亂，勞則氣耗，思則氣結」Yellow Emperor’s Canon of Medicine: Plain Conversation [黃帝內經:素問], chapter 39, Discussion on Pains [舉痛論]; translated by Li Zhaoguo (Xi’an: World Publishing Corporation, 2005), p480.
- The Blooming of a Lotus : Guided Meditation Exercises for Healing & Transformation / Thich Nhat Hanh ; translated by Annabel Laity (Boston : Beacon Press, c1993), p94.
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