Among my yoga colleagues I am known as a bit of a hard-ass and I’m not sure if this is good or bad but I will own it. I have gained this reputation because of my belief in the capacity of yoga for strengthening, not solely stretching. In fact it makes me crazy when I hear people refer to yoga as a means of stretching!! Yoga does include stretching but it is about balance and for some obtaining balance requires strengthening. One of my often touted expressions: You can be too flexible but you can’t be too strong.
Two years ago I decided to take a Yin Teacher Training Program – I can’t tell you how many people were surprised at this. Why – because Yin is a relatively gentle practice and so people assumed I wouldn’t be interested. Hey – I love being a student as much as I like being an instructor and this program was eye opening on many levels. Anatomy is one of my favourite topics and learning about the body’s energetic systems (ie., meridians, koshas, nadis) and connective tissue construction was very exciting.
The practice most of us are accustomed to in a dynamic, flowing style works on muscles. This practice involves doing a number of poses in various sequences and holding each pose for 5 or 10 breaths, resulting in both stretching and strengthening. Whether we recognize it or not, the breathing works on the body’s energetic level as well as giving us the mind calming effects. Warrior 3 pose shown is an excellent example of this type of work.
A yin practice works on connective tissue (fascia, tendons, ligaments and even bones). The body conforms to the stresses we place on it on a regular basis. The best example is the rounded shoulders, head forward position associated with computer use. The fascia, the web-like structure that connects within our entire body, adapts to repeated patterns in our body and to changes associated with injury.
Because the cellular structure of connective tissue is more plastic and less elastic than muscles, a slower and more static style of stretching works better. This done by holding poses for a longer period of time (2-5 minutes) in a position that is just on the edge – never the deepest stretch. This serves to reshape the connective tissue by making it springier while hydrating it – I think of it as hair conditioner! An increase in range of motion will be the result. For the duration of the pose (2-5 minutes) one is still, refrains from fidgeting and breaths. The result is profound on both the body and mind.
A class that combines the yang (dynamic, strengthening) and yin (stillness, deeper, yet gentler, level of stretch) is a wonderful way to experience the balancing effect of yoga. Give it a try……I’m pretty sure you will love it!!