The Hardest Yoga You’ve Never Tried
Posted on 10 November 2016
I didn’t find yin yoga so much as it found me. My first two experiences were accidental; I thought I was going to Vinyasa—twice. Its description appears docile, innocuous even: A slow-paced style of yoga with postures, or asanas, that are held for longer periods of time. A friend of mine scoffed: “nap class.” But don’t be fooled. It can be (and this, of course, depends on your teacher and your threshold for discomfort) equal parts excruciating and elating. Even before last night’s shocking turn of events, I was hooked.
My first class was a gift to myself on my birthday this year. I paid no attention to the name of the session I’d signed up for. But there I was, at 10:00 a.m. on a Tuesday on my back, with my right knee folded across my left leg. My right arm was extended in the opposite direction, stress sweat beading around my temples and chest. I’d been in this position for two minutes; it felt like 20. I shimmied, sighed, broke my stillness more than once. When three minutes had passed and we were instructed to slowly unwind, I thought, “never doing that again.” By the end of class, I was feeling heady—in a good or bad way, I honestly couldn’t say.
Yin is the underdog of the yoga world, likely because its quiet, inward-focused nature means that toned core muscles are not one of its primary benefits. Improvements of chronic ailments—lower back pain, spinal issues, hip and shoulder blockages—are. Paulie Zink, a taoist martial arts master, is credited with introducing the technique to the Western world in the ’70s. His disciples Paul Grilley and Sarah Powers have devoted followings. It isn’t the easiest to find—Sangha Yoga Shala in Brooklyn and Modo Yoga in L.A. both offer weekly classes—and its description means it’s sometimes mistaken for hatha-restorative hybrids. But “nap class” it is not. There are roughly 20 core asanas that comprise the technique; variations within each make them range in difficulty from “ahhhh . . .” to “oh my, oh my, is that a rock in my hip?” Each pose is typically held for at least a three-minute period, some for five. All target the connective tissues of the body. Which is where things get really interesting.
There is a deeply relaxing aspect to yin yoga, particularly once you’ve made it through a few classes. The challenges of being meditatively still while applying tension to the fascia, tendons, and ligaments are numerous, and arguably most beneficial for squirmy, can’t-stay-put-for-five-minutes types.
During a class, your body will be coaxed into all sorts of shapes (none pretty to look at). Even as a decently adept yogi—I’ve tried Ashtanga, Iyengar, Bikram, Y7 Studio’s hip-hop-accompanied flow, and most recently Sky Ting’s fiery Katonah class—I found myself at times deeply calmed and at others incredibly rattled. It’s that push and pull, tension and release, that makes up the ebb and flow of these 90-minute sessions.
Yin is meant to be practiced in tandem with Yang, defined as anything that activates the muscular system (Vinyasa qualifies). Alana Kessler, my instructor on that first day, considers it an advanced practice that requires patience and mindfulness, coaching her students to mentally work through the discomfort rather than relying on heavy self-adjustments or propping. Other teachers may take a more gentle approach—my experience at Integral Yoga Institute’s class in Manhattan was significantly less intense—but regardless, the benefits go far beyond the physical. Devotees claim that a pronounced sense of calm is a welcome side effect.
For me, I’d say I’m getting there a few months in. After each class, I have the sensation that I’ve lost weight, like liters of something have been removed, whatever that may be. Degunked, almost. “Yin is really hard. It’s sensational, it’s confronting,” Kessler says. “The trick is to be stable but not rigid.” A life lesson on this first day of the new world order? Maybe.
Yin Yoga Studios
New York City
Sangha Yoga Shala with Alana Kessler
107 N. Third Street, Brooklyn
Laughing Lotus, Yin Flow with Susan Derwin
636 Sixth Avenue, Third Floor
105F, various teachers
47 W. Polk Street, Second Floor
Modo Yoga, various teachers
340 S. La Brea Avenue
Laughing Lotus, Lotus Yin with Alex Crow
3271 16th Street
Original article can be found here.