My first-timer Yin yoga experience…
It’s the week of Thanksgiving, and I’m stressed to the max. I have “career girl” work as usual. Project deadlines that everyone wants delivered BEFORE the holidays. And on top of that, I’m determined to make real contributions to this year’s Thanksgiving meal. You know, the kind that don’t reek of single person who picked up some napkins at the 7/11 on the way.
I can see I also need to chill so I don’t show up at Thanksgiving winning the award for sharing “thankfuls” that are most like an insult. And I also don’t want to wear it on my sleeve, when no one eats my homemade cranberry sauce.
I know. Don’t I sound delightful?
That’s how I know I need a yoga class.
And my girlfriends have been telling me about this Yin yoga that will completely “de-stress” you. So, I look at my completely packed week of Thanksgiving calendar, and I find an hour. I decide to give Yin yoga a try for the first time, so I reserve my spot.
This is how it turned out…
My First Yin Win
Did I mention my schedule was packed this week? I imagine it’s about like everyone else’s holiday schedule. Full to the brim with regular life stuff and holiday stuff packed into all the cracks and crevices.
When my schedule is packed, and I’m feeling stressed, the first thing to go is taking care of myself. That can look like eating a lot of take out, not making my bed, going to bed at odd times. But it almost always includes less physical activity.
So, my first Yin win was scheduling and most of all PAYING for that Yin class. That booked the time on my calendar, plus it made me feel like I had skin in the game.
When the time for the Yin class came, I wanted to skip. I felt too tired. I didn’t want to drive. Work needed more of my time. But the fact that I had already paid for it (no refunds allowed) made me feel like I was gonna lose something if I didn’t go. So, I went.
Lesson learned. If I want to make my physical (and mental) wellness a priority, schedule it and pre-pay, so I don’t back out.
Yin Yoga Props
I get to the class and see ambient light flickering in the dark room. It feels warm but not sweltering. There are props. Some I’ve seen before – yoga blocks. Some I haven’t – yoga bolster.
I follow the lead of those who have practiced before and grab a bolster, a couple of blocks and a Falza blanket.
An early bird clearly knows what she’s doing as she reclines on her bolster wrapped in her Falza with her eyes closed. That looks like exactly what I need, so I follow suit. We relax for about 5 minutes until everyone arrives and gets situated.
What is Yin Yoga?
The teacher arrives and begins the practice by explaining Yin yoga. Apparently, I’ve been practicing Yang yoga most of my life. It seems obvious as we’re told about it. But I was today years old when I realized the Yin in Yin yoga refers to the Taoist concept of balance.
I had heard a little about Yin yoga before I registered for the class. So I knew it was considered “restorative” (one big reason I signed up). But I didn’t realize that in order to restore myself I was gonna have to work so hard.
I’m laughing as I think about that because it turns out it felt like work because I had to be still so often. The teacher tells us we’ll be holding each pose for 2 – 5 minutes. Each pose!
Immediately, my heart races like I’m in a HIIT cardio class. And I wonder if I’ll make it through the hour or if I’ll want to run out screaming in the first pose. With a fast-paced life and constant connection to some electronic device, how will I survive doing nothing for 5 whole minutes at a time?
This should be interesting.
Yin Yoga Intentions
The teacher quietly reminds us that we need both the yin and the yang to have a balanced practice and a balanced life. This Yin yoga class targets the deepest tissue in our bodies – ligaments, connective tissue, fascia. To unlock and restore energy, health, and wholeness in our bodies and our minds.
I remind myself that’s exactly what I need right now. Even if the process feels excruciating.
So, win number 2 is setting an intention to give my body and mind what it needs. Be present. Fully embrace the experience and rest.
I feel a tear start to form in the corner of my eye. I must need this more than I thought. My body is already thanking me for allowing this.
What Happens During Yin Yoga
The teacher offers some advice for practicing Yin yoga.
- Let your body guide you.
- Gently relax into the poses.
- Go deeper as your body opens up.
- If you feel pain, pull back. Pain is not the goal.
- Notice your breath. As we move along in the practice, you may notice your exhale becomes longer than your inhale. That means your body is moving out of parasympathetic mode (fight or flight) and into sympathetic mode. This is a healthy transition.
And we get started.
One minute into the first pose, I notice a heightened awareness in my senses. I hear every noise. My nose kicks into overdrive.
The night before last I had used a lavender sugar scrub to exfoliate my feet. Since then I haven’t smelled the lavender at all as I’ve dressed, worked, gone to bed. Tonight, I smell it intensely. And I’m wondering if the whole room is “enjoying” my foot scrub.
Note to self: do not use smelly bath products pre-Yin yoga.
Noticing my Breath
Even the poses we hold for only 2 minutes feel interminable. I have waves of feeling relaxed and then itching to move or run or maybe just yell to spice things up.
During certain poses, I feel so bored I grind my teeth.
So, I turn to my breath as advised.
I feel like my exhale is not getting longer than my inhale. So, maybe I’m fighting my way through this restorative class. I think of those movies where people get stuck somewhere and have to remain calm so they don’t use up too much oxygen. The fact that I can’t get calm and I’m not under duress reminds me why I never tried to become a navy SEAL.
Then I remember Dr. Huberman’s advice on regulating your parasympathetic tendencies during stressful situations – cyclic sighing. Since my body wasn’t calming itself automagically, I figured I could give cyclic sighing a whirl. After all, I have nothing but time right now.
Here’s a 5 minute guided sighing sesh if you want to give it a try.
Research says it’s the best breathing practice to immediately regulate the nervous system, and our stress response.
I can’t tell if giving myself a task did the trick or if the cyclic sighing works, but when I return to regular breathing, my exhales do indeed outlast my inhales.
Yin win number 3. I’m using breathwork to relax into the practice.
Physical Benefits of the Process
Some poses cause my muscles to jump as they release the tension they’ve been holding for who knows how long. I’m wondering if my body needs this kind of time to unwind more often. Wound tightly. I’ve been called that before. I’m embodying the moniker in this very moment. And the unwinding feels great.
Mental Benefits of the Process
Now that I’m relaxed into the practice, and my body unwinds, I feel my emotions welling up again. I promised I would give my body what it needed. And I promised I would be present and embrace the experience, so here we go.
The quiet room with few instructions means I’m alone with my thoughts. I’m thinking about things I need to release from my past. I say hello to some beautiful, some painful memories. Some people I’ve lost over the past few years. Thanking them for the time we had. Forgiving myself for my shortcomings. And letting go.
A few tears roll down my cheeks. I don’t try to fight them or hold them back. My body needs this.
By the last half of the class, I’m looking to the future. I’m thinking about short-term things like how I want to show up with my family for the holidays. I set intentions around that and visualize being that version of myself.
Gratitude breaks into my reverie for all that I have, all I’ve accomplished, and all I’ve become. Intention to grow even more moves me to thinking about more long-term goals. How I can embrace an even better future? How can I evolve further to be a loving, supportive, present contributor to my relationships?
More Yin Yoga in the Future?
I’m reminded that this kind of practice is exactly how I can keep growing. Allowing myself the time I need to listen to my mind and my body without distraction or interruption. Even with a busy schedule. Even during the holidays. Filling my own cup will allow me to overflow with good things to those around me.
I’m convinced that not caring for myself is likely to overflow onto others as well, it just might feel more like a vat of hot oil instead.
Yes, more Yin yoga will be part of my future. Just have to follow the wins to keep winning.
- Commit: schedule and prepaying worked for me.
- Set an intention: being present and giving my body what it needed helped me listen and follow through.
- Notice my breath: helped me settle down my parasympathetic reactions and relax into the practice.
- Practice gratitude and letting go: gave me freedom to unwind physically and mentally and get ready for a brighter present and future.