I subbed tonight at The Mindful Body, Yin and Yang Flow. Sixteen students, varying levels. 5 minutes savasana; 20 minutes long-held yin poses; 30 minutes slow flow; 15 minutes yin; and 20 minutes restorative. Yummy.

Sarah Powers, who has in my opinion led the process of branding and popularizing yin yoga, along with Paul and Suzee Grilley, describes Yin/Yang Yoga on her website as “long held poses [yin] to enhance the meridian and organ systems, combined with a flow or Yang practice, influenced by Viniyoga, Ashtanga, and Iyengar teachings.” And here’s a piece by Paul in Yoga Journal on yin.

There was a full year of my life when my entire yoga practice was based in yin. It’s been quite awhile, and I rarely practice or teach in this style now. Among other things, my left sacroiliac joint tends not to like it much. Yet what I learned from the Yin/Yang Intensive Teacher Training in 2005, and on retreat with Sarah Powers, continues to inform my practice and teaching quite deeply.

At the simplest level, the basics of yin practice, as I recall them, include:

1. Come into the shape to your appropriate edge
2. Become still and relax
3. Stay for time

These three instructions offer vast possibilities for exploration and discovery. I love the words, “edge,” “relax,” and “time” all together like that! Don’t you?

Notice how you’re sitting right now as you read this. Now move onto the floor, set a timer (the one on your phone will work) for 3-5 minutes, and come into the forward folded version of Baddha Konasana known in the yin system as Butterfly, allowing the feet to move away from you and the back to round. Find your edge. Become still and relax. Stay here until the timer signals the end of the pose. Then take your time to come slowly out of the pose and consider:

What was today’s edge for you in this particular shape?
What happened when you became still in body, and observed the mind?
How did you release unnecessary muscular effort, mental effort, or effort in the breath, to relax?
What changed or emerged as you stay here for 2 minutes, 5 minutes… 10 minutes?

There’s even more underlying the yin approach, related to meridians, organs, and the qualities of connective tissues. But regardless of the particular style, lineage, or tradition of practice, and to some extent the particular shape or asana, these basic instructions serve to bring us deeper.

sthira sukham asanam

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