I had the honor of studying with the author of The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga [hyperlink to amazon book page] Bernie Clark, who teaches that the three principles of Yin Yoga are: 1. Find the edge of sensation 2. Find stillness 3. Hold for time (4. Come out with awareness) The edge of sensation is important, because our bodies have a variety of ways of communicating pain or discomfort. In his book, Bernie describes the “edge” by using the tale of Goldilocks: you want to find just enough sensation, but not too much. My experience in life is that I have turned down the volume on sensation so that I’m only aware that I am hungry when I’m starving, tired when I’m exhausted, or feeling a sensation when it is painful. I think of the edge of sensation like the edge of the Grand Canyon – you could walk up to the edge and curl your toes over, or dangle into the canyon by your fingertips… and in Yin Yoga, we’d rather approach the edge instead of diving over and holding on for dear life.
Stillness is important if you’re seeking to allow the muscles of the body to relax. Mechanisms inside of the muscle protect the joints by preventing the muscle from experiencing a full stretch during dynamic movements. After holding still for about 90 seconds, these mechanisms allow a deeper stretch to occur. For some people, stillness is not possible because they have a neurological condition that doesn’t permit them to maintain stillness. For others, it can be very difficult to hold still for emotional or psychological reasons – PTSD is one of the most common reasons practitioners have a difficult time experiencing stillness. The psychological benefits of rest, brief periods of meditation, and time away from anxiety-provoking stimuli are still available even when stillness is not.
Time separates the experience of Yin Yoga from other styles of yoga. Each pose is maintained for 3-7 minutes to support the physical and psychological aims. If you are practicing on your own, you can use a timer or special playlist that is set to change at certain increments. One of the benefits of a practice guided by a teacher is that you do not have to engage mentally to track your own time, and can rest in a calmer state of mind while simply following suggestions.