no gain, no pain
Commercially known as “yin-yoga”, which is a branded name of saying “passive-stretching” or “staying longer in the pose”, is a practice to target the connective tissue in the body, especially the hip joints, the knee joints, the shoulders joints and the spine. With that, it also works on the meridians within the body, as they are related to the connective tissue. Easily said, connective tissue is everything that cannot be directly labeled as something else, and what is holding the whole body together. Visualizing the yang-yin symbol; the black area has a white dot, the white area has a black dot, everything is relative. Muscles are labeled more “yang”, as they create heat and movement, but they contain connective tissue (more yin) too, and at one point a muscle is named “tendon”. From the tendon the muscle connects to the joint (more yin), and wrapped around it to create firmness are the ligaments (yin). Joints have to be flexible but not to flexible, they create movement and at the same time they hold two connecting parts strongly together. There we have yoga. To stretch connective tissue it is necessary to stay longer in a pose, it is like braces slowly molding the teeth into a better form. A passive stretch molds the body into form. B.K.S. Iyengar uses the passive stretch (often with help of props; when the body is supported, the pose can be longer hold, at the same relax more, which takes the stretch more into the connective tissue rather then into the muslce) for the therapeutic benefits, (re) aligning the body into its natural and designed posture. The passive stretch also works on the brain and mind, by keeping longer in the pose, especially in combination with calm deep breathing, there is time to relax & reflect, calming the mind. Giving time to the mind to digest all the mental impressions of the day. Here the name “yin” comes in; the relaxation (which is yin), is counteracting the effects of the physical and mental activity of our everyday life (yang). It is still yoga though, finding balance, union and walking the middle path; meaning it is not that you just “collapse” into pose, or can just fall a sleep (actually while sleeping the mind isn’t really resting, it is still working to digest all those impressions). The relaxation is being used to find that balance, with means of breath awareness and active relaxation. Actively the student is asked to relax body & mind, and ‘work’ the pose. This ‘active relaxation’ has multiple effects; as the body is relaxing, it has time to re-direct the energy first used for being active (working the sympathetic nervous system), it can use the energy now for other tasks that could not be done while active (working the parasympathetic nervous system). It gives time for the body to grow, heal, clean, repair, rebuild and strengthen. Active relaxation and passive & long stretching have great impact on the immune system and endocrine system, targeting the body and mind, and gives better physical and mental health.
Prolonged periods of activity is stress, there are about 80 diseases directed related to stress. Prolonged periods of non-activity is sloth, many diseases are related to this too. Finding the balance between those is what yoga can do. A “yin” practice can be complimentary to a “yang” practice, and actually give more “results” in “gaining” mobility (flexibility). (if that is something you want to ‘achieve’) Active relaxation is actively letting go, Actively letting go of tension, actively emptying the mind. Saying active, does not mean “pushing”, neither forcing, it is again about finding the balance. It is like walking on a razor edge, the edge is so thin that you cannot see it.
Contemporary society tends into the yang mode of living; telling us to always go for the max, give 100% ( 200%?), to be in control etc. Multiple stimuli 24/7 outdoors and in doors. Fast food. Connecting and using all kinds of devices and machines, creating bad posture and using the body in ways it wasn’t design to do. All these factors creating high level of stress, with all it effects on the our total body. The “yin” approach is a very effective way to counteract the stress, it is not easy though.
Ahimsaka is taking the 8 limbs of yoga together into one asana practice, naming it after the “middle” step of the 8 limbs; pratyahara. Pratyahara is the cross road of that path, where we go from the outward and physically focused, into the inner and mental body. Turning the senses with in, we are calming the breath. Slowing down the breath, we are calming the mind. Taking longer time in the poses will gives us time to reflect and digest. Trying to get rid of the tendencies society is pressing on us; always gaining, always wanting, always needing more, reflecting “aparigraha”, the 5th yama, non-collectiveness, non-grasping. Trying the student to let go and to surrender to the present moment, taking time to heal, recharge and strengthen. Instead of wanting to gain something from this yoga practice, try to loose something. Become lighter.
When you don’t gain now, you won’t be in pain later.