What is Yoga, how can it benefit you and what is the difference between Yin & Yang Yoga?
Yoga in the modern world
Yoga has hit the mainstream!
I remember when I started teaching Yoga back in 2007. There was one yoga studio in my home city, and the general people on the street would ask me... "What is Yoga?"
I would have to explain - from the very beginning - what Yoga is and how the benefits could help them.
Fast forward more than a decade and Yoga has exploded in the Western World.
Why? Well, because of our stressful modern lifestyle, we need all the support and help we can get! And popping pills, unhealthy or emotional eating, and drinking too much alcohol just isn't cutting it anymore. We are feeling the effects that stress has on our body, but more than that... we are feeling the effects of unhealthy, unconscious living.
From weight gain to heart attacks, to chronic fatigue, to depression - stress-related conditions are showing up everywhere, and I have seen it all. After spending 13 years in the Women's and Corporate Wellness Industry, I have witnessed in others how detrimental it can be to be running on adrenaline and coffee only. Not only that, but I have also experienced how stress can affect my own life.
And, so... we welcome in Yoga!
Yoga has been around for more than 5000 years. When it was first born in India, the postures were created to make their body more comfortable to sit in meditation for long periods of time. Meditation, visualization, contemplation, long periods of rest, and witnessing ones mind was part of their simple life back then. The Yoga postures were one part of the 8 Limbs of Yoga (number 3 on the list actually). So, when there were 8 steps to reach happiness or bliss (Samadi in Yogic terms), the yoga postures were ONLY ONE STEP. In Modern day Yoga, sometimes the Yoga postures have become the most essential aspect. However, without meditation and pranayama (breathing techniques), it's not Yoga... it's only a stretch and tone class!
What is Yoga and how will it benefit you?
Yoga is, in essence, a combination of breathing techniques (Pranayama), meditation and Yoga postures (Asanas). The aim is to bring you back into balance and harmony by realigning you back with your higher Self. Thus reaching ultimate bliss and enlightenment by reconnecting body, mind and Soul.
The benefits while doing this are a by-product (and fabulous 'side-effects' indeed!)
- More flexible & physically strong
- Enhanced mental clarity
- Increased emotional stability
- Expanded mind-body awareness
Yoga IS NOT a religion, it is not against your faith either. In actual fact, it strengthens your connection to your inner-most-self and therefore, your spiritual connection to God (or whatever you believe in).
Which Yoga style do you choose?
There are many different styles of Yoga, which do you choose?
Yoga has expanded into numerous variations over the past few years, and so there are many different styles. None are better or worse than the other, they are just different and focus on different areas or aspects.
Here is a breakdown of the various most popular styles nowadays:
- Vinyasa - Vinyasa Yoga is also often called "Flow". This is because it's a string of yoga postures that flow quickly from one movement to the next - while working with your breath. It is not a set sequenced class, and although you do have similar flow sequences that are used (for example the Sun Salutations) no classes are the same. It's great for physical exercise and getting your heart rate elevated.
- Power - Taken from the basis of Ashtanga Yoga, Power Yoga is a fitness-based active practice focusing on building strength. There are also many vinyasas (a series of poses done in a sequence); however, the teacher mixes it up. So the class doesn't follow a set sequence of postures as you do in Ashtanga.
- Ashtanga - Ashtanga was brought to the West by K. Pattabhi Jois in the '70s. It's a vigorous style of Yoga following a specific posture sequence called "The Primary Series" which links each movement to your breath. This same sequence is always done in the same order. It's great for building core strength and increasing strength, flexibility and toning the body. However, it's a physically demanding style of Yoga, so make sure you have the energy to work hard and are ready to sweat.
- Hatha - All postural based Yoga is actually Hatha Yoga. Still, in order not to confuse you, I won't go into all the semantics. Sometimes at a gym or studio, you will see Hatha Yoga on the schedule. This is usually a simple posture class focusing on breaking down the postures & breathing techniques and also bringing in meditations or visualizations. It's great if you are a beginner wanting to know more, and even if you have a life-long sustainable practice. As you get fewer injuries than you do in Power or fast-flowing Vinyasa Yoga.
- Iyengar - Created by BKS Iyengar, the focus is mainly on alignment using many props to assist you in the correct version of the pose. You are not moving around as much as other yoga styles, so it's not as energetic. However, the challenge is how to be mentally and physically still and precise in your practice. If you have any injuries, Iyengar is fantastic for rehabilitation and to learn the basic technique of various Yoga postures.
- Kundalini - Kundalini Yoga incorporates mantras, dynamic breathing techniques & moving postures often done for a few minutes each before progressing to the next Kriya (or action-focused intention). Kundalini teachers and practitioners usually wear white and sometimes have turbans or white scarves on their head, which is believed to deflect off negativity and project your positive energy out to inspire others.
- Bikram - Bikram Yoga classes consist of a set sequence of 26 postures practised in a 40° C heated room. It's an excellent practice for detoxing and weight loss which is why it become so popular in the West from the 1970s because you sweat like crazy and feel like you are doing major exercise. However, it is not so popular anymore after Bikram Choudhury's (the creator of Bikram Yoga) numerous sexual abuse allegations.
So let's talk about Yin & Yang
You may know that Yang and Yin are the balance of opposites - with Yang being strong, faster, masculine in nature and Yin being gentle, calm, feminine in nature. And in Yoga the same applies, although it's not always a black or white rule:
Yang Yoga = Faster moving, flow (usually what you see in Western Yoga studios). I collectively consider all the above discussed Yoga styles, as YANG YOGA. This because they include active physical movement of our body that is very Yang in nature.
Yin Yoga = Slower moving, resting, dropping into the pose over long periods of time (normally between 3-5 minutes)
Even though Yang Yoga is terrific for stress release... the physically active Yoga postures (especially when NOT combined with meditation or calming breathing techniques) can be great for physical fitness and exercise, but not necessarily useful for getting us back into a relaxed 'rest & digest' state.
And, so... we welcome in YIN YOGA!
What is Yin Yoga & how is it different to other styles of Yoga?
Well, Yin is the opposite of Yang, and when Yin & Yang are in balance, we are in harmony. So, Yin Yoga is using a Yin approach to Yoga and introducing a more gentle and stress-reducing style.
My Yin Yoga teacher, Nik Robson, says that "Yin Yoga is medicine for the Modern World"! Also, Yin Yoga is for "any body". This means that any human can practice Yin Yoga; no matter your age, flexibility, weight, or whether you have injuries or not. It's healing and soothing for anyone wanting to focus on reducing their stress levels.
One of my clients measured her heart rate before and after doing one of my Yin Yoga sessions. Her heart rate dropped from 120 to 72 beats per minute! She has a heart condition, so her resting heart rate is higher than average (most of us have a resting heart rate between 60-100 bpm). And, so what is impressive to see is how 1hr of gentle Yin Yoga brought her heart rate down dramatically! She is extremely grateful to have found Yin Yoga... and I am sure so is her Doctor :)
How is Yin Yoga different?
Yin Yoga is much slower and more gentle than other forms of Yoga, however, this doesn't mean that it is less powerful!
Because of the slower pace - there usually are only 4-5 different postures in one Yin Yoga session - the poses have more time to really make an impact on your fascia (also known as the Yin tissues of the body) and Traditional Chinese Medicine Element and Meridian Lines. Each TCM Element also impacts different organs, emotions and functions in the body.
For example, doing a class focusing on the Water Element (Kidney & Bladder Meridian) is very nurturing and nourishing for your body's system. Whereas doing a session focusing on the Wood Element (Liver & Gallbladder Meridian) is much more detoxing and uplifting.
There are 4 phases to practice Yin Yoga:
1) Shape - Create a shape with your body and get into the posture, using blocks, bolsters, cushions and whatever other props can help support your body to feel more comfortable (the more props and the more comfortable you feel, the better!)
2) Stillness - Once you are in your shape, find stillness and do your best not to move or fidget.
3) Stay - Once you have found stillness, you stay in this shape for some time. It takes at least 3 minutes for the body to really drop in and make an impact on the fascia - so staying in a Yin Yoga posture for at least 3-5minutes is normal. When you are doing self-practice you can stay in a pose for as long as you feel you need to... sometimes resting in the pose for up to 30min or longer!
4) Slowly release - Once you have been in the pose for 3min or more (or when you feel ready to come out), gently and slowly start to move to your rebound (resting pose between postures), or to the other side, or next pose.
The deeper underlying essence of Yin Yoga according to my Yin Yoga teacher and Yin Culture:
Yin Yoga encourages you to slow down so that you can feel into your body, listen to your body's messages, calm your mind, and reconnect with your Self once again. This creates space for you to tune in and become aware of your inner landscape. Once you have this awareness, you can see what resides within and can feel what is no longer serving you, you can let go on a physical, mental and emotional level. Finally, you now have the space and ability to wake up to your truth, remember who you are and why you are here and truly connect with your Soul.
What type of Yoga is in this course?
This course is focused on stress management and so I have included one 25min Yang Yoga video (a combination of Hatha & Vinyasa Yoga) and one Yin Yoga Audio session each week. Each one of these sessions is linked to healing a particular Traditional Chinese Element and is linked to the themes of my '5 Step Path to Living Yinly'.
No-one can do the work for you. You are responsible for your own healing, growth and soul expansion. You must walk your own path... however, some tools and maps can support you along the way. Yoga is one of them!
Yoga has played an instrumental role in my healing journey over the past 17 years, and it's beautiful to share it with my clients all over the globe. I feel blessed to have witnessed - and been part of - so many positive Yoga experiences with my clients. I now look forward to sharing this Yoga knowledge with you so that you can empower yourself to stress less & live more!