The Gifts of Yin and Restorative Yoga - Part 1

One of the beautiful things about the path of yoga is that there are so many different techniques that we can weave into our practice. There’s something for everyone! Meditation, mantra (sound or phrase) repetition, pranayama (breath work), and of course, asana (postures) are just a few of many techniques.

Within each technique there are several ways to further customize things for an individually tailored practice. You can choose the mantra, pranayama, or meditation that’s right for you. There are countless practices to chose from.

The same thing goes for asana practice. Most of us require something different at different times... at different times of the day, different times of year, and at different times of our lives. Some of us need a vigorous practice that builds heat and gets things moving. For others, vigorous practice can be over-stimulating, unsettling the mind and furthering imbalance. In these situations, passive practices are indicated.

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Passive practices include yin and restorative yoga, and both are easily adapted to meet the needs of every body. In both styles, the body is passively supported (often with props), and invited to surrender into effortlessness. We do less and breathe more. Poses are held for several minutes or longer. While both practices are quite similar, there are some subtle points of distinction. In yin yoga, we focus on gently stretching and releasing the muscles, fascia, and deep tissues, while in restorative yoga, we focus on deeply supporting the body and holding it in comfort so it can completely relax.

Yin and restorative yoga are deep practices. Layer upon layer of tension in the body dissolves. What happens in the body is reflected in the mind—the mind relaxes its grip and settles into its own radiance. We might experience our deepest layers of Self: sat-chit-ananda, or pure awareness, consciousness, and bliss.

This is the heart of yoga.

In a culture that extols the virtues of incessant activity and productivity, it seems counter intuitive that sometimes we do more by doing less. But yin and restorative yoga can deliver us the full distance within, revealing our deepest Self through the process of surrender. Easy to "do" and hard to master, the depth of these practices cannot be overstated. 

In part 2, we’ll talk about the science behind these techniques. Aside from “just” an exercise in exploring the depth of our consciousness, yin and restorative yoga practices elicit an astounding array of health supporting processes that promote healing and wellness.

Yin yoga is offered every Wednesday at 4 pm, taught by Beth Hanson. Restorative yoga is offered at special times throughout the month, taught by Elena Mamatas. Next up, we’ll practice restorative yoga & yoga nidra at the full moon: Wednedsay, January 31, at 7pm. Interested in exploring mantra, pranayama, and meditation more in depth? Jackie Howard’s Holistic Yoga classes include it all.

Now, yoga

Atha yoganusasanam. These words form the beginning of the Yoga Sutras, the principle text of classical yoga. And now, they mark the beginning of this blog. Welcome!

The simplest translation of atha yoganusasanum reads, “Now, the exposition of yoga.” However, the Sanskrit language is imbued with layered meaning and nuance. Perhaps B.K.S. Iyengar’s translation better captures the spirit of the sutra: “With prayers for divine blessings, now begins an exposition of the sacred art of yoga.”

No matter how we chose to translate the passage, one thing is clear—the exposition of yoga happens NOW. The Yoga Sutras don’t mince words. The prominence of now is not an accident.

Are you familiar with the sonnet that begins, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways”? That’s how I often feel about yoga. It's a gift that keeps on giving! As I learn more about it, I also find myself counting the ways in which yoga can be defined. Often cited as the root word of “to yoke,” yoga means to join together. Yoga is the union of our awareness and all that it contains.

Another way of understanding this is to define yoga as what happens when we pay attention right now. What happens when we allow our awareness to swell and grow so as to embrace the fullness of the present moment? Yoga.

As we navigate the forthcoming winter holidays, let’s continually root our awareness into the fertile soil of the present moment. While we may wrap up presents and tie them with ribbon, let's  remember that the greatest gift we offer our loved ones (and ourselves) is the fullness of our embodied presence. The Sanskrit word atha means both “now” and “a blessing.” To truly see and be seen is the ultimate blessing. 

It happens now. Come back to it again and again, and you will always find yourself there.