In passing, I mentioned the other week that I’ve recently got into yoga and have practiced nearly every day since the beginning of October. So I think it’s a keeper even for a person like me who tends to go through ‘phases’. It’s a practice that I’d attempted off and on over the years but never really got on board with as there was always that nagging feeling that I ought to be spending my energies on something sweatier or which made me more breathless. You know, I basically thought I ought to be ‘hanging’ or it wasn’t worth doing. But it occurred to me that since my ‘high-octane’ requirements were very much taken care of at the gym, it might be a good idea to work on my flexibility (my hamstrings were so ridiculously tight that when lying on my back with my legs in the air, my knees were practically at right angles). But probably more importantly, it’s been wonderful for my mental health too.
However, as is often the case with me, I kind of get obsessed with things – so obsessed that I only want to do that thing and no other variation of that thing, (it was the same when I discovered HIIT – all other exercises were pieces of shit in my eyes for a time). And the most annoying issue about the gym (or tough home workouts/running etc) is that you need to have at least two rest days per week for muscle repair and growth. Yep, I’ve turned into the type of person who hates rest days – what happened to me? But with yoga, you don’t need rest days. Yay! The type of yoga which has taken my fancy is ‘Yin Yoga’. Unlike fast-paced or quickly-transitioning vinyasa, hatha or power yoga, yin yoga is an ancient slow-paced, passive yoga originating from China. It focuses less on the muscles but rather the connective tissues, fascia and joints. Stretches are held for long periods of time; anywhere between two and eight minutes. Yin yoga has three principles:
1: Find your Edge: You have to respect your body’s limits. Once you’ve come to the edge of your flexibility, you shouldn’t be overreaching. You should never push to the point of pain. During the holding of a pose, you usually find your body softens anyway and can stretch further after a few minutes.
2: Resolve to be Still: It’s okay to fidget for maybe the first minute until you find (more or less) comfort in the pose, but once you have relaxed into it, try to be still…you are going to be there some time, so just accept it and focus on your breath.
3: Hold the Pose: Once you have found your edge, all you have to do is try to stay there for as long as the pose requires. And you’re supposed to be using as little muscle engagement as possible, all the stress in mostly in the tissues and joints.
My flexibility has improved a great deal (not first thing in the morning – as per previous blog – I wouldn’t touch yoga with a bargepole until at least after 10am). But I think the best part of yin is the meditative quality. I was never very good at meditating; I always felt I should be doing something else more constructive – like cleaning out the cat trays or putting out the cardboard waste. But with yin yoga, you are occupied. And yin sometimes incorporates positive affirmations (like ‘I am enough‘, or whatever) and chakras too – I mean, is there anything worse than blocked chakras? Mine were RIGHT out of alignment before. But my root, sacral, solar plexus, heart, throat, third eye and crown chakras are in tip top condition these days. Most importantly, it’s time carved out of your day (maybe even up to an hour and a half) just for you.
Half the reason I like yin of all the yoga types is because it’s the polar opposite of the gym. There’s a lot of lying around on the floor. There is NOTHING I like more than lying on my back in shavasana pretending to be a dead body for five or so minutes. But that doesn’t mean to say yin isn’t hard. If you’re inflexible, you may find you have a lot of work to do. I think my husband would find it challenging as he has the worst flexibility in all the land (I am actually half convinced his body was fashioned out of a tree – and Geppetto forgot to carve him working joints). But yin is welcoming to all levels of ability; there is always a modification. And that’s where props come in. I am the kind of girl who needs to have the entire kit available on the market to successfully carry out any hobby (whether I really need it or not). All the gear, no idea – that’s me. However, in yin the props are a God-send. I don’t know where I’d be without my yoga strap, various-sized blocks, bolster and Mexican blanket (not just for lying under whilst pretending to be a dead body – but especially good for that). The props are largely there to bridge the gap where your body just isn’t flexible enough to hold a pose, or to provide support so you can stay there longer. But honestly, it’s fine just to use a couple of fat cushions, and a standard blanket (just come to terms with the fact that it isn’t Mexican).
Anyway, give it a go. Your joints and your stress levels will thank you. And my yoga teacher recommendation is ‘Yoga with Kassandra’ who creates free yoga on YouTube. She taught me all I know. She’s the yoga QUEEN in my humble opinion – and has loads of yin videos (as well as vinyasa yoga too if being still isn’t your thing). ‘Yoga with Adriene’ is also very good. But Kasandra has soothing, restful Eastern music which swings it for me – and Adriene doesn’t have music and sometimes says weird shit that I don’t understand. But you know, in a nice hippy-dippy way. There you go, a new lifelong hobby for you which might just improve your life in more ways than one. Even if it’s merely due to the acquisition of a Mexican blanket. Om.