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Actively Resting with Yin Yoga

Yin Yoga is a great compliment to a busy mind. Fairly new to the yoga scene, Yin Yoga focuses on active stillness with gentle stretches held for longer lengths of time. At first, it may not fit our definitions of what we’re used to in a Yoga practice, but the physical approach we find in Hatha practices translates fairly nicely to mental approach in Yin practices.

By drawing the attention to the mind, Yin is inherently a meditative approach. During the long periods of stretching, we’re given ample time to check in with the mind. Yin aims to achieve a balance by “cooling” how active, or “hot”, the mind is running.

In addition to self-awareness of the mind, Yin is a great opportunity to develop self-awareness of the body. Some instructors are able to directly differentiate between the sensations of stretching the muscular tissue and the connective tissue.

In a recent dance with Yin, I took the mental road and used the opportunity to calm my busy mind. I found the best results when I syphoned the mental activity from the objects of focus, and applied that energy to focusing on stillness: how present the world is without my activity, how active I am without my activity. Indeed, focusing on the natural elements of my constitution provided a connecting ground to this beautiful happening, but the key to my success, I feel, was a mindstate of active resting.

Active resting can be thought of as harmonizing our ambitions with our focus. Often, focus can yank the leash out of our hands as it pursues the whiff of an ambition. This becomes evident when we try to relax our bodies (in a hot bath, say), but our minds refuse to slow down. The effect is a cacophony between what our body wants and what our mind wants.

With a bit of training however, we can direct our focus to help detect goals and pathways. One method way to focus on an object or a mantra, keeping it in the mind’s eye as consistently and adamantly as possible. You might focus on something significant to you, like a favorite someone or something, but anything of positive spirit can suffice.

Another route is a bit more philosophical in which you challenge the mind to assert its omnipotence, only to find out that it cannot fathom the entirety of its nature. When it reaches this point of giving up, stillness abounds. The final phrase of thought before stillness might be, “Well what’s the point of saying anything?” (and then a profoundly pregnant pause.)

We can also direct our attention outwards to find stillness. By focusing on the surface below us or the magnitude of sky above us, we can appreciate the objective world. Even though it is buzzing by at both fathomable and unfathomable speeds, we can step back and appreciate it like a fine painting, finding stillness in our awe.

The effects of active resting are significant and fairly immediate. In my case, the day after my Yin practice, I felt entirely more patient and grateful in my work. Instead of seeing my challenges as antagonists to pummel with explosively blind hard work, I saw them as compliments to my natural talents and skills that I could approach rationally and opt to work smarter.

Like most mindfulness, Yin helps create space in the mind to release unserving energy and filter in new, creating energy. As a bonus, Yin comes with nice and easy body stretching. To this effect, Yin is a bit of a hybrid between the stretching of Yoga and the mindfulness of meditation, becoming a great addition to the healing toolbox.

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