Many of us struggle to be in our bodies, myself included. We don’t like how our bodies look and so we stare hatefully at ourselves in the mirror. We wish our bodies would feel better and we medicate either unnecessarily or necessarily to find comfort. We compare our bodies to other people’s bodies and spend enormous amounts of money to try and fit in. (Maybe you don’t - and if you don’t please forgive me. I applaud you.)
While I could never tell you that improving your body will improve your life (NOT TRUE), I will tell you that for me, having natural, holistic, and mindfulness-based tools like yin yoga to work with my aches, pains, illnesses, and chronic conditions has been a blessing.
We all have to “deal” with our bodies. If we don’t have natural ways, we often use unnatural, processed or harmful ways to deal with our bodies, like drugs, alcohol, sugar, and pharmaceuticals. I’m not saying I think these things are bad; sometimes we need them and they can be real lifesavers. But I think you get the point - if we could have something totally natural, with no side-effects or mind-numbing outcomes, it’d be a good thing.
Here’s what’s happened to me since starting a regular yin yoga practice over 10 years ago:
1. My immune system is stronger.
This one may not be obvious. I used to think that immunity had something to do with genetics, or simply environmental factors, like if you’re around a bunch of sick people, then you will get sick. Of course, our genetics and our environment have some effect, and sometimes it’s unavoidable, but how relatively SMALL these effects are in comparison to the effects of our diet, lifestyle and movement patterns has been truly mind-blowing.
Since practicing yin yoga, I’ve noticed that I get far fewer colds and coughs. They still happen, but very very infrequently. And according to Ayurveda and Taoism, this makes sense. By stimulating the flow of chi through the Lung meridian in particular, we improve the filtering capacity of the lungs and are better able to fight foreign bodies such as viruses and bacteria.
They also explain that our immune system becomes compromised whenever we experience stress. It doesn’t matter if it’s the stress of trying to get out the door in the morning or a major life crisis. Any kind of perceived stress weakens the immune system. And one of the primary goals of yin yoga is to make you slow down, take some time for yourself, and let go of stress and tension, it just happens to work out that the more yin yoga you do, the more resilient you become.
2. I’ve gotten more flexible.
This one is probably more obvious, but to be honest, I am still shocked at truly how MUCH more flexible I’ve become.
Let me set the scene. I’d been doing vinyasa yoga for at least 6 years before I found yin yoga. And I still couldn’t touch my toes in a seated forward bend. I had given up all hope that my hamstrings would ever lengthen and when it came time to touch our toes I raged inside with how little progress I had made.
Enter yin yoga. I don’t know how long it took exactly, but I can say with confidence that within less than a year, I could touch my toes. What?!?! How did that happen?
Turns out that much of our inflexibility comes from tightness in the fascia, and not just the muscles. Since vinyasa yoga and other forms of “yang” yoga primarily, if not only, target the muscles, it’s NOT surprising if there are certain parts of your body that just don’t change very much. By holding the passive yin yoga postures, I was able to release deep-seated fascial restrictions and finally breathe a sigh of relief (even excitement) when it came time for forward folding.
Ps - I’ve also learned an immense amount about the important balance of strength and flexibility through studying yin yoga. I’ve learned that becoming more flexible in every part of your body isn’t the goal. In fact, I’ve learned that you can be overly flexible in certain parts (even your hamstrings!), and that that can lead to pain - especially in your lower back.
3. My breath doesn’t smell as bad.
This one is totally embarrassing. But I have to tell you because its true, and I’m sure many of you struggle with your breath or the breath of your loved ones.
Let me set the scene again. I was about 24 years old - brand new to yin yoga, and my boyfriend at the time took me out to dinner to (I think) break up with me. Well, he got really awkward and said “how do you tell someone something you think is going to hurt their feelings?” I in turn got even more awkward and said “I don’t know - you just tell them, I guess?”
He took a deep breath and said “It’s your breath.”
“What?! My breath!? Oh my gosh.” I wanted to run out of that restaurant so badly and go hide in a hole and never come out.
Thankfully he was an Ayurvedic practitioner and yoga teacher and had the most tender and gentle way about him. He explained that he really liked me, and that he wanted to keep dating me, but it was just really bad and he felt like maybe some Ayurvedic and yogic tips could help.
First thing he told me was to stop drinking ice water (I had a huge glass in front of me.) Next thing was to calm the F down and relax. Do some more of this yin yoga, to help you move through the crazy feeling of rejection and self-disgust.
Oh man, it was really hard. Eventually I got over my embarrassment, and over the course of many months, my breath did improve. And we stayed together for many years.
If it’s not your breath, maybe there’s another thing about you that’s hard to handle. Maybe it’s your weight. Maybe it’s your height. Maybe it’s something you can change, and maybe it’s not. But whatever it is, I have full faith that yin yoga can help you navigate the messy reality of being human.
4. I don’t have as much acne.
Here we go. Another embarrassing one. Oh, where to start.
If you’re like me and you had teenage acne, you know how horrible it is for your self esteem. You know how it makes you feel dirty, unlovable, and totally ugly. You probably also know how most over the counter, and even prescription medications either don’t work or have horrible side effects (like drying out your skin, messing with your hormones, or killing all the good bacteria on your skin so that when you ever try to go off the acne medication it all just comes back… and worse!)
For me, my struggle with acne got really bad just as I was heading off to Albuquerque to study Ayurveda in 2006. I had to leave the aforementioned boyfriend and did a whole lot of stress eating in the evenings to try and deal with my loneliness. For me, it was pastries, cookies, ice cream, and cakes. Typically pitta stuff :)
Now I know that the combination of the stress, dairy, and refined sugar were a breeding ground for acne. But back then I didn’t know what was wrong with me.
Enter Sonia Masocco. Life Saver. Herbalist. Friend, Mentor. Expert Natural Skin Care Artist. (http://soniamasocco.com/) I somehow had the good fortune of getting on her very busy weekly treatment table and received the most incredible, luxurious, and all natural facials. But it wasn’t just the facials that cured my acne. It was the same kind of thing that yin yoga does. It helps us love ourselves. Sonia coached me through letting go of my boyfriend, finding other sweet treats to eat instead of the inflammatory ones, and starting a regular meditation practice.
And if it weren’t for my consistent yin yoga practice upon returning from Albuquerque, I’m sure that I would have kept up the stress eating late at night and my skin would continue to break out very badly.
Thankfully, even just doing one yin yoga pose a day helps me to process my emotions, keep my liver and skin happy, and provide a safe space to feel what I feel.
You might not believe it yet, but I think with some personal experience you will come to find that yin yoga (combined with a low dairy, low refined sugar, and low processed food diet) actually does wonders for your skin.
5. My posture has improved.
One day I was sitting in a coffee shop and this lovely woman asked me (quite randomly) “What is your passion?” I was surprised at her very interesting question, and answered “Yoga and Meditation. Why?”
She said, “I could tell by your posture!”
It was one of those life-affirming moments that only yoga teachers dream of. I mean, I guess I never dreamt that people would compliment my posture, but when it happened I really thought - wow, all this asana I’m doing is actually making a difference.
It’s like when someone who hasn’t seen my son Akasha in a month says “Wow, he’s getting so big! You’ve grown 6 inches since I’ve seen you!” and I, as his mother who sees him every day, don’t really notice.
Our posture is something that depends on many things, like our mood, our sitting habits, and our work habits (computer, driving, standing all day). And yin yoga, combined with a strong understanding of biomechanics (which I hope to impart to you in my classes and trainings), gives us the upright, naturally lengthened spine characteristic of a healthy human.
And for that, I couldn’t be more grateful.
6. My back doesn’t hurt every day like it used to.
This one took longer to heal than the others. I’ve had chronic lower back pain probably since I was in my 20’s (and now I’m 36!). I had been doing vinyasa yoga, yin yoga, restorative yoga, visiting the chiropractor, taking warm baths, taking herbs, getting massages - everything I could think of. And my back pain was still there.
The thing I learned about back pain, and again this has been a relatively recent discovery, is that it has A LOT to do with tight hip flexors.
My amazing husband, and certified personal trainer (who currently sells flooring to make a living) taught me that.
He also taught me that lower back pain often has a lot to do with weak abdominals. So all that softening of the belly that I’d been doing in meditation was great - except that if I didn’t strengthen my core from time to time, my back would just stay in an anterior tilt and be taking a beating with all of that compression.
Now I know that if I do yin yoga to help open my hip flexors (like the lunge or screaming pigeon or saddle pose) that my back will usually feel better. And that if I do that in combination with some simple pilates moves, I am good to go!
So simple, yet so profound.
I hope you’ve found this helpful and interesting to read. If you have any questions or comments, or would just like to share your story about how yin yoga has changed your body, please contact me here. Thanks for reading! Namaste & Love, Sally