Briefly describe a yin/yang yoga class
The terms Yin and Yang are convenient labels used to denote polarities in the world around us. They represent the opposite parts that define something that is whole. When something is described as being “yin” in nature, it is slower, more internal, deeper and perhaps more esoteric that what it is being compared to. When something is described as “yang” in nature, it is faster, more dynamic, more apparent, and perhaps more physical than what it is being compared to. This brings me to the point that a thing can only be described as “yin” or “yang” by comparing it to something else. Thus, in calling a yoga class “yin-yang” we are implying that the class incorporates dynamic physical flow, as well as still, deep postures, and finally the more subtle aspects of yoga such as philosophy, pranayama and meditation. It is the practice for those who want it all.
Why are you passionate about teaching this style of yoga class?
I have a diverse background, having studied molecular biology, nursing, critical care, advanced life support, Swedish massage, Thai yoga massage, yoga & yoga therapy. These extensive studies and the work that resulted from them, have given me a wonderful foundational knowledge around what it means to be a human organism. This understanding is further embodied through almost 20 years of yoga practice. In that time, I have experimented with many styles of yoga, and while they have each provided their own revelations about the mind-body, none of them have provided the whole body integration and balance of this particular combination.
The first half of a yin-yang class as I teach it, includes, pranayama and Vinyasa yoga. The focus is on finding balance in the musculature of the whole body, while using creative variations in asana to avoid repetitive strain injury. The last half of the class moves into a combination of yin and restorative postures with a focus on contemplation and meditation. Students are able to stabilize their minds and mental/emotional state through the initial practice and focus on breathing, so that once we slow down, they are able to find profound relaxation. In my experience, this kind of practice has been the most effective in creating both a strong body, and a stable mind.
What benefits would a yoga student begin to experience by partaking in a yin/yang style of class?
The first benefit is the down-regulation of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and facilitation of the parasympathetic nervous system via slow deep breathing and breath retention. Chronic stress is linked to an over-activation of our SNS which cause chronic muscular tension, pain, digestive disturbance, cardiovascular dysfunction and mood changes (depression, anxiety or mixed anxiety-depression), as well as mental disturbances such as short-term memory impairment. There is ample evidence demonstrating the relationship between slow breathing and the reversal of the above symptoms.
The second benefit is a strong and flexible body. The first part of the class uses simple yoga postures that are executed slowly, with maximal awareness and coordination of muscular action. The second part of the class involves long held static stretching and conscious relaxation in order to create and maintain flexibility. The way that I teach and how I have trained teachers is to offer a class that is maximally therapeutic, continuously evolving and challenging to the student. Thus the teacher must have a fantastic knowledge base, superb teaching skills and a consistent home practice in order to offer this style of yoga.
The third benefit is an immediate feeling of stability in the mind and integration or union of the mind-body. This experience is directly related to the first two benefits, as well as the fact that each class offers the student the opportunity to reflect on yogic teachings, Buddhist teachings or western psychology in a way that is curious, open and free from self-judgement. The goal is to offer students the ability to feel more comfortable living in the skin that they’re in.
Are there certain people that would benefit more from a yin/yang class than perhaps other styles of yoga?
The great thing about this kind of class is that it is really the best kind of practice for every yogi. The focus on breath, creative sequencing that avoids repetitive strain, slow mindful stretching, and contemplation and meditation means that it is both safe and challenging for everyone. It can be used as a stand-alone daily practice or students of other styles (i.e.: those who practice solely ashtanga or solely yin/restorative) can add yin-yang classes in to create more balance.
In your experience, what do students find the most challenging in a yin/yang yoga class?
My first instinct is that there are as many different challenges as there are people. That being said, the first challenge for most people is the breathing. The breathing tends to be a very slow 4-8 count inhale which is typically about 6-12 seconds on a timer, and the same with the exhale. It takes time and commitment to the practice to acclimate to deep, slow breathing – especially when we are so accustomed to shallow breathing. The second challenge tends to be about how hard it is to do simple postures slowly and with appropriate muscular integration. When students have become accustomed to rushing through yoga classes in order to “get to” a specific posture or in order to do a certain number of poses, they generally lose the appropriate form that their body needs in order to practice safely. This is pretty common in that we live in a culture that celebrates external achievement over everything. There is nothing wrong with achieving a yoga posture – but it’s important for yoga students to realize that the gain or loss of a posture will not aid them in defining themselves internally. When they have to practice slowly, and consciously, they get to see where the body is actually at, and learn to tolerate being there with equanimity. The other most obvious challenge I see is about preferences. There are some students who only want to do “faster, more difficult yoga”, so the last portion of the class is hard for them – especially sitting with their minds. Other students just want to be still, they have trouble moving at all, so the first portion of the class is difficult for them – particularly the resistance of their own minds. In either case, the yin-yang practice is necessary to create more balance in their habits.
What’s the single most important aspect of a yin/yang yoga class that you would like to impart to yoga students?
It’s impossible to say just ONE thing! I guess the most important thing is to learn the subtle language of your own body and listen to it. This practice – through the breath, the body and the mind – will enhance your wellbeing and your connection to you, and the only way for that to happen is if you do it!
Tracey Soghrati; Yoga Therapist, Practitioner, Educator, Nurse, and Co-Creator of Life on the Mat 225 HR Yoga Teacher Training