As my yoga practice has developed over the past twelve years, I’ve learned a multitude of lessons that I've been able to apply to my everyday life. I’ve practiced with many different teachers and many different styles of yoga, but there is one practice in particular that has stuck with me over time, one I will never give up: yin yoga.
Yin yoga allows us to move into a deeper stillness of body and mind and stretches out the connective tissue of major joints like the hips, pelvis, spine, and shoulders. The practice encourages us to let the opening happen organically by relaxing into the poses, which in most cases do not engage muscle tissue. Poses are held for long periods of time—sometimes up to ten minutes. Yin yoga can be deceptively challenging at times, and often brings up strong sensation. It is a wonderful complement to a more active (yang) yoga practice, and also to our busy lives.
My yin practice has helped me to find balance and become more in tune with the natural rhythm of life. I love the sense of letting go, of letting my body open instead of forcing it or willing it to change. I’ve had many “aha!” moments in yin class that I’ve found to be applicable in other areas of life as well. My relationships, especially, have benefited from a number of important lessons I’ve learned from yin. Here are a few that I've found especially significant:
1. Back away when it hurts too much to be sustainable.
In yin practice, I’ve learned to find a place in the pose where I can stay for a longer period of time while watching and fully experiencing the sensations that arise, whether emotional, physical, or mental. This means knowing when I’ve gone too deep too quickly and need to come out of the pose a little bit to make it sustainable. In yin yoga, I've learned that there is a difference between pain and discomfort. Sharp pain is bad for you, while discomfort can trigger significant growth.
In relationships, backing off doesn’t mean running away when things get tough, or just because you've had an argument with someone. It means acknowledging when something is just not working and the relationship is hurting you, and stepping away for the sake of your own health and happiness.
Backing off doesn’t mean running away when things get tough.
If you’ve been in a relationship that is painful for any reason, you know how it feels. When you really care about your partner but deep down know that the relationship isn’t serving you, you may have feelings of frustration, fear, and deep sadness. I remember crying every day, knowing that something was really wrong and feeling stuck between a rock and a hard place. I was emotionally exhausted and felt lonely and confused even at times when things seemed to be fine. I felt like a failure for not being able to make it work and felt very far from my authentic self.
Instead of digging in even more or trying to “fix” the other person or your dynamic, often to the detriment of other areas of your life, practice backing off a little and giving yourself more space. Practice self-love, meditation, yoga, or whatever else centers you. Recommit yourself to the other areas of your life that are important to you and create some emotional distance until you find yourself in a place you can stay. And if there is no place in that asana or that relationship that does not cause you sharp pain, it might mean that it’s time to try something different.
2. Be aware of where you go when stillness sets in.
In yin yoga, once you settle into the pose and are there for a few minutes, you may find yourself doing little things to escape the stillness, like looking around the room, thinking about work or home or whatever. Similarly, in life, when you are no longer feeling that initial thrill and excitement that comes with starting a new relationship, do you have a tendency to try to distract yourself from the perceived lack of excitement in an otherwise happy relationship by creating some sort of drama? Do you deny problems? Do you become restless and back off from the challenging emotions that come up when you start to experience real intimacy? I learned to watch my mind, identify my “escape hatches,” and am now more able to choose not to take those routes. I practice being still and at peace with what’s happening to me in any given moment.
3. Instead of pushing forward for more, try to identify areas you can relax into.
Through yin yoga practice I learned to accept that time is my greatest ally. Yin helps us focus on connecting with the body and the movement that is available to us right now instead of on what we could (maybe) attain in the future. Learning to relax into the moment and believing that we will move deeper into the stretch when our bodies are ready helps us to stay present.
In our relationships, we sometimes want to force that next step, whether it’s marriage, meeting your mate’s friends, or taking things to a new level physically. Instead of focusing on this, I have learned to enjoy what exists each day in a relationship. Let time deepen and intensify the union naturally instead of pushing for more. And this can be really hard; we’re conditioned to want to improve, but I’ve learned that sometimes we just have to let expansion happen in its own time. Backing off, being grateful for what you have in this moment, and letting the universe guide you can lead to a more fulfilling relationship in the long run.
Like with yin yoga, relationships require patience, awareness, curiosity, and a willingness to sit with uncomfortable feelings in order to expand and grow. By practicing yin yoga, we develop the capacity to be more authentic and to connect with others and ourselves more fully.