Feeling stressed out? Desperate for a bit of internal peace? Writer Sakshi Udavant spent a month trying a daily dose of yin yoga and found that it not only transformed her mental health but helped her to reevaluate her relationship with yoga and exercise.
The fitness world is split into two camps: those who view yoga as a useful tool for flexibility, strength and mental space, and those who think it’s a waste of time.
For ages, I fell into that latter group. At school, we all saw HIIT and cardio as being the proper workouts. Yoga didn’t really count – it was just glorified stretching!
But then, after a decade of sweating, lifting, and running, I started to experience serious chest pain which grew so painful that I was forced to take a break from HIIT and cardio. And it was then that I found myself turning to the one practice I’d ridiculed as a teen: yin yoga.
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Yin is a slower, restorative form of yoga that targets the deep connective tissues through meditative practice. It’s lauded as having both physical and mental health benefits, with some experts believing it to work like acupuncture in releasing blocked Qi (or Chi energy) to promote natural healing.
I was intrigued. If this had any chance of alleviating my pain and improving my mental health, I was ready to go against my (false) childhood beliefs about yoga. I decided to try yin for 30 days. If it worked, great. If it didn’t, I could pretend this whole experiment never happened.
30 days of yin yoga
On my first day on the mat, I realised that the hardest part of yin yoga isn’t the poses (which can be quite challenging), it’s sitting with your feelings without escaping into your smartphone.
Most yin poses are held for at least two minutes, often with your eyes closed. I’m the sort of person who actively avoids my thoughts and feelings (which psychologists say is a common coping mechanism), so having to hang in there with no distraction was incredibly uncomfortable.
Every time I entered a pose and had to stay still, my mind and body retaliated. I was impatient, fidgety and tried to abandon the practice several times. My teacher explained that this kind of reaction is totally normal; we’re not used to facing our innermost thoughts and feelings in our busy lifestyle, so the urge to flee is strong.
I wish I could say that the second or third days were better. They weren’t. Sitting (or lying) in a complicated pose with nowhere to escape from my thoughts was a minefield of anxiety.
Around the fourth day, it almost felt like yin was making me feel worse than ever. Not only was it a complete waste of time physically, but my mind was in knots. On the verge of quitting, I went about my day and later on, realised that actually, my chest didn’t hurt as much as usual. I also found that when things annoyed me, I no longer seemed to have the urge to lash out. Could yin have been working, finally?
After 10 days of practising, my fidgeting noticeably reduced and gradually, I started to find comfort in the discomfort. Yes, facing my thoughts was still painful but it also offered a way of addressing and accepting the issues I chose to bury deep in my mind.
Reaping the emotional benefits of yin
As I focused on the sensations in my body (yin is a meditative practice, remember?), I felt more grounded. Off the mat, I noticed that I stopped disassociating in my everyday life; I was no longer zoning out of conversations or losing myself in TV shows. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I was present in the moment.
Yin genuinely changed everything for me. I became more mindful of everything I did, from choosing which foods I ate to how I made key business decisions. I stopped making auto-pilot choices like scrolling through social media every time I was bored and arguing with people whenever things didn’t go my way.
It taught me to be okay with the way things are. Yes, people leave, editors say no, invoices are delayed, travel is expensive and burnout is a growing problem. But you don’t have to face it all at once. Yin yoga offers you both an opportunity to leave your troubles for a few minutes and the space to unpack and rationalise.
When you step off your mat, your problems still persist, but you feel more capable of dealing with them. As the month proceeded, I managed to take a deep breath and explore my feelings instead of losing my cool when things went wrong. I didn’t bury or run away from difficult feelings but felt, and if appropriate, expressed them. As a result, I had fewer problems around resentment and buried anger.
How yin yoga made me physically stronger
Yin yoga offered me all the benefits of meditation without actually meditating (which I’m too distracted and anxious to do). But along with my mental health, my physical health improved too. My chest pain was gone, headaches and colds became less frequent, and my appetite improved. My feelings of fatigue reduced and I felt more energised – even when I wasn’t practising yoga.
My sleep cycle improved too. I’m the kind of person who spends all day in front of a screen and can stay up all night quite easily. Within 15 days of regular yin yoga practice, however, I started sleeping earlier and waking up feeling refreshed.
This might sound odd but I’m convinced that yin helped me to detect things happening in my body before symptoms became visible. I knew I was about to get sick before the sniffles started, for example. It was like I was starting to understand what my body needed.
Watching my mind and body undergo such dramatic changes in a month really got me to rethink everything I thought I knew about yoga. I realised I didn’t have to be a part of the yoga vs cardio debate. Each has its own benefits which serve us on different days – the key is listening to what your body needs at any given time. Some days my body asks for a good old sweaty cardio class while on others it craves the warmth and tranquillity of a long relaxation yin yoga session.
If there’s one thing that 30 days of yin yoga has taught me, it’s to slow down and listen. Training yourself to feel the cues from your body and mind is invaluable.
I won’t say I’m a totally zen person now. I still have bad days where I’m feeling on the edge and want nothing to do with my body but when I do feel like that, I’m able to acknowledge and deal with it. Yin has allowed me to feel comfortable in the moment.
After a slower way of moving? Join Emma for a 15-minute mobility class that’s guaranteed to have you feeling limber and stretchy in no time.
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