Why is Stillness so Hard?
In the busy, highly stimulating world we live in today, finding physical stillness, let alone mental stillness, is almost impossible. We have grown accustomed to a world of instant gratification and shortcuts, and sometimes bring these expectations to our mats.
We live in a fast-paced culture that values efficiency, results and measurable outcomes. We want things to happen faster and faster, and stillness can often be perceived as laziness.
However, even though our minds may be capable of doing 10 things at once, our bodies cannot keep up. More and more people are turning to yoga for relief from stressful, chaotic lives. In particular, they’re turning to Yin and Restorative Yoga.
What is Yin Yoga?
Yin yoga, unlike its action-packed, adrenaline-pumping Yang counterpart, is a stable, slow, restorative practice. In Yin yoga, we hold a seated or supine (on-the-back) pose for three to five minutes, sometimes even working up to 10 minutes! Yin is a passive and fluid practice. There are very few alignment cues, and the goal is to find stillness of the body, which facilitates stillness of the mind.
Years ago, a student approached me after a Yin/Yang class (half flowing Vinyasa poses and half Restorative/Yin postures), and he said, “Yin is not for me, because it is too easy.”
From an outsider’s view, the Yin practice may appear quite easy at first glance. In this prop-heavy, quiet class, there is very little movement. However, like an onion, the layers go deep, and what may appear to be “just sitting or lying there,” can often be extremely challenging. Most people are not used to being still, and even have strong feelings about the uselessness or lack of efficiency of being still and quiet.
Simple Does Not Mean Easy
When I first tried Yin, I did not understand it. I was living a life of constant activity and if a workout did not make me sweat, I did not see the point. For some unknown reason to me at the time, I continued to go to Yin. At first, it drove me mad that I couldn’t quiet my mind. It was like I was watching a movie of every thought I’d had in the past two weeks. Exhausting! This physical stillness was unbearable to me. I was stuck with myself! No distractions. My mind was craving the constant stimuli it had grown accustomed to in this world of bombarding images, tasks, concepts, to-do lists, etc.
Over time, I learned to appreciate and even crave the silence and stillness. I started listening to my body and switching up my daily practices depending on whether I needed more restoration or more activity.
The real muscle to be strengthened in Yin is the mind.
Yin yoga may appear to be a physically simple practice; after all, there are only about 20 poses. However, what is going on inside the mind is the most beneficial and potentially difficult practice of all. Many emotions, memories, and ideas will arise during a Yin practice, and the goal is not to suppress these sensations, but instead, observe them without identifying with each thought or adding stories.
Imagine the surface of the ocean. On the surface, there may be torrential and crashing waves. However, in the depths of the ocean, there is calm. When we are able to cultivate physical and mental stillness on our mats, even when challenges arise in the body or mind, we can take this newfound stability out into the world and apply it to our daily lives.
If you have never tried a slower, stiller practice, please find one of my Yin classes on the class schedule and join me on the mat.