The Struggle of Stillness In Yin Yoga

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Nancy Nelson

“Being still doesn’t mean ‘don’t move’. It means move in peace.”

E’yen A. Gardner

We know the 3 tattvas of a yin pose, as coined by Sarah Powers to be…

– Find an appropriate depth

– Arrive into stillness

– Hold the posture for a time

It seems simple enough, but often we struggle to find the balance of these three elements of the yin posture. I believe that a core reason the yin journey is so difficult is because we do not have much practice in stillness. Because we do not know how to be still or what it even really means – the pose and practice as a whole can be a bit overwhelming.

Today’s post is meant to serve as an encouragement to you if you struggle with stillness and give you some nuggets of understanding of what stillness truly is.

What is stillness, really?

Overall vs. Total stillness.

One of the biggest misconceptions about stillness is that it insinuates no movement at all. Total stillness is only something possible to an inanimate object that is incapable of growth. An important reminder, which sounds silly but we are often so distracted from our present moment that we forget, is that you are alive. As a living, breathing, energy generating being – we should expect and welcome micro-movement. This is just a reminder that we are constantly transforming.

Think about how the earth spins in space and yet we feel stable when we stand in Tadasana or sit to meditate. The earth moves, but we find this steadiness as we walk the earth. Can you find a similar phenomenon on the mat as you practice yin? The “earth” / your body can spin, adjust, fluctuate – but you have your awareness anchored. The key to overall stillness is maintaining steadiness throughout the body, mind, breath.

Stillness in the body looks like…

Feeling and being present with sensation, while not reacting in a yang way. If you need to physically adjust to maintain steadiness – do so. Just keep in mind, too much movement will activate the muscles (yang) and inhibit the fullness of the connective tissue (yin) benefit. Allow yourself to be present with the natural rhythms of your equilibrium as a living being – a heart that beats, a breath that moves and causes expansion and contraction, a body that feels physical sensation in and around your vessel. As you become aware of these things, just detach from needing to react to them. Allow them to be there without labeling them ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘right’, ‘wrong’. As long as there is no pain and you feel supported, you are safe to be in those sensations.

Stillness in the breath looks like…

Breath and prana go hand in hand. We want them moving at all times to nourish our physical and energetic bodies with what they need as transformation occurs. Your breath should maintain a consistent flow in the posture rather than cessation to attain “stillness”.

The breath is what allows stillness to even be a possibility for the mind and body as it activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Which is our rest mode, the same one that enables deep sleep at night. Don’t worry about putting forth any extra effort to the breath, just allow for it to move as it naturally does. When you feel more physical distraction and sensation arise – deepen the breath to maintain and relocate overall stillness.

Stillness in the mind looks like…

As discussed above, the mind follows the breath and body. As we work toward those more external areas being stilled – the mind starts to loosen its grip on the thoughts. For stillness in the mind, can you first allow thoughts to arise? That’s what the brain is meant to do! Oftentimes, we try not to think during yoga and meditation, which works against how our bodies were designed to function intellectually.

When we come to expect thoughts to be a part of the practice, stillness comes in the form of releasing your reaction to them. Say hello to the thoughts, let them pass through as you watch from a distance without judgment. 

“To still the mind, the breath must be calm. To calm the breath, the body must be still. When these conditions have been met, deep awareness is possible.” -Bernie Clark

Stillness is what enables us to connect with the core of who we are and what we need. That is a gift!

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Nancy Nelson
Nancy Nelson
Nancy is the fearless leader here at Nancy Nelson Yoga! She has been instructing yoga since 2012 and is certified as a Registered Yoga Teacher (E-RYT 500, YACEP) with Yoga Alliance. She loves guiding yoga classes in all forms – from sweaty vinyasa flows, to slow mindful movement - but her favorite style to practice and teach is yin yoga. She attended a formal 50-hour Yin Yoga training with Bernie Clark and Diana Batts in the fall of 2018 and it truly propelled her into developing her yin focused website, webinars and trainings.

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