A 'Strong' Practice: Yin or Yang?

Between teaching, working at a yoga studio and generally spending a lot of my time around other yogis, you hear a lot of recurring terms thrown around. Of course there are the generic, hashtag-like usuals: 'mindful', 'intention' etc. etc., but one I hear uttered often to describe various different styles of yoga is 'strong'. I generally try to take lingo with a pinch of salt, especially if it doesn't feel genuine to me when I'm communicating with my students, but the term 'strong' i.e. 'strong practice', was one that caused me to stop and think.

How do we define the strength of something? I would consider my daily Ashtanga practice to be a 'strong' one because physically it is very taxing. I would say as a yoga practitioner that I come from what we would refer to in the yoga world as a 'Yang' background. This refers to the concept of Yin and Yang, Yang being the side of yoga that builds physical strength and stamina, whilst Yin is the passive, restorative and healing aspect of it. It is important to have both components in a fully-fledged yoga practice, and, more importantly, to be able to find strength in both. We are often drawn to the things we already have a lot of, and forgo the very things that we need in order to grow. This is applicable to yoga and life in general. As a fairly high-energy, 'Yang' kind of person, I have always practiced the more dynamic and physically challenging practices of Ashtanga, Vinyasa and Dharma, because I thought those were the styles that would not only make me stronger, but the styles in which I would most relate my notion of strength to. It wasn't until I took my first Yin class that I began to redefine my concept of what a 'strong' practice really is.

For those that don't know, Yin yoga is built on the premise of holding a restorative (floor-based) pose for at least 5 minutes, if not longer, to actually bring about a small sensation of stiffness in the joints and ligaments, thus encouraging them to release on a deeper level than they would in a more dynamic practice. Not only can this be quite a challenge to hold once any soreness kicks in, compounded by the inevitable urge to fidget (if you're anything like me), but holding still to release physical tension can actually often release some unexpected emotional stuff too. This is owing to the fact that our body is, in large part, held together by something called Fascia, which is not unlike a kind of cling film - if it is pulled in one area, it will tighten in another. Our fascia holds the imprint of old and accumulated physical stress, so it's no surprise that for a Yang-banger such as myself, mine needed a lot of help. Fascia also has a funny way of holding on to emotional trauma, so say for example, if someone was injured in an accident, it's likely that in releasing and healing their physical wear and tear through Yin, that a lot of other stuff connected to the accident is likely to resurface at the same time. So really, if you look at it as a whole package, Yin is actually incredibly strong as practices go!

Another thing I have found in all the different classes I take in general as a yogi, is that as my own practice deepens and ability increases , I am more and more finding that I am actually holding back from the full expression of the pose. It is in our very nature as human beings to want to do our best or 'be the best', especially in yoga, as many people newer to the practice confuse it with some kind of competitive sport, when actually, you often find yourself working more effectively, more 'strongly', when you dial it down a notch or two, and equally, when you slow it down too - a lot of people tend to race through a dynamic Vinyasa flow class without ever feeling out any of the postures and or paying any mind to how they are getting into them in the first place.

So to conclude, a 'strong' practice is kind of whatever you make it really, but don't always go for the obvious choice for you; therein lies the real challenge.