Whole Life Magazine

October/November 2014

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Page 14 of 43

yoga & spirit W hen physician Sara Gottfried in- jured a toe while gardening, she knew she needed a break from strenuous yoga practices but didn't want to roll up her mat altogether. So in the six weeks off, she perfected a few yin yoga pos- es she now uses every day. "Some mornings I'll get into saddle pose for 10 breaths, and some mornings for 10 minutes, but it always feels like I've hit the reset button on my low back architecture," says Gottfried. Unlike fl owing vinyasa sequences, yin yoga is all about holding a pose long enough to stretch the fascia, or connective tissues, including tendons and ligaments. Most poses are performed sit- ting or lying down and often held for three to fi ve minutes, but that doesn't mean yogis need to devote hours to a yin practice. Gottfried, who is also a yoga teacher, recom- mends the butterfl y pose for those who have only a few minutes on the mat. "I love supta baddha konasana—in yin, a butterfl y variation—because the pose stim- ulates nearly every meridian in the body, so it's one of those supereffi cient poses," says Gottfried, who fi nds her practice par- ticularly effective for healing because it fo- cuses on connective tissue that is home to wound-healing fi broblasts. "What I feel fi rst is the sinking of my spine into the ground, and the natural curves of the spine falling into place. Second, I feel my knees falling open and the letting go of tension in my hips. As my knees fall toward the earth, it fi lls me with a sense of expansion. It seems to take me about fi ve minutes to feel the nectar of the pose, which is about surrender and connecting to one's inner divinity." Yin yoga is rooted in Taoist philosophy that sees the practice as the complemen- tary opposite of more-active "yang" styles of yoga. Its slow pace can be frustrating for some, but holding poses helps strengthen the connective tissues, just as weightlifting does for the muscles, explains Amit Sahas- rabudh, an orthopedic surgeon at the Ari- zona Sports Medicine Center. Sahasrabudh, who works with professional teams including the San Francisco Giants, sometimes recommends yin yoga after surgery or in lieu of surgery, because it can be a slow and steady way to repair and rebuild hard-to-reach soft tissue. However, he says, "I don't recommend it for everybody, because I get a sense from talking to certain patients whether I think they are open to it." Yin yoga has also been recommended for health conditions of the nervous system, but whether nerves are frayed by disease or stress, "Most people can benefi t from yin yoga as a counterbalance to the hectic pace of daily life," says Addie deHilster, a yoga teacher who leads yin teacher trainings in Los Angeles. "Our world is mostly go-go-go, and yin yoga is refresh- ingly slow-slow-slow." Physiologically, yin yoga increases the blood fl ow and feeds fi broblasts in damaged areas. Psychologically, it increases the fl ow of prana to places where it's needed most. So it works well when used with strength-building yang styles of yoga to prevent injuries from reoccurring. "Active and passive practices are comple- mentary when it comes to healing, especially from a musculoskeletal injury," says deHilster, who teaches at TheraYoga in Montrose. "In cases like that it would be important to pro- gressively strengthen the injured area and its neighboring muscles to create a new move- ment pattern, but a passive practice would also be benefi cial in helping tissues to heal and bringing a new level of intimate awareness to that part of the body." But intimacy, even with our own bodies, can be awkward. Holding poses can generate uncomfortable sensations in areas unaccustomed to being stretched. At the same time, yin's phys- ical benefi ts often aren't immediately evident to yang-driven ex- ercisers accustomed to fast results. Conversely, yin's long holds encourage both body and mind to become still. "It's actually training your brain to stay. A yin practice al- lows us the ability to stay, to tolerate," says Suzanne Marlow, a Santa Barbara-based yoga teacher and clinical psychologist. "It's about developing that intuitive sense— getting comfortable with discomfort," contin- ues Marlow. So rather than cursing our injured bodies because they've failed us, yin yoga can help us see our- selves in a way that nurtures our bodies, no matter what their current condition. By Charlene Oldham Yin yoga takes us to our edge YOGA OF SURRENDER photos: Addie deHilster october/november 2014 15

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