What Yin Yoga Can Teach Us About Healthy Work Habits

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“It’s not the tools, it’s the intention,” my teacher said the first day of my yin yoga teacher training. 

She was explaining how an asana like child’s pose could be approached in many different ways. You could use a bolster and rest comfortably for hours. You could support your knees and head with blankets and hold the pose for 5-8 minutes. You could use no props and press your hands actively into the mat just for a minute or two. All of these options come down to what you are trying to accomplish in the mind and body. 

When's the last time you sat down to work and thought: let me try to approach this differently?

Most of us, when give the choice (or when not consciously choosing), will continue to do things the way we have always done them. We find our favorite workspace, our favorite form of exercise, our favorite food and we think:

When's the last time you sat down to work and thought: let me try to approach this differently?

It’s worked for me before.

It’s easier.

Why change a good thing?

But is it a good thing? Or have we been living within our perspective for so long that we can’t see any other way working?

These are the questions yin yoga asks us.

Yin yoga, from a physical standpoint, is the practice of long holds of poses to get past the muscles and into the connective tissues and joints—areas of the body that oftentimes don’t receive direct attention when we exercise and go about our day. The goal of yin yoga is not to stretch the muscles, but to stress the tissues just enough to keep them healthy.

Sounds counter intuitive, right? But stay with me.

Despite not being lineage based like most other yoga asana styles, yin yoga’s history is still somewhat muddled. Legend has it that a prisoner in Asia studied how the monkeys in the trees outside his cell moved and, once free, dedicated his time to figuring out how to bring the same fluidity to his own body. He taught his techniques to one man who came to the West and taught them to Paulie Zink, who adapted the practice into what we know as yin yoga. Yin yoga was then popularized by his students, Paul GrilleySarah Powers and Bernie Clark, who have each brought their own unique spin and perspective to the practice.

the practice of yin yoga is about bringing balance to your life. 

From a philosophical standpoint, yin yoga can be represented within the yin yang symbol. Yin is the darkness to yang’s light. Yin is the cold to yang’s hot. Yin is the slow to yang’s fast. 

Yin cannot exist without yang. They are dependent on each other, relative to each other. One is not better than the other. And yet yin can also mean different things to different people. A marathon runner may find walking to be yin. While to a couch potato, walking is yang. 

 Ultimately then, the practice of yin yoga is about bringing balance to your life. 

 In general, we are attracted to what has already worked for us. What already feels good—or at least what we think feels good.

 How often do we continue to do the same thing, work the same way, until we just can’t anymore? 

 Most of us have a whole lot of yang in our lives or a whole lot of yin. So what if we consciously tried to bring balance to whatever those terms mean in our lives?

 Here are a few ways I’ve found to bring balance to my life: 

 1. For every hour you work, take a 5-10 minute break

2. For every high-intensity exercise you do, add a low-intensity exercise to your schedule (i.e. running vs. walking or vinyasa flow yoga vs. restorative or yin yoga)

3. When you find yourself getting stressed or upset, step away and breathe (try one of these breathing techniques).

 These suggestions sound simple and yet, when we’re in the moment, it can be hard to step back from old patterns. When something has worked “well” for a long time, we don’t see a reason to change it. But yin yoga has shown me that there is always an opposing factor to balance what we are doing or how we are doing it. 

 How do you bring balance to your life?