Yin Yoga with Michelle Pietrzak-Wegner
Michelle Pietrzak-Wegner is a certified Yoga Therapist and Somatic-Based Mental Health Counselor, splitting her time between Asia and the US. She teaches classes, leads events + retreats, and focuses primarily on clients who are navigating trauma, grief, and loss. Today, she’s telling us all about yin yoga, and how every single one of us could benefit from slowing down and incorporating this practice into our lives.
Can you explain what yin yoga is? Yin Yoga is a specific style of yoga that focuses on fascia; the body's connective tissue network. When the fascia of the body is hydrated and healthy we experience better mobility, structural alignment, healthy joints, emotional balance, and nervous system regulation. Yin Yoga promotes yielding into postures for longer periods of time encouraging a slower and more mindful process to countering tension in the body. This unique style of yoga offers the practitioner the opportunity to slow down, listen, and get to know their body in a deeper way, creating a somatic-based relationship with the self.
“the quiet and open spaces that can be found in a yin yoga class leaves room for the student to listen to mundane and ordinary sensations in their body as well as unusual and rare sensations in their body.”
What is class like from the student’s perspective? Each individual’s experience with yin yoga is unique based on the many variations in anatomy and the unique ways in which each human holds their tension and stress. Generally speaking, however, many students are able to experience the space and time to cultivate a listening practice, which is much like a meditation practice. The quiet and open spaces that can be found in a yin yoga class leaves room for the student to listen to mundane and ordinary sensations in their body as well as unusual and rare sensations in their body. Students have reported feeling more connected to themselves after class and over time, students who maintain a regular yin yoga practice have reported the ability to discern the many messages their body is giving to them daily.
For beginners, or even individuals who lead a fast-paced, over-scheduled life, yin yoga can be quite challenging. The process of surrendering into a posture and letting go of control for anywhere from three to five minutes in a relatively quiet room can bring up frustration, discomfort, and even boredom. Physically speaking, yin yoga can feel challenging in those who are chronically tight from either over-use and high impact training or a sedentary life.
Because the underlying message of yin yoga is acceptance of the body in the present moment while emphasizing slow discerning progression, those who feel challenged by the practice are often able to eventually find their way and receive benefit.
What sort of health challenges can yin yoga be beneficial for and why? In my experience of teaching yin yoga across many populations and cultures, I find that it is most suitable for learning to slow down and listen to the self. Our fast-paced, technologically-advanced world has us suffering from the disease of “busy-ness.” Taking pause, slowing down to process and digest, enjoying stillness and quiet; these are rare things in our times. We know that a fast-paced stressful lifestyle leads to inflammation, chronic pain, disease, and mental health issues; these are the conditions that rise as a result of extreme disconnection from our bodies. In yin yoga there is opportunity to slow down and befriend the body; not unlike sitting down with a friend, truly listening and connecting. There isn’t a health challenge out there that wouldn’t benefit from befriending the body.
“in yin yoga there is opportunity to slow down and befriend the body; not unlike sitting down with a friend, truly listening and connecting.”
What would you say to someone who is skeptical about yin yoga (and slowing down, in general)? Trepidation is understandable. Slowing down and experiencing stillness after so much stimulation may feel useless and not worth the time. There is also a natural human resistance to vulnerability. Some of the experiences in yin yoga can lead to feeling vulnerable as you begin to pay more attention to what your body wants and needs.
However, the benefits of slowing down are visibly seen in some of the longest living populations, such as Okinawa, Japan, where a high amount of centurions (locals who are over the age of 100) reside and thrive. The Okinawans incorporate yin and yang in their lifestyle which combines periods of hard work with pause and relaxation. This lifestyle allows for more attunement to the body and to the natural rhythms of nature. The typical Western lifestyle lacks a balance of yin and yang and leaves the yang-excessive individual feeling exhausted, over-extended, and headed for disease. Yin yoga serves as the counterbalance to our stressed and overloaded lives and can prove to be a useful tool when we find ourselves experiencing health challenges.