yin and the art of maintenance meditation

Let’s begin at the beginning. Yin yoga asks you to sit still in a pose that may cause you discomfort or challenge, and asks you not to move without a good reason. Good reasons might include feelings of pain (versus challenge) or anxiety, risk or fear.

Most often we teachers don’t tell you how long you’ll be there; when you get the hang of it you know we probably won’t leave you in a Dragon pose for seven minutes, but you have no guarantees that you’ll get another two minutes in Deer, and whether Deer is a rich satisfaction or a challenge to be met with equanimity; it changes nothing, except maybe how long the pose feels.

So the here and now, the present moment, are the only things that matter.

In class, you’ll hear me say 

  • sit with the sensation, 
  • hear the voices of the the places where you feel things,
  • turn your attention inward, 
  • pay attention to sensation, 
  • be the noticer or witness to sensation or state in the body, active or passive,
  • notice ease as well as discomfort,
  • sit next to the discomfort without seeking to change it.
  • Sit.

The idea is that each pose becomes mindfulness of the body — bodyfulness.

Why is that important, or good? Why should that fulfil promises like “you’ll sleep better?”

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” In fact, while he may have endorsed the idea, Viktor Frankl probably didn’t originate the idea. But that doesn’t matter here because he brought it home to us.

The point is, if you’re faced with an irritation, a challenge, you have a choice about how, and how soon, you respond. Yin compels you to sit with stimuli — primarily physical challenge — without responding physically. Extend that: sitting with physical challenge, you can sit with noise, memories, fears; learning to choose your response.

That seems to be fulfilling some of the promises we’ve been made about meditation. The ability to return to the breath as it changes the shape of the body (a topic for another day) becomes easier when you’ve learned to create space between stimulus and response, between itch and scratch.

Consider each pose a brief meditation; like performing the stations of the cross

Come to this practice, letting go of control over the content, by attending a class. How long each station lasts and how many stations there are; how challenging in your unique body, how restful, and the story of each station, is unknown.

Or, choose poses and their length and their sequence for yourself. A great place to start is The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga by Bernie Clark with a forward by Sarah Powers.

Either way, finding the posture as it suits your body, staying (physically in the pose; mentally; attentively; even emotionally in the body) is you choosing your response to stimulus. Which is mindfulness.

You may need to alter the pose, but do it thoughtfully. However fast or slow it rolls around in your head, let it roll. Then respond, or not. That’s the yoga.

So how do you maintain a meditation practice? You yin.


In coming weeks and months, we’ll talk about

  • Props: 
    • DIY blocks, bolsters and straps
    • Marshalls and TJMaxx
    • why one bolster is better than another depending on what you want to do with it
    • how to keep your investment aligned with your ways and means. 
  • “Getting the hang of it” stuff like
    • pain/challenge
    • risk/challenge
    • muscles toned and untoned, and the idea of yin and yang tissues
    • muscle tone doesn’t have to interfere with tension on connective tissue; it matters what’s toned and where
  • Gravity — the big one!
  • Tensegrity — the cool one!