(waves crash) Joseph Le Page has one of the funnier jokes about yin and restorative yoga. His joke, "Yin yoga is restorative yoga "for people who can't afford props." What really is the difference? Because both seem to employ very similar techniques of long, passive holds, somewhat static, attuning to needs of the nervous system. The main difference is the project of the nervous system. As we've talked about in other clips, particularly over in the Inner Workings show, the part of the nervous system that yoga is most concerned with is the autonomic nervous system, and the autonomic nervous system has two main parts, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic.
The sympathetic, always asking the question, "Am I safe? Am I safe? Am I safe?" and as long as that answer comes back "Yes," then the parasympathetic can do its job, maintaining balance and harmony and ease and taking on optimistic long-term projects like digestion and reproduction. Restorative yoga's main emphasis is to make sure that the entire nervous system feels so supported that we can easily and comfortably find a safe place. It would be unusual in a restorative yoga class to find any dangling limbs. We would have bolsters under the knees, bolsters under the arms, blanket under the head, to create a strain free environment, so the body and the nervous system could find a new state of calm and peace, and then healing could begin. Now then, yin yoga, while props can be used, particularly if it allows you to actually be in the shape, there is an emphasis on offering a certain amount of strain or stress to the various joints in areas of the body, not so much that we move into a fight, but just enough so we have something to start to work on, something to start to practice being relaxed about and around.
Then this process of being able to essentially tolerate, or have capacity for, or have ease around greater stress. The belief is that might promote a greater sense of ease, particularly the joints of the hips, and the knees, and maybe even the ankles, the joints that tend to get cranky in seated meditation. One of the main points of yin yoga is to really help us be able to sit for meditation. Simultaneously, it gives us greater access to areas in ourselves, interior areas in ourselves that we might not be able to see, with greater ease, because as you move into the dark, tight knots of the heart and the mind, the first response is very similar to in the physical realm. The first response is often, (breathes audibly) "This isn't safe." This is the play of yin yoga.
We're increasing our capacity to feel at ease no matter the situation. We're opening up the room to start to meet ourselves a little bit more. That's not to say props can't be used. Props are a wonderful way to begin to adapt and make these things useful. I'm a big fan of cross dressing across disciplines, and it's all the rage now anyway, so take advantage.