No Practice is an Island? Radical Simplicity in Yin

Updated: Dec 30, 2020



“The small pleasure of the Island : You can easily drive out to the highest point of the Island from there you can see pretty much the whole place: the bay where it’s great to swim, then, a bit further round the coast. You can walk right round the coast in a few hours. It’s an attractive contrast to the mostly unbounded issues we have to deal with in the rest of existence..where our longing for control and completion is constantly being frustrated. It’s to this corrosive tendency that the Island seems to offer a contrastive antidote; limited defined contained and you can get anywhere in a shortish drive

Borneo, 2019


Small Pleasures (School of Life)


Choice exists as an immense privilege in lives that are more 'unbounded' but in it's distraction and complication can often freeze as much as it frees, Kierkegaard's 'dizziness of freedom'.There’s something that draws us again and again to simplicity,


Going for a run/hike, living out of a backpack, being somewhere we can’t get signal – be it a mountain, a swimming pool, a yoga class. All of which in themselves offer a meditative rhythmic simplicity which whilst maybe offering a place to think, maybe the movement also offers a place to get lost. It's quite rare to strip back choice and be still.


Personally I'm a huge fan of pretty much everything I've mentioned. I adore travelling, Islands or otherwise, it appeals to my restlessness and curiosity. Both of which, along with choice, I'm immensely grateful to have. But in some ways I've probably traveled much greater distances in stillness.


"Stillness.One of the doors into the temple" Today, Mary Oliver


Yin has stillness, radical simplicity and presence at it's very core. There are 20-30 postures used by most Yin Yoga teachers (sometimes much less - you could teach endlessly on about 15). They’re all immensely straightforward and accessible, there's nothing fancy or complex, there is no reason that someone's experience (whether 20 years or never at all) should have any influence on the poses chosen.


In most Yoga textbooks there’s pages for beginners , intermediate , advanced. In Yin textbooks there’s just pages. A pose with some variations and then usually a suggestion of an entirely different pose if this one's just not working out. Because (and if you're reading this Blog you've probably read this quote 100 times) "We don't use the body to get into the pose we use the pose to get into the body" Bernie Clark


I suppose technically in a practice that can be entirely tailored to your skeletal structure there’s in a sense infinite choice but the basis for decision making is immensely simple. ‘Are you feeling it in your (*right thigh*) if not try this. If the intensity is moving towards pain try this’.


Yin offers an enticingly simple invitation. In the limited poses it’s unusually freeing of (much) decision; pick a pose, pick a time, set a timer on your phone or turn over a sand timer , stay there. Of course simple doesn’t mean easy but there is something in the immensely simple ritual that perhaps provides more of an invitation and a stickiness to the mat.


As a practitioner I question if I would come to the mat so often and (sometimes..not always) so readily to practice if there was more choice. As a teacher I question if I would get distracted building Yin ‘sequences’ and offering variety rather than focusing on holding a space. If there were more poses then I wonder if it would takes us longer to reach useful places in a shortish 'drive'.


This simplicity, this stillness in both teaching and practicing allow for silence and space so integral to Yin. It also means that poses can be fully explored but also when we pay attention might (physically, mentally, emotionally, energetically) offer a different experience every time, in a sense they are 'learned' and un-learned endlessly.


Maybe in this coming to ground it can help us get to see and know ourselves better, be open to experiencing ourselves in a different way, learning and un-learning things about who we are. This stillness can also be a great place for ideas and creativity.


"We shall cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time" TS Elliot.


In it's simplicity and focus on sensation Yin actually offers an outright refusal to be something to learn, master or complete. Actually physically the less striving (muscle activation) the deeper the pose can go. I would suggest this also holds true at a mental and emotional layer.


Yin is certainly not without challenge but it’s challenge of a different type – it’s softness and stillness at a physical edge. 'Progression' - probably more accurately subtle transformation is 'achieved' - both physically and mentally more through dropping down than climbing up – less hill more valley.


Coming back to choice in Yin there is really one, to make over and over – to stay.


In fact spending more time, more often, doing the same thing could be said to be one of the only discernible measure of 'advancement' in the practice though straying towards any kind of measurement feels like an 'un-Yin' and actually quite un-interesting avenue. Nonetheless meeting of oneself more often and more fully seems pretty Yin. In some poses and on some days that is a harder choice than others. But witnessing that simple choice being made over and over again is worth seeing.


I’m not trying to rose tint 2020 for a second for some it’s been - and the situation continues to be - truly truly awful; of devastation and loss of many kinds, the echo and ripples of which will last well beyond the pandemic.


But for some, for some of the time, being grounded hasn’t been entirely un-freeing. In the radical simplicity and grounded-ness it has at points allowed time and space for questions to surface and for questions that were always being asked to be listened to. Small personal questions and big societal questions. Maybe in the stillness we were/are more willing to see things, or less able to hide.


We maybe saw or at least got glimpses of who we are when we 'let ourselves alone' (David Whyte)


And from that apparent external 'stuckness' things could start to shift; maybe first steps of transformations - tiny and vast. Of course hopefully in time things will get much free-er and much less grounded, I'm incredibly excited to explore outside again. Aside from the immense physiological benefits Yin is a practice that will continue to offer pauses, a coming to ground and a chance to explore inside. In the stillness - a place to pay attention, and in the 'stickiness' of the practice - a place to start to become unstuck.


Like the Island Yin offers a simple invitation, limited defined contained and is all the more expansive for it.


Book Classes on the site or get in touch with any questions or to hear about future workshops. Polly x


"We are rested when we let ourselves alone, to do what we do best, breathe as the body intended us to breathe, to walk as we were meant to walk.

..The sense of stopping of giving up on what we have been doing or how we have been being, the sense of slowly coming home, the physical journey into the body's uncoerced and unbullied self, as if trying to remember the way or even the destination itself'"

(words from) Rest, Consolations, David Whyte




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