Surrendering to yin yoga
Spending six days diving into the practical and philosophical elements of yin yoga is a deeply enriching and insightful experience of surrender.
“I know you can do more,” says our teacher Caitlin during our yin yoga practice, “but can you do less?” This notion of surrendering to a more gentle way of practising yoga is at the core of our 50-hour yin yoga teacher training at Byron Yoga Centre.
Led by two highly experienced teachers, Caitlin Harris and Marita Dortins, with the support of teachers Bec Isaacs and Melissa Bennett, our six-day training teaches us the foundational elements of the methodology and theory underpinning yin yoga. This style of yoga is often seen as a complement to a more dynamic yang practice as it is slow, passive and receptive, requiring minimal muscle activation and maximum surrender.
An idyllic environment
Our residential course is at Byron Yoga Retreat Centre, which was established in 1988 by John Ogilvie and has been offering yoga teacher trainings and wellness retreats for the past 10 years. Surrounded by native forest, the lush environment has a grounding and restorative nature, which naturally lends itself to a more yin-like state.
The self-sufficient, eco-friendly retreat centre has sustainability at the forefront. Solar power, composting, free-range chooks and an organic permaculture garden where it grows food for staff and guests are some of the ways it cares for the environment. From the birds to the trees and everything between, there’s a lush abundance of thriving nature around you.
It’s easy to feel relaxed and at peace in this environment. I’m captivated by the soothing sounds of the gentle breeze and inquisitive birds around me as I settle into my beautiful room with an en-suite. Avocado and banana trees dancing gently in the wind act as a cocoon for me around my room, complemented by other lush native plants and flowers. There’s a beautiful backdrop of native bushland beyond the sanctuary of these four walls. Morning light streams through the east-facing window on the first few mornings as the sun rises, allowing me to feel the warmth of the rays seeping through the window. On the cloudier days later in the week, it’s just as comforting listening to the rain fall on the tin roof while watching the mesmerising way the water meets the greenery outside.
From nourishing curries to aromatic porridge and vibrant salads, the delicious paddock-to-plate meals are one of the highlights of our training. Each meal is enjoyed with everyone on the large deck that overlooks the calming, natural landscape. You can also order hot drinks and baked goods from the café between meals. The friendly, Zen-like staff members are always donning a smile, adding to the warmth of this peaceful environment.
The practical elements
This teacher training explains how yin yoga poses work along the body’s meridian channels, as well as the biomechanics of yin yoga on the body and how it affects the body’s fascia (connective tissue). It also explores how yin works on a subtle layer to still the mind and balance the emotions. On a practical level, you learn how to confidently and safely sequence and teach 20 of the main poses in yin, learning about the variations and contraindications of each shape as well as how to offer adjustments and use props. In addition to learning the intentions and principles of yin yoga, you also learn about the physical and energetic theory of each asana (pose), as well as their benefits. Practical practise teaching opportunities are offered, as well as daily yin practices with guided meditation, pranayama (breathing exercises) and yoga nidra, as well as time to relax and explore the beautiful Byron area.
Each session takes place in the Sun Shala, where we can tune into the gentle and soothing sounds of nature around us as we practise. Each morning we begin with a yin asana practice that’s sequenced on a meridian pair (ie liver and gallbladder). Afterwards, we learn about the postures we practised that day as well as other philosophical and practical elements of the practice (ie sequencing, anatomy, principles). No day or session is the same, which makes this experience deeply enriching and insightful. We learn collaboratively in our large group and break off into smaller groups or pairs throughout the week, depending on the activity.
The weather seemed to interestingly lend itself to each meridian pair we were practising on the day. For example, the hips are a watery element and we learned about the kidney and urinary bladder meridian channels that day, which runs through the hips and is associated with the element of water. When we explored the heart and small intestine meridian pair a few days later, which is associated with a hot climate and is the most yang pair of the yin practice, it was a warm and sunny day.
The depths of surrendering to yin yoga
“We teach feelings, not shapes,” says Marita in one of our final sessions. This highlights the importance of using the yin practice as a framework that requires specialised tailoring to cater to each and every different yogi who approaches this practice. “We teach people, not poses,” she continues.
This yin yoga training has taught me the art of balancing movement and stillness. Yin yoga as a practice has shown me that there is always stillness present in movement, and movement is always occurring in stillness. This notion is threaded naturally into nature, too, which I experienced first-hand at Byron Yoga Centre. When there wasn’t a breath of wind and the air felt still (ie a yin quality), I could notice insects buzzing around and birds chirping (ie a yang quality). On a grander scale, as you move through the varied seasons, stages and chapters of your life, you’ll be called to flow between effort (yang) and ease (yin), using mindfulness as a tool to honour your needs in any moment. Balance is just as much about taking action as it is about slowing down, and yin yoga acts as a beautiful practice to lean into when you’re called to slow down and surrender.
The writer was a guest of Byron Yoga Centre. For more information, visit byronyoga.com.