10 Yin Yoga and Neurobiology with Sarasvati Hewitt
This episode is all about yin yoga. My guest is Sarasvati Hewitt, who has been teaching yoga for over 13 years.This episode is all about yin yoga. My guest is Sarasvati Hewitt, who has been teaching yoga for over 13 years. She teaches vinyasa but her passion and her focus is yin, especially the intersection of neurobiology and yin. Listen to the episode to hear her explain how a yin practice can help regulate hormones, help with anxiety, and even PTSD. Sarasvati studied primarily with Matt Schulman, who teaches yoga and massage in Portland. Their teaching is influenced by the pioneers in Yin yoga, Paulie Zink, Paul Grilley, and Sarah Powers.
What is Yin Yoga?
When people ask me what yin is, I tell them it’s my favorite type of yoga because you stay on the ground and it doesn’t require any work. All kidding aside, it is a more passive style. The idea is that in any yin pose, you stretch until you hit your first edge – where you first begin to feel a stretch – and then stay there and breathe, letting gravity do the work until your body lets you know it’s ready to go a little deeper. It’s a mindful practice with a lot of stillness and breathing. The sensation can be intense and you stay in each pose from 3 to 5 minutes, which can be challenging. When you’re starting out, maybe you can’t even do 3 minutes but your body will adjust and over time you can stay in the pose for longer amounts of time.
Yin yoga targets the connective tissues, such as the ligaments, bones, and the joints of the body that normally are not exercised very much in a more active style of asana practice. It generally targets the spine and lower body but there are poses you can do for your shoulders and arms as well.
It’s helpful to have props on hand when practicing yin, whether you’re at a studio or at home. I recommend a bolster (or pillows), a strap, at least two blocks, a blanket, and a sand bag to add resistance or provide an anchor. For a more in depth explanation of how to use yoga props, check out the article on Bernie Clark’s site. Check out my favorite props below – I keep them in my living room so they’re within easy reach!
Yin for the Low Back
Check out Sarasvati’s video on how to set yourself up for a reclined twist to release the low back and QL (quadratus lumborum) muscles.
Yin Changed My Yang
I learned yin with Sarasvati and it changed my practice. Over a year ago, I went to a workshop she held on yin. She had handouts for everyone, and I made notes all over mine. That same weekend I had gone to a class focused on core, overdid it a little bit, and ended up straining an intercostal muscle (a muscle between my ribs). It was so painful, I thought something had dislocated. Two days later, we left for a trip to Thailand and Bali that we had been planning for a year. I had been really excited about doing ALL OF THE YOGA, but as luck would have it, I couldn’t do any vinyasa. Actually, I couldn’t even lie face down without my ribs hurting.
I had taken photos of my yin handouts, so I decided to just do yin every day just so I felt like I was doing something. Those couple weeks of doing yin turned into a few months of doing yin (that intercostal muscle took a looong time to heal). When I went back to my vinyasa practice, I found that it had changed a lot. My hips felt a lot more open – I could do warrior one with more ease. I’ve had back pain most of my adult life and my back was hurting a lot less. I found that things were feeling more open after a couple months of consistent practice, which for me was about 3 times a week, and mostly at home. Sometimes I’d do it right after waking up, in the quiet hours of the morning (the best time, if you ask me). Sometimes I’d do it at the end of my day while watching TV. It’s less meditative, but switching it up kept me consistent.