fitness · yoga

A week of more yin, less yang

This week I’ve been in Tucson, Arizona on a work trip.  Two colleagues and I are developing a paper on discriminatory speech and weight concern trolling– e.g. when health care folks urge weight loss, saying “I only care about your health”.  And so on.  This is a prime entry point for fat shaming, and we’ve blogged a lot about it.

But that’s not what I’m here to tell you about today.  I’m here to spread the word on the joys of yin. Yin yoga, to be exact.  Or maybe yin in general.  I’m not sure, but hoping it becomes clear by the end of this post.

Starting at the beginning (of the week): I flew into Tucson from Boston on Monday night late, and woke up early Tuesday, jet lagged and not well slept. I had arranged for delivery of a rental road bike by 7:30am, so I could ride before it got beastly hot. However, the delivery folks had a problem, and I was wide awake and without bike.

Looking around online, I found a cute downtown Tucson storefront studio called Tucson Yoga.  They had a gentle Yin yoga class for 9am.  Perfect!  Even though I don’t really know what yin yoga is, it sounded relaxing and soothing for my jet-lagged self.

What is yin yoga? Here’s what one yoga website has to say about it:

Yin yoga is based on the Taoist concept of yin and yang, opposite and complementary principles in nature. Yin is the stable, unmoving, hidden aspect of things; yang is the changing, moving, revealing aspect. In the body, the relatively stiff connective tissues(tendons, ligaments, fascia) are yin, while the more mobile and pliable muscles and blood are yang.

A Yin yoga class usually consists of a series of long-held, passive floor poses that mainly work the lower part of the body – the hips, pelvis, inner thighs, lower spine. These areas are especially rich in connective tissues. The poses are held for up to five minutes, sometimes longer.

You might think, hmmm– I wonder if this is for me.  Well, here’s your answer:

Yin yoga is for you if you are tired and craving energy or you’re over-stimulated and have too much energy; if your mind is overactive or your energy levels erratic.

Right.  This means yin yoga is for everyone.  I was certainly in a slow-down mood that morning.  So I headed over to this lovely little studio, and walked in.

The storefront of Tucson Yoga, complete with serene sun and mountain mural.
The storefront of Tucson Yoga, complete with serene sun and mountain mural.

The place consisted of one long room, with a registration desk and IKEA cubbies for storing stuff at one end. We all got our mats, blocks, bolsters and blankets, and set up. I didn’t even realize it until my second yin yoga class this week, but this studio doesn’t have air conditioning!  They left the front and back doors open, and there was a very nice summer breeze.  That, along with ceiling fans, made the temperature perfect, even in July in Arizona.  Amazing.

Back to class: we started with a guided centering meditation, and then moved to various seated or lying-down poses.  We did some twists, some forward folds, some chest opening poses, and other non-demanding moves.  The difference was that we stayed in those positions for several minutes at a time. This deepened the feelings of stretching, and for me, allowed me to sink into the pose and really relax.  This pose below is my new favorite relaxing yoga position:

A person lying down on a mat with a block under their chest, and another under their head.
A person lying down on a mat with a block under their chest, and another under their head.


I could lie like that all day. But the class ended at 10:15, so I left, but not before buying a 5-class card. Which cost $28.  That’s less than $6 a class!  Did I step back into 1996 or something?  I had discovered not just yin, but heavily discounted yin. Woo hoo!

My main activity plans for this week were to cycle on the bike loop around Tucson, a more than 120-mile network of protected paths and roads with bike lanes. I did this in March with friends and really enjoyed it. However, there were more logistical snags with getting the bike, so I didn’t actually get around to balancing my yin with some yang-like cycling until Thursday.  And man, was it not fun!  I was miserable in the heat and humidity (the monsoons are here, so it’s in the upper 90s with high humidity and intermittent heavy rainstorms.).  I managed a bit more than an hour and called it quits.

Friday marked my full return to yin. The day started with a visit to a fancy Tucson resort where other friends were staying, so we could all float together down the lazy river pool.

A lazy river pool at a desert hotel, with trees and desert mountains in the background.
A lazy river pool at a desert hotel, with trees and desert mountains in the background.

Okay, maybe that’s technically not a yin activity, but it certainly felt yin-ish. And deliciously relaxing.

After lunch my friend Alice and I went to a restorative yin yoga class at Tucson Yoga.  It was very hot outside, but again breezy and refreshing in the studio.  This class was more intense, as we held poses for up to 5 minutes.  That doesn’t sound like long, but is when you are holding this pose:

A person seated with soles of the feet together, knees out, leaning forward, head on a yoga block, arms forward resting on the mat.
A person seated with soles of the feet together, knees out, leaning forward, head on a yoga block, arms forward resting on the mat.

We were encouraged to play with finding our edge– seeing what level of stress or discomfort we were experiencing, and decide before adjusting to create less or more stress.  I enjoyed having the time to experience changes in physical stress or tension in various parts of my body. I could then back off and create a sense of relaxation. Or, I could stay with a pose and the feeling would morph from tension to release and then relaxation.  Cool, huh?  I thought so.

I gave up on cycling in Tucson this week.  It was too darn hot, I couldn’t seem to get up early enough to manage it, and I was finding myself desiring more yin. So I’ve done some gentle swimming, easy walking, and am going to a yin restorative class Sunday afternoon following my morning hike in Sabino Canyon with Kay.  Even the hiking has felt more yinny, as Kay doesn’t mind going at my pace.

Monday I fly back to Boston to my yangy life of work, responsibilities, and cycling (which I adore). But it’s been nice to slow down the pace and focus inward for a bit. And I am going to incorporate more yin into my yoga and life schedule.  Maybe I can even take some yin bike rides.

What about you, dear readers?  What do you do when you want to slow down the pace of activity, life, self?  I’d love to hear some tips.




10 thoughts on “A week of more yin, less yang

  1. Glad you stumbled across yoga while in Arizona! Cycling under very hot temperatures sounds unappealing and trying to get up very early in the morning when it will be hot, is tough.

    We just returned from Japan and Seoul, South Korea. We chose not to bicycle, because the focus of the trip was to enjoy the cultures, how people lived and its cultural history. It was more urban…temples, shrines, etc. Where it was walking approx. 4-10 km. daily.

  2. I teach yin yoga. I believe we all need some yin time to restore. I keep the class dimly lit and the music soft (to drown out the kids, I teach at the y). I speak little. I end with a guided yoga nidra.

    It’s rare to have time for ourselves.

    For the first few years I taught I wanted to be a hard and intense flow instructor. I love to practice. ashtanga. But I’ve learned that I have to teach what I love, So I just offer what feels right. That’s yin.

    It’s definitely not easy. Being still is hard. The poses look easy, but you are so right that after a few minutes most become challenging. And that’s where we grow.

    It always makes me happy when others find yin.
    Stillness and peace,

    1. HI Anne— yes to all of this! This week has opened me up to finding my yoga cadence (I now really want one). I love flow, and haven’t tried ashtanga yet (TBD). And my studio has a ropes class once a week that I adore. But yin, and the process of finding my edge, being with it, and being curious about what happens next, is immensely satisfying. It makes me love my body that much more. Thanks for your kind words.


      1. Go with yin, Catherine for awhile after returning from your trip. Trust what your body likes best.

  3. We live on a large river in a rural area. Two years ago we bought some inexpensive sit on top kayaks from Can Tire. You can get a good work out power paddling, but my absolute favourite is to go out at dusk, paddle very quietly and slowly, or just sit and float silently. The wildlife viewing is an added bonus. It is a very Yin activity.

    1. Hi Rena– I love that idea. I do some kayaking, and doing it quietly, listening to what’s out there, sounds wonderful. Thanks.

  4. After all, cycling is active and aerobic…(and who cares if joggers think it’s less aerobic), yin yoga would be a nice complementary exercise.

  5. Love this. I’ve been to a few Yin classes and appreciated the pacing

  6. Yin is nice! I’ve only done it a few times–thanks for the reminder to try again!

    I’m traveling right now as well (in Utah, so not too far from AZ) and I’ve found it to be a funny mix of yin & yang. I have fewer work responsibilities (although still some) and because I’m with family, I’m staying away from tech more (I didn’t touch my laptop all weekend!). We’re taking long walks, and playing with kids, and there have been empty stretches of kid-watching time where it’s easy to do some gentle yoga or just sit in the sun. I love the sense of not needing to find something to do.

    On the other hand, I’m not used to kids! Going from a house with 2 introverted humans to a house of 5 people (2 of whom are very loud and energetic) has my nerves occasionally on edge. We’ve also been doing lots of hiking and activities, which is decidedly yang, but good nonetheless.

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