Yin Yoga + Yoga Nidra: An Interview with Lindsay Russo from YouAreSacred
Talk to us about Yin Yoga. What’s the difference between a yin and a yang practice?
Yin is a contextual term rooted in Daoist Philosophy. Essentially, yin refers to qualities that are slower and more gradual, cooling, internally expressed. The term yang refers to qualities which are the compliment/opposite - faster, heating, externally expressed. A yin practice focuses more on observation, where as a yang practice involves more initiation. There are tissues in the body which are considered to be yang (muscles, blood) in relation to the tissues considered to have more yin qualities (lymph, thicker connective tissue/fascia-tendon, ligaments, bones).
More active forms of hatha yoga (considered to be yang) tend to primarily exercise (or put stress on) the muscles tissues of the body. The postures in a yang practice may be linked together dynamically or held static for some time, with muscles engaging to protect the joints as we move through different postures and transitions. Through working the muscles in this way, they become stronger and more resilient to stress. This is great for the muscles, but it doesn’t do a whole lot to address the deeper connective tissues which serve a more structural & stabilizing function.
As humans go through the natural process of aging, its common to hear people comment on how they begin to feel achier and stiffer, and it’s not uncommon for the bones to become weaker. We begin to feel the effects of all that the body has been through (or not been through) in the bones and the deeper tissues of the body surrounding the joints. Aging can essentially cause these tissues to ‘shrink & dry up’…hence the achy joints. This is where Yin Yoga comes in.
The focus of the Yin Yoga practice is to apply the proper levels of stress on the deeper connective tissues of the body which surround the joints and plug into a web-like matrix of thicker/stronger tissues (aka fascia) which create the structure and form of the body. These tissues and the subtle circulatory pathways surrounding them are best observed and exercised through slower, more gradual transitions. Yin Yoga targets these tissues in a way that gently and appropriately opens them up in order to restore and preserve their vitality.
Achy joints and aging aside, our modern lifestyles rarely present us with the opportunity to slow down, reflect, and release. It’s much easier and convenient to focus on what’s happening in the world around us, and the nature of the mind is to hop around all over the place even when we try to meditate! On a more subtle/psychological/spiritual tip, Yin Yoga helps us practice patience and gives us space to cultivate and restore a sense of inner awareness which allows us to connect with the deepest center of stillness that lies within the constant fluctuations of distraction and activity.
What is Yoga Nidra?
Yoga Nidra is the practice of entering a state of consciousness similar to the insentience of deep sleep. That is to say the objective of this practice is to maintain a degree of consciousness while experiencing the deep peace that occurs when one sleeps within a dreamless state. In order for one to fall asleep, one must let go completely of their identity, their attachments and identifications with their thoughts, ideas and memories. Yoga Nidra is a guided meditation practice that allows one to experience a pure state of being - and rest deeply in a state of being free from identifying with all that isn’t the true self. It’s dope. Everyone should do it.
Why combine Yin Yoga and Yoga Nidra into one teacher training?
It makes sense to combine two practices which are both inherently focused on introspection. Yin helps to physically and mentally unwind tension through observing our own reactivity and working with how it impacts the experience of sensation as being pleasant or unpleasant. Experienced practitioners come to enjoy it, but in the beginning there can be a period of what feels more like ‘enduring’ than enjoyment. Whether we endure or enjoy our yin practice, the end results tend to be similar in the way that the layers of tension we came in with are replaced with a sense of ease. It’s a perfect precursor to practicing Yoga Nidra, since the classic asana of choice for Nidra is savasana.
Yoga Nidra offers this amazing opportunity to experience the deep relaxation and freedom that happens when we go into a state of deep sleep. Sadly, many people find it impossible to even have deep dreamless sleep nowadays due to overscheduling, overthinking and overstimulation. Yoga Nidra is a practice that helps to restore one’s ability to deeply relax. So, these practices obviously complement each other, and share a common thread of giving us the gift of remembering that the only reason we can see ourselves getting caught up or being impacted by the craziness of the world around us, is because there is a deeply peaceful center of existence within each of us, at all times.
As a yoga or meditation teacher, what are the benefits of adding these modalities to the arsenal?
Well… Yin and Yoga Nidra = SELF CARE!!! Even if you don’t teach this stuff… you should reeeeeally be practicing it. Whether you primarily teach yoga or you have a supplemental ‘day job’, chances are you definitely need to replenish your own reserves and remember the perfect peace that is within you.
On a professional note - it never hurts to be more versatile and be able to add diversity to what you can offer your students. Yin Yoga has gained a ton of popularity since I first encountered it 9 years ago - more and more people are seeing that it is the necessary other half of their yoga practice.
Yoga Nidra is an amazing offering to be able to provide since people who don’t or can’t practice traditional asana can still get down with some yoga Nidra.
What is your teaching philosophy?
Oh man, I have quite a few…if I have to pick one, I will take the risk of sounding cliché and go with, “Meet the student(s) where they are at…and then hug them…but only of the want a hug.” People who have taken my trainings have also heard me constantly say, “Check yourself before you wreck yourself,” and, “There’s no substitute for experience.”
What can people expect from your training?
You can expect my teaching to be very engaging, highly informative and hilarious. If you like me as a teacher, and you want my phone number and my e-mail and you want to keep in touch and reach out to me for questions and continuing support - I am good for that. Ask anyone who has ever taken a training with me - I love to stay connected and keep the conversation going. Also, you can expect hugs. But, only if you want hugs.
What will students take away from your training?
Ideally, everyone will walk away with new knowledge, understanding and tools and techniques for personal practice as well as sharing with others. My hope is that everyone will have a few profound experiences that help them to see their practice in a new light. I absolutely love to teach Yin Yoga and Yoga Nidra, so I will do my best to deliver all that and then some. In the end, what each student walks away with will have a lot to do with their presence, their level of engagement with the teachings and the practices. They will all leave with a new teacher and friend who loves and cares about them…me.
Give us a glimpse into your background and how you fell in love with yoga.
My first experience of falling in love with yoga happened when I signed up for gym class. As a 17-year-old college freshman in Syracuse, NY, I needed to fulfill a physical education requirement. Like most first-timers at yoga, I thought it was about stretching and “being zen.” My teacher was a great Swami from India named Yogi Ananda (which means 'Blissful Yogi'). With a thick accent and joyful grin, he began our first class by informing us that yoga is a philosophy offering ancient wisdom and a multitude of practices aimed at cultivating a balanced level of integrated participation between mind, body and breath (spirit). Each 2-hour class began with a teaching on yoga philosophy, then a practice incorporating breath work, postures, concentration techniques, guided deep relaxation and seated meditation.
Yogi Ananda's level of mastery and devotion to the practice seemed to imbue him with the ability to guide me to a level of experiencing the unseen, unnamable presence of crystal-clear awareness which was at my center (once I set aside my brilliant ideas, less brilliant opinions, my ADHD, and my attitude problems). This experience of BEing - this was the piece (and peace) I had been missing from all the training in my life thus far. It was official - Yogi Ananda sparked my love for yoga.
Contrary to my typical hit-it-and-quit-it-once-you're-kinda-good-at-it-or-get-the-required-credits type of approach to every other activity I had engaged in, I continued to drive to his house for the classes he offered out of his home even once my college requirement was finished. I continued to do this until my life took me to live far away from my Guru. His body is made of pure light now, but the joyful spirit in the sound of his voice and the wisdom he spoke still remains in my consciousness to this day. For me and my practice, he's the OG. (Original Guru)
I am 20 years older now than when I met Yogi Ananda. I've completed thousands of hours of yoga trainings with some world-class teachers like Rama Jyoti Vernon, Laura Plumb, Nischala Joy Devi, Brian Dorfman, Tom Kelly, Paul Grilley, Joe Barnett and Flossie Park (just to name a few). I've also taken some underwhelming trainings which taught me some very valuable what-not-to-dos from the perspective of being both student and teacher. In January 2017, after years of serving on teacher trainings led at various studios, I established my own school of yoga (YouAreSacred) and created my own teacher training programs. My heart has become so full of gratitude for the many teachers and students who've allowed me this privilege. While I feel I have a lot to offer other new students and seasoned teachers, I am an eternal student evolving and learning in every moment. I will always do my work with deep gratitude for the students and teachers who bless me with the privileges of studying and teaching. Through my practice, teachings, failures, successes and everything in between, I keep falling in love with yoga over and over again.
Lindsay Russo is leading Yin + Yoga Nidra training Friday, January 18 through Sunday, January 20 at Sojourn Healing Collective. For anyone interested in experiencing the benefits of Yin Yoga and Yoga Nidra, this training will be a deep dive into these healing practices. Though you do not need to be a yoga teacher to take this training, this course is eligible for CEU’s through Yoga Alliance.
Interview by Taina Berardi