If you are anything like me (INFJ, HSP) you know how it feels when your nervous system is hyped up and over-stimulated. This can happen after a long day, or even after some intensive hours of stimulation, at which point I can usually kiss my concentration goodbye. I get short tempered, my body is tense and my mind feels frazzled and restless. Although I know I need to calm myself down in order to become myself again (or to do anything productive), once in motion, it’s hard to stop these wheels from spinning.
Healing or fighting the issue?
Before I got familiar with my sensitive tendencies, I would fight my overstimulation. When I would feel overwhelmed, I tried to quiet my mind by doing something even louder, like going for a long run while listening to loud music (and actually trying to exhaust my body so that there would be peace afterwards). Or I would try to numb everything by turning to Netflix and binge-watch series brainlessly until blissful oblivion.
However after years of practicing (and teaching some) yoga, I have noticed that Yin yoga is pretty much the only thing that truly calms me down. It brings me back to my essence, it soothes my nervous system, and it makes me feel better than any of the other methods I have tried.
So what is it about Yin yoga specifically that does the trick?
The calming nature of time and space
Yin yoga differs from more active, yang style yoga in few fundamental ways. Yin yoga is mostly done on the floor, either with seated postures or laying down, and instead of targeting the muscular system, it targets the connective tissue (fascia).
Fascia is a collagenous-based soft tissue in the body that wraps around each internal organ and connects them to our muscles and bones. In fact, every inch of our body is covered with fascia. Not only is fascia the stabilizing factor in our body, it’s also a fluid system, and every cell of the body relies on it for proper functioning.
Since connective tissue is less elastic than muscle tissue, in order to exercise it, it needs solid pressure for longer periods of time. This is why in Yin yoga the poses are held several minutes at a time, while aiming for the muscles to be relaxed so the stretch can penetrate the connective tissue.
But why is this important for the distracted mind?
The mind-body connection
Fascia has the ability to contract and relax independently from the muscles it surrounds, and therefore it can be responding to external stimuli and stress without us even knowing it.
When stress starts to build up in the mind, it affects the chemistry of the body by affecting the nervous system and consequently changing our mood. Being moody for a while is one thing, but continuous stress manifests as tension in the physical body, including the fascia.
In one interview Tom Myers, the author of the book Anatomy Trains, explains how “the emotions are going to start in your nervous system, and they’re going to be exported to your muscles. The pattern in your muscles is going to determine what the pattern in the fascia is.” Since our body is sending signals back to the brain, certain postures caused by prolonged stress can signal stress and unease back to the brain, and the circle is done.
By the time our fascia is stuck in its pattern, general exercise is not going to release it, only slow, long stretches will help, such as done in Yin yoga.
Creating more space within you
Different people react differently to stress and stimuli, for me it tends to make my body tense, and everything feels tighter and shorter (and not just my temper). Although sitting down in long-held yoga poses may not be the most natural thing to do when over-stimulation strikes, it will help bring the mind to a calmer state.
No matter how much I would still often like to run it out, I know that if I start with the body, stretch and relax my physical being, the mind will follow naturally. In a state of overstimulation, this body-first approach works for me better than anything else.
In Yin yoga we stretch and lengthen the body, and at the same time we stretch and lengthen the mind. The practice is long and slow, it builds patience and creates space for understanding of the self. The stress melts away, and there is literally more space, both in the body and in the mind.
Of course one stressful or stiff day will not make a grand influence on your fascia, just as one Yin yoga session will not open your body after years of no stretching. But what helps for me is the awareness of this connection between my mind and my body, and the small steps we can make daily in order to protect our mind and be more gentle to our (sensitive) body.