Be Healthy with Yin Yoga: Interview with Stefanie Arend
Dallas Yoga Magazine is honored to have Stefanie Arend, the author of Be Healthy with Yin Yoga: The Gentle Way to Free Your Body of Everyday Ailments and Emotional Stresses share with us her personal experience with an interview.
Stefanie Arend is a renowned Yin Yoga instructor, holistic health coach, nutritionist, and energy worker. As the first German author to focus exclusively on Yin Yoga, Stefanie is the author of six books, including the classic bestseller, Yin Yoga: The Gentle Path to the Inner Center (2011) and Surya Namaskar: The Sun Salutation (2014), both of which were named Best Yoga Book of the Year in German-speaking countries. Her books have been translated into five languages. Be Healthy with Yin Yoga is her first English language book. For more information about Stefanie or to watch her videos, website and YouTube channel.
DYM: You studied foreign languages in college. What inspired you to become a yoga teacher?
Stefanie: I really enjoyed studying foreign languages. After that I worked for different companies and was basically working in front of the computer most of the day. When I had my first baby, I realized that I did not want to go back to an office job when she would be in kindergarten, but rather do something completely different; something where I could work with people on a personal level and being able to help them along their health journey.
DYM: In addition to being a Yin Yoga teacher, you are also a nutritionist and holistic health coach. What inspired you to study these areas?
Stefanie: I have been interested in the Eastern traditions ever since I was 12 years old when I first got into martial arts. When my first daughter was born, I felt a strong urge to do the best I could to raise her into a healthy human being. That’s why I started studying nutrition and holistic health related issues.
DYM: How does Yin Yoga differ from other types of yoga?
Stefanie: In my eyes Yin Yoga is one of the styles of yoga with the lowest risk of injury, as the practice can be adapted individually to the requirements of the body. Yin Yoga is a gentle practice which harmonizes the flow of energy and can activate our capacity for self-healing. It directs us to look inwards, calms the nervous system, and relaxes and strengthens the entire body. Yin Yoga stresses the fascial meridians with long, gentle poses and then gives us time to relax and feel the rebound of Chi after each pose. Eventually the energetic connections become perceptible, and practitioners become aware of the connections between our thoughts, our emotions, and our Chi.
Some types of yoga specify precisely how certain positions should look, and many people attempt to emulate this ideal image, whereas Yin Yoga is oriented towards the person practicing it. Our inner teacher is truly our most important yoga teacher, and I believe there is great healing potential when we listen to our bodies and trust ourselves as we practice, allowing the pose to develop as our bodies direct.
DYM: What are the origins of Yin Yoga?
Stefanie: The style of Yin Yoga teaching in the Western world was founded in the late 1970s by martial arts expert and Taoist yoga teacher, Paulie Zink. Yin Yoga as it is taught across North America and in Europe, was introduced by the Yin yoga teachers and developers, Paul Grilley and Sarah Powers. Grilley developed his own style of yin yoga by combining the stretching poses with the knowledge of the meridians and the importance of the individual anatomy. This is how he turned this style of yoga into a functional approach in comparison to yoga styles with many standardized alignment rules.
DYM: Why is Yin Yoga such a powerful way to relax and heal?
Stefanie: The mind speaks very softly, and periods of withdrawal are absolutely vital to understand it and find out what the body needs. It is said that when the mind is not being listened to, the body sounds the alarm through illness, thereby making the person slow down. Yin Yoga is an intensive and at the same time very passive practice. The poses are carried out without any muscular tension, and the breathing should also be very gentle and effortless— we simply observe it. In Yin Yoga, you hold each position for around 3 to 5 minutes and your body remains as passive as possible. More advanced practitioners may hold each position for longer if they feel the impulse to do this. These passive stretches can have a positive effect on the deep layers of the body, and more particularly on the fascia. They can help to loosen adhesions and shortening in the fascial structures in a gentle way and to make the tissue supple again. Yin Yoga can therefore reduce pain, encourage mobility, and—not least— harmonize the flow of energy in the meridians, as large parts of the meridians run the same course as the fascia chains in the body.
DYM: Do you feel Yin Yoga poses can cure illnesses?
Stefanie: I believe they certainly can assist in healing, but I would not feel comfortable, however, in claiming that individual positions or sequences can cure a certain illness. A healing process is of course much more comprehensive, and even though I have been involved in health topics in depth for many years, I am nevertheless not a doctor and always suggest consulting a doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) or one who is an Integrative or Functional medical practitioner, and who ideally is also a conventional medical doctor. More and more studies show that many complaints can be alleviated, that the body can be strengthened, and that a healing journey can be supported through yoga.
DYM: You explore much more than yoga poses in your book by including information on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), as well as exploring the deeper roots of our ailments. Can you explain this more?
Stefanie: I am convinced we have extremely good opportunities for healing with regard to many symptoms, if different therapeutic approaches are used to complement one another. If Western conventional medicine and alternative healing techniques—such as TCM or Ayurvedic medicine—are used together, this gives individuals more personal responsibility and a great deal can be achieved overall.
In my book I include a section—an A to Z on Various Symptoms—that explores common types of symptoms, and along with some unusual ones, and offer insights into the issue, along with breathing suggestions and questions to reflect upon for a holistic experience to better understanding of what is going on inside, along with a series sequences to alleviate symptoms and strengthen our bodies. Q: What health benefits does Yin Yoga offer? It always fills me with joy and delight when I find out that Yin Yoga has helped people with every possible symptom. As yoga can not only help the muscles, the fascia, and nervous system, but can also have the effect of reducing stress, releasing anxiety, and becoming more mindful and relaxed.
And this holistic practice is very versatile. For example, it can alleviate the side effects of chemotherapy or radiotherapy, and enable cancer patients to get in touch with their body again; it can reduce the symptoms of multiple sclerosis, as well as fibromyalgia, asthma, and depression, and can play an important part in the healing process for more everyday complaints such as backache, digestive problems, or general internal turmoil.
DYM: What type of common ailments and illnesses can Yin Yoga help to alleviate or reduce?
Stefanie: Basically, Yin Yoga can help with any common ailment or illness because it helps to bring the chi back into balance. If there is too little chi in the body, the energy can be increased via the practice. If there is too much chi, it can be decreased. The body knows exactly what it has to do and balances out the energies as it is needed. When the energies are in harmony again, the body can activate its self-healing powers which are important for any healing processes. This is comparable to what happens during an acupuncture session.
DYM: What is and how important is fascia in healing and how can a pose assist in this?
Stefanie: Fascia can be seen as a body-wide network which wraps basically around every cell. It is vitally important in healing because large parts of the organ meridians are located in the superficial fascia. If there are too many crosslinks or adhesions, it can have a negative effect on the flow of energy. Also, fascia serves as a big net of communication and sends signals to the brain. Besides, toxins can be trapped in the fascia if it is not supple anymore because they cannot be flooded out. Even immune cells get transported via fascia. Dr. Helene Langevin found out that fascia can play a major role in the development of cancer when she did experiments with rats. Yin Yoga poses can help to stretch the fascia and get it supple and smooth again.
DYM: What other topics do you include besides the Yin Yoga poses?
Stefanie: I include alternative medical approaches such as Traditional Chinese Medicine, breathing practices, nutrition, meditations, different type of massage and specific treatments for common ailments, questions for self-reflection and fascia releasing techniques.
DYM: What kind of massages do you explore in Be Healthy with Yin Yoga?
Stefanie: I focus on the belly massage as well as the meridian massage, also called Tuina. The belly massage can help to loosen the fascia which wraps around the stomach organs which can have a crucial effect on our metabolism and on detoxing. The meridian massage can help to get the chi flowing and activate self-healing. It can also reduce pain by possibly breaking up adhesions.
DYM: How can practicing Yin Yoga help with female issues such as menstrual discomfort and even infertility?
Stefanie: For my book, I worked with a very experienced Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine in order to focus on exactly the meridians which are important for certain ailments. By stretching these meridians in a regular practice, the chi can get flowing again as in an acupuncture session, and thereby supports the organs which are not in perfect health anymore. You need patience and consistency with a lot of issues, but sometimes it can also help very quickly, for example with acute stomach issues after you had an unhealthy meal.
DYM: Is Yin Yoga safe for pregnant women?
Stefanie: Yes, it is because a woman wants to get soft and relaxed for the upcoming birth. However, with a growing belly, a woman will hit compression points in her body sooner than somebody who is not pregnant, so the poses will have to be modified. Twists in the belly area should be avoided as in other styles of yoga as well. I would not suggest going into the poses too deep, and therefore encourage the use of props more. The holding time can also be shortened if a pose becomes too difficult. The woman should feel comfortable at any time, so that her baby will also have a benefit of the practice. I had several pregnant women in my classes who later often reported that they had uncomplicated births and babies which did not cry very much.
DYM: How can people with reduced mobility or older people benefit from Yin Yoga?
Stefanie: I had quite a few seniors in my classes who benefited from the practice pretty quickly. When we get older, our fascia usually loses more and more of its suppleness, which can lead to pain. They felt the positive effect oftentimes after their first class because they hydrated the fascia, which can therefore reduce feelings of pain. The same can be true for people with reduced mobility. If you only focus on strength training and never stretch the fascia, you can possibly reduce your mobility. These people are oftentimes prone to injury. If your personal anatomy does not allow great range of motion, yin yoga will still have an effect because the meridians will be stretched nevertheless and it will also do something with your central nervous system.
DYM: We are extremely honored to have you answer questions for us. Congratulations on your latest book! The book is amazing with so much insight and wisdom offered. Thank you for your contribution to the world’s yoga community. Namaste.
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Reviews for Stefanie’s newest book Be Healthy with Yin Yoga:
“Be Healthy with Yin Yoga is a wonderful exploration of a wide variety of Yin Yoga postures, offering plenty of options for students at all levels. But it is more than a list of asanas: it is an in-depth look at energy from a traditional Eastern perspective, combined with several stimulating exercises. Stefanie Arend shares her own personal journey with candor and insight. This book will complement any yogi’s library and practice. There are now several books available about Yin Yoga, but Stefanie Arend’s is the best look at energy from the Daoist perspective. She not only explains these Eastern concepts in depth but offers several ways to put theory into practice. Her personal story is woven through the pages, and she offers unique views on the physical practice of Yin Yoga.” —BERNIE CLARK, author of Your Body, Your Yoga; The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga; and YinSights
“I read the new book by Stefanie Arend with great pleasure. Even in the introduction, the author shows her vast and holistic knowledge of health issues as it connects to the practice of Yin Yoga. In the first part of the book she explains, impressively, what Yin Yoga is and how it can be adapted to the needs of the individual. In Yin Yoga, poses are held for a longer period of time, which leads to the release of deep tensions in the body and the mind. According to the German fascia researcher Dr. Robert Schleip, stretches held for a longer time lead to better tissue repair and wound healing. The author describes how to let go on all levels: the body, the emotions, and the mind. I find it especially interesting that the practitioner goes into the poses slowly and mindfully, which dramatically reduces the risk of injury and increases the positive effects of the practice. From symptoms to deeper sources of health problems, Arend conveys a great understanding of the interdependence of body and mind. In the practical section of the book, this is deepened by meditative questions the practitioner should ask herself. In the section about Oriental medicine, Arend describes the principles of Yin and Yang, and of the meridians, in a very clear and diverting manner. In the practical section, she explains the pathways of the meridians and offers massage techniques I have not known before. In very clear pictures she shows the many poses of Yin Yoga, including instructions and the effects of the postures. Here, I also learned about poses and variations I have not previously encountered. She also describes Yang Yoga poses, which have an energizing effect and warm up the body. In the chapter about healing breathing techniques, I learned new things again! Also, the meditations are very well described. The next chapter demonstrates many sequences for different kinds of health problems, and the author conveys these on a holistic level. They are well structured, clear, and meaningfully put together. I can recommend this great yoga book to every reader who is interested in deeper knowledge and wants to learn more about a holistic and therapeutical approach to yoga. Thank you for this important book, which I will also recommend in my teacher trainings.” —REMO RITTINER, author of five bestselling books in German