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  • Writer's pictureRonnie Jessics

Is Yin yoga a right brain exercise?

Updated: Jul 1, 2023

Have you ever thought about how the brain works and how we can use that information to influence our yoga practice? It is incredible when we look at how the mind works, how we process information and how even some simple knowledge of this can vastly influence our practice.

Throughout the day our brain works in different ways, it alternates between its two hemispheres, one becomes dominant whilst the other becomes active, it switches between the two in a rhythmical fashion, back and forth, left, and right, right and left. Scientists believe that this alternating of hemispheres is linked directly to the nasal cycle of our breath. If you pay attention to your nostrils, you will notice that we breathe predominantly out of one, again, like the alternating of hemispheres in the brain our dominate nostril changes throughout the day, one nostril becoming more congested that the other. This is directly linked to which hemisphere of our brain is active at that current time.

As you probably know, each hemisphere of the brain controls the opposite side of the body, for example, when the right nostril is dominant, the brain activity is greater in the left cerebral hemisphere. When the nostril dominance switches, so does the side of your brain.

This switching is known as the “alternating dominance of cerebral hemispheric activity.” If you want to see which area of your brain is more active now, simply check which nostril is more open, if it is the left, then your right brain is dominant right now and vice versa.

So how on earth does this affect our yoga practice you might ask? It is importance for us to be aware of which hemisphere is active to help us understand how our brain is working right now. The right and left hemispheres of our brain, process information differently and affect how we absorb and process what we see, feel, hear and think, thus, affecting our perspective of the world.

The right hemisphere lives in the here and now, experiencing each moment individually and vibrantly. It is interested in understanding and experiencing the world. The right hemisphere prefers uniqueness, new experiences, events, things, ideas while they are still fresh and original. It is more skilled at recognizing relationships between things and allows you to see the bigger picture.

The left hemisphere, on the other hand, takes those moments and strings them together in a linear fashion, organising them into the past, present, and future. It breaks down the bigger picture into smaller pieces of data that are then compared and evaluated. Our left hemisphere is more involved with things that are familiar and known.

Our left hemisphere is responsible for defining the concept of “self” and it keeps track of who you are, where you live etc. That little voice that always compares you to others resides in the left hemisphere. We can manipulate this to our advantage especially during yoga and meditation by practicing self-compassion, kindness, acceptance, and forgiveness. The left hemisphere is where we develop our mantras, or intention for the practice. This is the side of our brain that tells us what we need to work on logically.

So where does Yin Yoga fit into all this flicking between the right and left brain? Each hemisphere has sensory and motor control of the opposite side of the body. If we focus upon one side of the body, we will be using the opposite hemisphere of our brain. If we are moving both sides of the body at once in a rhythmical fashion this will facilitate brain integration, so be it yin or vinyasa or ashtanga, yoga asanas help us to integrate both sides of our brain, linking the logic and the spiritual aspects of our selves.

During Yin Yoga we are consciously trying to turn off our thoughts and to relax the body. The right hemisphere is involved with attention, memory, reasoning, and problem solving. Whilst we are practicing Yin, we are tuning into this ride side of the brain as we switch on our intuition, moving into postures intuitively and instinctively. This connects us to our body more as we move towards our edge through sense and feeling activating our feminine side, our yin side.

The right hemisphere learns kinaesthetically (physical experience), and this holistic, intuitive approach is exactly what we need when we are working with the body and the breath. I don’t know about you but when I practice yin Yoga I am connecting to my body, tuning in to how each posture feels, looking for differences from one side to the other, seeing how my muscles react to each posture. I am breathing into spaces that my left brain would not think possible. I guess the right hemisphere of the brain allows us to connect to our hearts.

During a yin practice when you are told to breathe into your hamstrings or to let go of tension in the muscles, these things are all controlled and processed by our right brain. These simple instructions are designed to be felt, to be applied intuitively in a right brain way. The left hemisphere will then follow the lead of the right allowing a harmony to arise; where intelligence can grow through experience, without being stifled by the past. This is the space where we can process past events which we have stored in the body and breathe them out, let them go into the universe and allow mother nature to support us.

Through this harmony between the right and left hemispheres which we cultivate during Yin Yoga, our brains allow these events to be processed and leave the body. It is where our muscles let go of all those past events and things which we have gone through, it’s those stored emotions your left brain didn’t even know where trapped in your muscles. Yin Yoga is so much more than just stretching, it is where we can experience without analysing. Where we can let go of past hurts and difficult events, where we can connect the breath, the heart and the feelings within our body using the right hemisphere of our brain.

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