How YIN YOGA Changed My Life!

Yin Yoga is quickly becoming one of the most popular styles of yoga. Everyone from professional athletes to busy mothers are turning to yin yoga to dissolve tension and stress.

In this episode of The BE ULTIMATE Podcast, Travis shares how yin yoga healed a chronic injury after spending thousands of dollars on doctors with no success. He also shares the history, philosophy and science of this powerful form of yoga.

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Episode Summary:
-What is Yin Yoga
-A Bad Accident Turned Into a Miracle
-A Brief History of Yin Yoga
-What is Taoism
-Science of Yin Yoga
-The Importance of the Parasympathetic Nervous System
-Inspiration from Lao Tzu and Bruce Lee
-The Ultimate Prayer

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[The following is the full transcript of this episode of “The Be Ultimate Podcast.” Please note that this is direct from Travis speaking unscripted and unedited.]

Welcome to The BE ULTIMATE Podcast!

Just got back from an incredible trail run. Went for about eight miles through the mountains. I would have kept going, but I knew I had to come back and record this weekly podcast for you guys. And the fact that I can actually even run is a bit of a miracle. And I attribute it to one thing, and that one thing is called Yin Yoga. 

In this episode, I’m going to share with you how Yin Yoga changed my life. And hopefully, hopefully, this will inspire you to incorporate this great healing practice of Yin Yoga within your life. 

Now, if you’re unfamiliar, Yin Yoga is where you hold a deep floor stretch for typically about three to five minutes. And I’m going to explain the science of what happens and why we hold it so long. But first, let me share a little bit with you about how I discovered Yin Yoga.

It was about 12 years ago. I was in downtown Los Angeles, and I’d just gotten done with a meeting, and I was waiting to cross a street. Once the signal signaled me to cross the crosswalk, I began to proceed. And when I was about halfway through the crosswalk, all of a sudden out of the corner of my eye, I saw this car racing at me really, really, fast. And in an instant, my mind computed that I didn’t have time to go forward. Didn’t have time to go backward. Didn’t have time to go side to side. Didn’t have time to go down. 

So what was my only option? Up. So I jumped. I jumped off the ground as fast and as high as I could. And this car came underneath me. And as I was floating down from my jump, I hit the windshield. This created a sound that ricocheted blocks away. I went flying through the air and eventually, miraculously, I landed on my feet in the middle of a busy intersection in downtown Los Angeles. 

People rushed over to help me out, to make sure that I was okay. And I noticed that, as they helped me over to the sidewalk, I was obviously in a state of shock, but I had a pain in my knee, and every time I would take a step my knee would give out. But I was fortunate that I didn’t get severely injured and that I didn’t get killed because a few minutes later when the emergency personnel arrived they told me that I was very lucky to survive this incident and that most people either get paralyzed or, unfortunately, killed. And I had escaped this near-death experience – I guess you could call it – by the skin of my teeth. I had some gashes, but I didn’t have any broken bones. My only issue was I had a bad knee.

So I declined going to the hospital, and I began to look for help. So I went to doctors, physical therapists, chiropractors, acupunctures, massage therapists. And I saw as many people as I could because I was sad. I couldn’t run anymore. I couldn’t jump anymore. And I missed all that. So the doctors were able to help out a little bit, but still, I wasn’t the same person. And I didn’t have the same body that I had. And, again, that sent me into a little bit of a depression. 

Eventually, I discovered something called Yin Yoga. I did a DVD with a teacher named Paul Grilley. And Paul Grilley is considered to be the founder of Yin Yoga. I started doing the Yin Yoga practice, and my knees started feeling better. Some positions and some poses, it would hurt, but it was the good kind of pain. 

There’s bad stress and then there’s positive stress. And this put a positive stress onto my knee, and within six weeks my knee was completely healed. 

And not only was it healed, but it was kind of better than it was before the injury actually happened. And I was blown away because here I’d been going to see all these doctors. I’d spent thousands of dollars doing that. And just by doing these slow deep floor stretches, I’d felt completely better.

Now, when you find something, and you discover something that’s powerful for you, what do you do? You want to share it with as many people as possible. So I started to teach Yin Yoga on my yoga retreats and my teacher trainings and other people started to report back that it was healing their body as well. And so I naturally became a huge fan of Yin Yoga. So this is how I got into Yin Yoga and now after having included it my yoga programs like the Ultimate Yogi, Yoga 30 for 30– actually wrote a book on Yin Yoga. 

This all happened because I’d gotten injured, and I was able to heal and repair my body. And to this day, 10, 12 years later, I can go running through the mountains. And that never would have been possible if it wasn’t for Yin Yoga.

Now, let’s talk a little bit about just a brief history of how Yin Yoga came to be because it’s a very fascinating story you’ll see. It actually started off, legend has it, in China. There was a man who was a kung fu artist, and one night he was at a bar, and he got into a fight with this other guy, and he actually killed him. So they threw this guy into jail. And in his jail, he had a tiny window in the wall. And he would look out this window, and he would see these families of monkeys kind of playing in the trees. And because he didn’t have anything else to do, all he did was study these monkeys. And as he studied their behavior and how they moved, how they interacted with each other, he began to incorporate those movements into his passion of kung fu. He evolved kung fu into his own style that became known as Monkey Kung Fu. 

Eventually, he got released out of prison, and he was looking for students to share this new style of kung fu to. One of those students was his nephew, and his name was Master Cho. Master Cho studied from his uncle for many, many years until he eventually mastered the Monkey Kung Fu. Once he mastered it, his uncle asked him to go carry the lineage on, and he sent him off to California. Master Cho came to California, and he began to teach this Monkey Kung Fu.

Eventually, a student name Paulie Zink showed up. Paulie Zink was a teenager at that time. He was a big martial artist enthusiast, and he loved this new style of kung fu. So he became a disciple of Master Cho. He spent about seven years spending eight hours a day, day in, day out, learning the sacred art of Monkey Kung Fu. 

They would spend the first four hours of the day doing hardcore, combat, strength training, all the yang-like activity. And we’ll talk a little bit about– more about yang and yin. The second half of the day though was more of a yin approach. This is where they would meditate. This is where they would work on flexibility. This is where they would work on holding long, deep stretches. So it’s a real balance approach to fitness and exercise also rooted within this philosophy of Taoism. 

Paulie Zink, after several years of studying this, he went out and started fighting in these tournaments. And he was winning these tournaments. He was beating everybody up because he knew how to do this style of kung fu that nobody else could do. And then he went on to teach it, and he taught it as a form of yoga called Taoist Yoga.

Eventually, Paulie Zink had a student named Paul Grilley. And Paul Grilley, he really resonated with the part that was more of the yin aspect of the Taoist Yoga. He didn’t really care too much about the fighting and the combat. He was real fascinated and interested in those long, deep stretches because he could feel these amazing shifts happening within his body. So he went on, and he began to teach it as Yin Yoga and made a Yin Yoga DVD which eventually I found. And so that provides you a little bit of the backstory of how Yin Yoga came to be.

Now, again, I mentioned Taoism. It’s hard to talk about yin without understanding just a little bit of the basics of this ancient philosophy of Taoism. So if you don’t mind, before we jump into the science of Yin Yoga, just want to speak briefly about this context of Taoism. Taoism dates back to about 550 BC in ancient China. And that word Tao means the path or the way. And it’s this philosophy of really moving with the current or the way of nature. 

Taoists spent their lives harmonizing themselves, everything, to the natural laws and rhythms of nature. They really saw the human being as one with nature. 

Now there’s a story about an ancient Taoist named Lao-Tzu, and Lao-Tzu was considered to be a very wise man. And he lived in the city for a large portion of his life. And, naturally, people that had problems or issues that they were trying to solve, they would go see Lao-Tzu. And he was so wise. He was always able to offer wisdom and guidance and counsel that nobody else could provide. Eventually, Lao-Tzu, as he got older, he decided that he wanted to leave the city, and he wanted to go live up in the mountains and not be bothered by people and all their problems anymore. He just wanted to just be one with nature. He had served his contribution of giving back to his community. 

But as he was leaving the city, the guard recognized him. And the guard begged and pleaded that Lao-Tzu not leave. And Lao-Tzu insisted that he was going to leave. So the guard knowing that he couldn’t make Lao-Tzu stay, he asked him if he would write down his knowledge and wisdom into a book. And legend has it, Lao-Tzu sat down right there on the spot in front of the palace guard and wrote the Tao-Te-Ching.

And if you’ve never read the Tao-Te-Ching, I highly recommend it. It’s one of the greatest books in history you could say. 

“Men are born soft and supple. Dead, they are stiff and hard. Plants are born tender and pliant. Dead, they are brittle and dry. Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible is a disciple of death. Whoever is soft and yielding is a disciple of life. The hard and stiff will be broken. The soft and supple will prevail.” 

-Lao Tzu

Now if that’s not some wise words, I don’t know what is. And it really speaks to the power of being flexible, being flexible and pliable within the dimension of the body but also within our mind and our hearts. 

We want to think about ourselves more holistically. Sometimes our minds can get tense and rigid and tight. Sometimes our hearts can get contracted. Just like our body can get knotted up. So what Lao-Tzu is speaking to is this idea of life is about being soft and malleable and open. 

The Taoists, they believe in a concept known as qi. Probably, you’ve heard of that concept qi. In yoga, we call it prana. And the ancient Egyptians, they also had a word for it and that was called ra, R-A. 

Qi is really, in science, what we would call subatomic energy, and subatomic energy is the energy that makes up the entire physical and material world. 

It’s said to have existed ever since the big bang happened.

Now this qi, when it manifests into the physical or the material world, it manifests into one of two categories. One is yin and the other is yang. 

Now, let’s talk a little bit about yang. Yang is an energy that really symbolizes active, warm, fiery, the sun, and more of a masculine energy.

And the yin is really the opposite. So it represents qualities such as coolness, receptivity, deep, dark, slow, still, and more of a feminine energy.

Now we know that in modern day living, we are very much bombarded by these yang-like qualities. Things are very stimulating. 24-hour news cycle always going. Forms of fitness, we’re always trying to do the fastest, hardest, strongest thing. And the way that we work and the way that we live our lives is go, go, go, go, go. Very, very, very active. And sometimes very, very superficial. 

YIN YOGA teaches us the wisdom to slow down. 

Not that you have to always be slow but the Taoists, they taught about this philosophy of balance or what the Buddha called the middle path. And that’s the way of moving through life with the spirit of nobility and a spirit of true wholeness. So that’s kind of the background from a Taoist perspective of this idea of yin and yang.

Now, let’s jump into the interesting framework of the science of Yin Yoga. Because if you remember at the beginning of the podcast, I said that Yin Yoga is where you hold a deep stretch for, typically, about three to five minutes. 

Let’s talk about why we do that and, also, what’s going on, and what body parts are affected when we do these deep stretches. 

We have to start first with this concept of the connective tissues. Now the connective tissues is the most extensive structure in your body. It provides form. It provides support. And it also is a protection for all the organs. It connects everything from your skin all the way down to the nucleus of all the 50 trillion cells in your body. You can look at the connective tissues like the Tao of the body. It connects everything together. The integrity of the web has to do with the resiliency of every single strand. Or that other expression, you’re only as strong as your weakest link. Your connective tissues are like the web of the body, and although you may move one body part over here, the connective tissues are connecting it to other body parts over here. And so when we do Yin Yoga, we are initiating a very positive impact into these connective tissues. Your connective tissues include your tendons, your ligaments, bones, cartilage, joints, and something called fascia.

Fascia is a Latin word for a band or bandage. You can think about your fascia like a type of Saran Wrap. If you’re familiar with Saran Wrap, it’s like this plastic you pull out of its box, and you can wrap it around a dish after you’re ready to put it into the refrigerator. And it just kind of keeps everything sealed and packaged in. So your fascia is like that for your body. It wraps around your bones and your muscles and all your organs. 

Now, what is fascia made of? Well, it’s made of collagen, and collagen provides the strength within the fascia. It’s also made of elastin. And elastin, just like it sounds, provides elasticity to the tissue. So it has a lot to do with the resiliency of that fascial tissue. 

When you hold a Yin Yoga pose– you’re on the floor. You’re doing a deep stretch. And after you’ve held the pose for about 90 seconds, there is a phase change that happens. And the phase change is when you go from your superficial tissues to your deeper tissues, you go from your yang tissues and into the yin tissues. So 90 seconds into the pose, a minute and a half into the deep stretch, you start to get into that deeper fascia. Now, you’re going to produce something called fibroblasts. 

Fibroblasts are these molecules – you can think of them like a construction worker – and they are responding to the positive pressure that’s going into that deep fascia, and they’re going to bounce back by making the fascia become stronger, more resilient, and more durable. 

Why is that important?

Well, let’s look at the aging process. What typically happens as somebody gets older? And this can even start as early as the late 20s or early 30s. So somebody is aging. They get older. And then the tissues, if they don’t have a practice like yin yoga, they become drier, stiffer, tighter, and things begin to atrophy because there is a lack of circulation within this deep fascial matrix. 

The fibroblasts, they create something called hyaluronic acid. And I remember when I first started teaching Yin Yoga this concept of hyaluronic acid was not mainstream, but now I can walk over to the drugstore– I’m walking down the beauty care aisle where all the skin products are and half the products they’re touting that they have hyaluronic acid in the skin cream. 

Now, why is that? Well, hyaluronic acid is known as nature’s moisturizer and anything that has moisture and anything that is well hydrated is a sign that it’s alive. So what happens is is as we get older, and we get drier, and we get stiffer, the connective tissues begin to break down because the cells in those tissues are no longer getting nutrients, and, even worse, they’re not able to eliminate their toxins so all the toxicity begins to get lodged up within the connective tissues. It’s like living in a city that can no longer eliminate its waste. It can no longer eliminate its trash. So things begin to break down. Things get sticky. Things get nasty. Things get smelly. And it’s not a pretty picture. This begins to happen within that deep tissue.

So there you are in the Yin pose. Ninety seconds into it, fibroblasts get activated, and then they create the hyaluronic acid which begins to moisturize, to hydrate, to invoke circulation so that old cells can get washed away, new cells can be fed and created. And now you have life within the connective tissues of the body, the structure of the body that’s most extensive that holds everything together. 

This is why we often say that Yin Yoga is like the fountain of youth, that it can slow down, and, in many cases, potentially even reverse the aging process. So when I had injured my knee, and I was holding that pose for 5 minutes, 90 seconds into it those fibroblasts got activated, and they began to repair the connective tissue in the fascia in that area in and around my knee. And that’s how my knee got healed. So you can think about hydrating your fascia so that your tissues become less like leather and more like sponge, a sponge that again has hydration and resiliency to it. 

It’s kind of like the shocks of a car. And you may have been in an old beat up pickup truck, and you go over a little bump and the whole thing’s rattling and jangling around and the hood’s flying up into the air and just not a pretty picture, right? And then you go into a Cadillac Escalade, and it goes over a huge pothole, and you can barely feel it. The ride is smooth as silk. This is what it feels like within your body when you have healthy fascia which the Yin Yoga provides. 

If you don’t wanna turn into the Tin Man from Wizard of Oz, do Yin Yoga!

Now, I heard Tom Brady once say the secret to his success– here he is. Is he 41, 42 right now? And he’s still killing it. He just won a Super Bowl championship this past January. The guy is just getting better and better and better. 

So they asked him, “Tom, what’s the secret to your success?” And he said one word. It wasn’t Gisele [laughter]. He actually said, “Pliability.” And he went on to explain that typically in a lot of athletics is that what happens is you go into the gym to train and to get strong and then the stronger you get the stiffer you become. And then you go on to the field. You’re playing your game. You’re strong but you’re stiff. And then what happens? You get injured. And then after you get injured, typically, you go and you get surgery. And when you get surgery that has a real negative damaging effect on the fascia. And then, eventually, the body tries to repair itself. And then what is the athlete do? They go back, and they repeat the cycle. They go back to the gym. They do their strength training. They’re lifting weights. They go on to the field. They get injured again, and then, eventually, after a few rounds of that, then they, unfortunately, have to quit the game. They can no longer play anymore. And Tom Brady said, for him, the thing that breaks the cycle is pliability. And I don’t know if Tom Brady does Yin Yoga or not, but he definitely emphasizes within his training regimen this philosophy of just making sure that the body is pliable and, as Lao-Tzu said, soft and supple, which is a disciple of life instead of a disciple of death.

Now, finally, I want to look at this also from the perspective of the nervous system. Now, we have something called the autonomic nervous system. And the autonomic nervous system is the part of us that knows how to do things without us being conscious of it. Things like breathing and digestion and assimilation and many, many of the things that the body has to do to sustain its life that we often actually take for granted. 

The autonomic nervous system has two branches. It has the sympathetic branch, and then it has the parasympathetic branch. 

The sympathetic branch is associated with fight, flight or freeze. This is our stress response. For example, when I was crossing the street in downtown Los Angeles, and I saw that car coming at me really fast, my sympathetic nervous system kicked into high gear. It flooded my body with a ton of adrenaline and cortisol, the stress hormones, and it rocketed me up into the air so that I could survive. If it wasn’t for that sympathetic nervous system then things could have turned out much worse.

The other branch of the nervous system is called the parasympathetic branch. And the parasympathetic branch is more of the Yin aspect of the autonomic nervous system, and this is the branch that’s associated with resting, rejuvenating, restoring, healing, and recovery. And a lot of professional athletes and their trainers are getting really hyped now on the power of being in this parasympathetic nervous system because this is when the body heals from all the stress of training and operating at a real high level within the sports. 

The problem is is that most people are stuck in the sympathetic branch of the nervous system so they’re in a constant state of stress. They’re constantly secreting acids and chemicals that kind of creates an environment almost like acid within the blood chemistry. And all that blood chemistry is breaking down the body. It’s breaking down the tissues. It’s breaking down the organs. It’s breaking down the cells.

There’s a whole new wave of doctors that are saying the leading causes of death and illness, heart disease, cancer, and stroke, more than anything else, is correlated to being in a constant sympathetic state, otherwise known as being in constant stress. And this is why managing our stress, dealing with stress, in an effective, powerful, potent way is an absolute must within living the ultimate life. We can never live the ultimate life if we’re constantly stressed out.

That’s why I’m releasing a meditation every month because that helps to bring down the stress. What else helps to bring down the stress and switch us into that parasympathetic branch of the nervous system is also Yin Yoga. 

Yin Yoga is one of the most powerful ways that we can dissolve stress, dissolve tension, and allow the body to recover, to rejuvenate so that we are balanced, whole and healthy. 

Now, I’m super pumped because I have a new program coming out called Flexibility and Beyond. And this is the first time ever that I know of that anybody has created a comprehensive Yin Yoga program because I want to share this with as many people as possible. So this program, Flexibility and Beyond, is going to be an eight-week Yin Yoga program. And I will guide you for eight weeks through these practices that will give you everything that we just discussed. It will slow down the aging process. It’ll improve your flexibility, your mobility, your suppleness. It’ll switch on that parasympathetic branch of the nervous system, decreasing stress, promoting more calm. And you can find out more about Flexibility and Beyond at www.flexibilityandbeyond.com. This is coming out May 8th. So save the date. Save the date and look out for this amazing program because I am stoked. I pumped to guide you through a high-quality eight-week program that’s cinematic. That’s top notch. That’s high production value. You are going to love the program.

“Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.” 

-Bruce Lee

So you guys if you’re not doing Yin Yoga, if you’re not stretching your body, if you’re not switching into that parasympathetic branch, you got to do it. 

You got to try this out so that you can be a tree that survives the biggest storms so that you can be like Shaolin tree that Shaolin fighting monks were named after. They loved this tree because it was both strong and supple. 

If you’re all strength and no flexibility then you’re easily going to get broken. 

And at the same time if you’re all flexibility and you’re no strength that you’re going to get uprooted, right? 

So it’s not just about being in yin but our issue is is that we live in a yang-dominated culture and the yin is going to create that beautiful synergy and that beautiful balance that’s going to help you be healthy and help you to be ultimate. 

Let’s finish with the ultimate prayer. 

“May we bring strength where there is weakness.

May we bring courage where there is fear. 

May we bring compassion where there is suffering, and 

may we bring light where there is darkness.

May we be ultimate!”

Transcription Services Provided by:

Produced by Jason Reim
Opening Music by Howie Hersh
Closing Music by Ryan Richko