– My motivation behind this post is to get everyone who hasn’t tried Yin Yoga or is not convinced of its benefits, to try it out. Why try? Because the feeling you are left with after a Yin practice is just amazing!
What’s Yin Yoga you may ask?
To really understand Yin yoga, you simply have to experience it! Reading about Yin yoga is like reading a menu when you are really hungry. It can be entertaining, even mouth watering, but you won’t really know what it is until you “taste it”.
Yin yoga is a style of yoga based on the Taoist concept of yin and yang (complementary and opposite principles in nature). Yin being the stable, hidden part of things; yang being the changing, revealing part. When it comes to the body, the (relatively) stiff connective tissues and the fascia are yin, while the more mobile muscles and blood are yang.
Yin teaches us to fully engage with our bodies and mind to find balance. Aside from being a physical practice, it is also a mental one. During the pose we learn to observe how we relate to the present moment and our experience as it unfolds. Yin teaches us to deepen our capacity to relax our inner struggle with life’s challenges and mental states and to be present.
In comparison to Restorative Yoga, Yin Yoga looks to exercise (stress) our deep connective tissues (ligaments, tendons, fascia, bones, etc.) in a safe manner by finding our edge, Practicing Yin is not recommended when there is an active injury that is healing, unless recommended by your doctor and practicing with a trained teacher.
How does it work?
I can start by telling you that it is not your typical yoga class! Yin yoga is a practice where you can ideally rest effortlessly in a supported way finding a passive stretch and a healthy amount of tension for an extended period of time, sometimes 3, 5, 10 or even 20 minutes in deep relaxation and mindfulness.
Yin Yoga targets yin tissues or connective tissues; ligaments, tendons, fascia, bones, and even the joints that normally are not exercised very much in a more active style of yoga. Connective tissue responds best to slow and steady stimulation, that’s the reason behind holding passive postures mainly on the floor for longer periods of time. These poses mainly work the lower body (hips, pelvis, inner thighs, lower spine) because these are areas rich in connective tissues. If we gently stretch the connective tissues, we make them a little longer and stronger. As we age flexibility in the joints decreases, but Yin yoga is a great way to maintain this flexibility,
Different poses stimulate and remove different blockages in the myofascial meridians in the body, balancing the internal organs and body’s systems.
During Yin practice you are asked to relax into the posture, releasing the muscles to move closer to the bones, gently tapping ligaments and tendons moving deeper into the body. The time we spend in these postures is like time spend during meditation, we remain still, quiet and mindful. While initially this style of yoga may be perceived as boring and too passive, Yin practice can be quite challenging due to the long duration of the poses and the meditative state of the mind, resulting in an array of positive benefits, making it well worth your while.
What is Yin good for?
There are endless benefits for practicing Yin yoga and every Yin teacher a.k.a. expert will add something different to the ongoing list. So, let’s name a few.
- After a long day of sitting and/or standing to help relieve stiffness and pain.
- As a post-workout treat to recover and stretch it out.
- As you start your day in the morning to help you increase mobility in your joints.
- At the end of the day as a way to unwind, reset and seek refuge from a stressful or busy day.
- To replenish and restore your energy when you feel burnt out and needing some self care and alone time.
- Every day to maintain overall health.
Benefits of a regular Yin Practice
1. Calms the central nervous system, lowering stress and anxiety levels.
Holding still in a Yin pose enables deep relaxation and invites time for mindful meditation (being present). It teaches us to tune in to our physical and mental experiences without trying to resist, cling to or change them. Lessening the reactivity of our internal experiences helping us to enable our parasympathetic system (rest and digest response) and disables our sympathetic system (fight and flight response). Slowing down our breath and giving us clarity of mind.
2. Regulates energy in the body (Chi) balancing mind and body.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) tells us that where water goes, energy flows. Lubricating our fascia facilitates the flow of Chi (energy) through our 12 Meridians (energy highways). Blockage or lack of flow in the meridians can create emotional, physiological, and physical imbalances. Yin encourages energetic balance promoting emotional, mental and physical wellbeing.
According to the Taoist tradition (the philosophy of Yin), the world is seen as having both Yin and Yang aspects. One can only be defined in relation to the other, as two sides of the same coin. Yin helps us balance all of the predominantly Yang aspects of life. We need Yin and Yang in order to experience happy, healthy lives. When we practice Yin regularly, it is important to balance it with a strength/resistance training program so that our muscles can provide stability to our joints.
3. Increases flexibility and mobility in the joints and connective tissues.
Aging can play a role in the loss of mobility. Dehydration of deep connective tissues and muscle tightness due to too much exercise, or not enough, can reduce our range of motion. Connective tissue can build around an old injury creating a “shrink wrap” effect to protect the body. Yin can improve our natural range of motion by breaking down scar tissue increasing mobility, pliability and lubricating our facial sheets.
4. Strengthens and hydrates tissues, releasing fascia and preventing injuries.
Yin yoga increases the hydration and pliability of deep connective tissues (ligaments, tendons, facia and joints) by placing a load on them through passive stretching, compression, and/or twisting, triggering a healing response that increases moisture and collagen production.
While our muscles are rich in fluid and blood vessels, requiring a warm body and dynamic movement when exercised, our deep connective tissues have less fluid content, with limited circulation, requiring a cool body and mild consistent pressure to see results over time. Since Yin yoga targets deep layers of connective tissue to increase overall pliability, mobility, and strength, it can also reduce our chance of injury.
5. Cultivates mindfulness and meditation.
Yin teaches us self-compassion by fully embracing ourselves as we are. Yin does not mind the aesthetics in a pose but the functionality, teaching us to let go of our self-judgement and the need to “achieve” a certain physical pose or mental state to tune into what our bodies and minds are needing. At the same time it connects us with ourselves by listening to the body, finding our edge, observing the subtle changes and understanding the changes, all this as we fall into a state of deeper relaxation.
Yin and the Mind
You might notice that some yin postures are similar to yang postures, but why are they called different names? This is mainly to help the students mind shift from yang to yin state of mind (active to passive).
Becoming still in a pose and staying there for a while gives you the opportunity to move deeper into the mind to create space for anything that wants to come up, good and bad. Happiness, sadness, boredom, relaxation, anything that you keep in the shadows. Yin yoga gives you the time and the space to let all these feelings be there and truly experience them, observing everything that may arise and subside in that space, giving all those feelings and sensations a chance to come out. Because it takes away a lot of energy from the body to keep all that suppressed.
What do you need to practice? Let’s talk props!
- Yoga bolster or pillows, they work similarly.
- Yoga mat or a comfortable surface.
- Blocks (preferebly two), if you don’t have any, books or something similar for support can do the trick!
- Blankets (the more the better).
- Strap, a tie or a bed sheet.
- Sandbags (this is entirely optional)
- Warm and comfortable clothes (use layers).
- A room with space and comfortable temperature.
- Remove all jewelery, watches and anything that can make you feel restrained.
Some helpful tips for practicing Yin:
- Find the pose.
When we practice Yin, there is no “proper” alignment aesthetically, we focus on what feels safe and comfortable for you in your body because everyone’s body is different.
- Come to the pose slowly, at your appropriate edge and in a respectful way.
Feel the pose mild, broad and sustainable. The depth in a pose is not about how far we stretch but by the level of relaxation, stillness, and time spent in a pose. If it feels intense, could be counterproductive, so it’s best not to go all the way in, as it can lead to increased tightness and/or injury.
- Find stillness (Sthira), then comfort (Sukha).
Once you are settled into the pose that feels comfortable and supported, find stillness.
- Practice with no judgment.
Your practice is unique to you, don’t compare yourself to others and leave out all the ideas of what it should be.
- Let the pose fit into your body, not the other way around.
Like trying on a pair of comfortable shoes, let the pose fit in your body without forcing anything.
- Be mindful (present).
Once you find stillness, try to relax and turn your attention inwards, giving yourself the opportunity to practice mindfulness meditation and deep relaxation. When we practice mindful meditation, the goal is to stay awake and relaxed so that the mind becomes stable and calm.
- Find support.
Once you find the appropriate edge for the pose and it passes the “comfort” test, check if you have any limbs hanging in space. Filling the spaces between our bodies and the floor with a prop allows our muscles to fully relax and feel safe.
You truly need to experience Yin Yoga to know what it’s all about, then you will realize you’ve been doing only half of the asana practice.