“Yoga is the ability to calm the fluctuations of the conscious mind”- Patanjali
What is yin yoga?
Yin yoga was first introduced to the western world by Paul Grilley in the 1970s. This style of yoga could be considered “the other half of yoga”. Physically, yin yoga postures target beyond the superficial muscles into the tendons, bones, ligaments, fascia, and joints in the body. These tissues are not usually exercised, because they can only be stimulated through deep tissue massage, rolfing, acupuncture and long-held stretches (anywhere from 2-20 minutes). Yin yoga is often mistaken for being a passive and easy style of yoga, but it can actually be quite challenging due to the long duration of the postures. Most yin yoga postures target the low back and hips, because that is where there is the highest concentration of connective tissue in the body. Yin yoga is also believed to stimulate the organs of the body through meridians, or energy channels.
More metaphysically speaking, yin yoga gets its name from the Taoist philosophy of universal balance. Yin is the internal, deep, cooling, dark, stable counterpart to the external, superficial warm, light, mobile energy of Yang. A hot power vinyasa practice would be a very “yang” yoga practice.
Why is yin yoga important?
Yin postures not only stretch the ligaments to create more flexibility in the body, but they also strengthen the tendons, preventing injury. When stress is applied to tissues, the body responds by making them stronger. It is said that stimulating or stretching connective tissue in the body is responsible for around 48% of the potential for a person’s flexibility, therefore these tissues deserve time and care.
Yin Yoga not only prepares the body to sit more comfortably and longer for seated meditation, but it is a meditation in itself. People of our society are conditioned to be in a constant state of doing. We are either working, being entertained, having conversations, watching movies, scrolling through social media, or performing some kind of task that requires the energy or distraction of the mind. It is rare that we allow ourselves time to be still and quiet without immediately trying to fill gaps in stimuli. Active yoga practice calms the mind mainly with the use of exercise as distraction, while yin yoga helps us to process repressed thoughts and feelings. The long, quiet, still hold times allow the space for reflection. It is common for yin yoga, by nature, to bring up our “shadow side”, or emotions and feelings that we don’t willingly put forward. An example of this would be a person who is very guarded or in control of their emotions may experience feelings of openness or vulnerability during a yin practice. It is considered by practitioners to be a powerful cleansing process for the emotional body.
Some other benefits of yin yoga:
-releases fascia and improves joint mobility
-balances internal organs
-helps with TMJ and migraines
-improves ability to sit in meditation
-reduces muscular adhesions
-calms and balances the mind and body
-calms the nervous system
-helps with insomnia
-reduces stress and anxiety
-teaches us to be alone, quiet, and still. Teaches us to listen.
Tips for your yin yoga practice:
1. Practice observing sensations of feelings instead of stories attached to them. What does an emotion feel like? Can you make a mind/body connection? E.G.: How does anxiety or happiness feel in your body?
2. Find your appropriate edge. A lot of sensation is ok! A deep stretch, even to a point of a dull ache is accepted in yin. Avoid any sharp shooting pain, any sensation that makes you feel hot, or stresses your breathing. Remember that as long as you are feeling something, you are doing the pose. Great yin mantras for this purpose could include: “little by little” or “I am here now”.
3. Hold for as long as you can. The hold times called in a yin class are objective. The reason poses are held for a long time is because connective tissue takes time to open. These tissues are not as malleable as muscle. As you are holding a posture you may find that the tissues sofen, and you have room to go deepen the pose. On the other hand, youmay find that you have reached your threshold of stress on the tissues, and you need to liberate from the pose. The practice is being present with this from moment to moment.
4. Adapt to each moment in the pose. Naturally, the pose will change as your tissues open. Your state of mind and emotion may also change. Keep checking in and make intentional adjustments to stay at your appropriate edge.
5. Be still. When you want to fidget, intentionally change that fidget into a deeper exhale. Fascia is more likely to open as the surrounding muscles become soft and still. Props like bolsters and blankets are helpful for stillness, as they take stress away from the joints. Remind yourself that you don’t need to move unless you are feeling pain.
6. Pay attention to differences from right to left. Connective tissue holds more history (does not regenerate as quickly) than the superficial tissues. Habit, dominance, trauma, and other experiences cause one side to differ greatly from the other in a yin practice. Just like any yoga practice, balance does not mean mirroring the right to the left side, but rather intentionally modifying to what your body needs from moment to moment. If you already took a twist on the right side, act as if the left side is the very first time you have ever twisted. Try not to feel obligated or restricted by what happened on the right.
7. Relax. When we relax, we digest, heal, grow, and repair. When we learn to relax through great sensation, we become more resilient people.
8. Yin yoga is not helpful for injuries. A common misconception is that it is better to practice yin yoga if you are injured because it is a slower-paced practice.
Yes, you can still come to class, but if you have a torn ligament in your right hip, do not do any yin poses that affect that area. Heal first, then practice.
9. Get a mat with cushion for your joints. Long holds may mean long periods of time on your knees. Check out the Aura Mat for your ideal yin yoga practice.