Yin Yoga is a Practice of Self-love and Self-acceptance
Yin yoga has something to offer everyone. If you’re interested in the physical practice of yoga, you’ll enjoy the added flexibility and joint health you feel.
But if it’s the emotional and mental benefits you seek, you’ll also find techniques to increase your mindfulness and decrease your stress.
For years, I only practised the stronger styles of yoga, such as vinyasa and power yoga. Although I absolutely love them and they have many wonderful qualities and benefits, I sometimes find myself feeling physically and emotionally drained when I overdo it and crave even more calming energy in my life. Most of us lead lives that are already yang in nature, meaning we’re active and sometimes even overly active. By only practising yang styles of yoga and leading a busy life, I was burning myself out and not giving myself the chance to slow down and recharge my batteries.
After my car accident, Yin yoga offered me the opportunity to soothe my nervous system, heal my body slowly, accept my limitations and to let go of the need to always be busy and active, as I couldn’t be at the time with my injuries. I had to truly relax and be in the moment with care and attention.
Since my car accident back in 2016 my life and my yoga practice represent a balance between yin and yang (so the concept of yin and yang is about relationship). Because of yin yoga, I know how to properly cope with stress, I know to listen deeply to my body and emotions, I fall asleep easily and I genuinely enjoy slowing down and sitting for longer held meditations. I feel healthier, calmer and much more flexible, physically and mentally.
What is Yin Yoga?
This question is asked a lot by students who have been practicing yoga for a while but have never come across this particular challenging style. Simple answers such as “It is the balancing practice for your yang style of yoga” or “It is the yoga for the joints, not the muscles” are not overly satisfying. If students haven’t heard of Yin Yoga, they won’t know what a yang style of yoga is. And isn’t all yoga good for the whole body, including the joints? To really answer the question and to get to know Yin Yoga requires a fuller explanation. These questions kept coming up in my head, therefore, I recently embarked on more in-depth Yin Yoga Training for teachers with Norman Blair. I wanted to explore this gentle but powerful yoga practice and go deeper into my journey of listening and receiving.
Yin Yoga has the same goals and objectives as any other style of yoga, however, it directs the stimulation normally created in the asana portion of the practice deeper than the superficial or muscular tissues (which we are calling the yang tissues). Yin Yoga targets the connective tissues, such as ligaments, bones, tendons, the deep fascia and even the joints of the body that are not exercised very much in a more active style of asana practice. Suitable for almost all levels of students, Yin Yoga is the perfect complement to the dynamic and muscular (yang) styles of yoga that emphasise internal heat and the lengthening and contracting of our muscles.
While initially this style of yoga can seem quite boring, passive or soft, yin practice can be quite challenging due to the long duration of the poses. We can remain in the postures anywhere from one to six minutes or longer. Yin and yang tissues respond quite differently to being exercised. You need to experience this to really know what Yin yoga is all about and understanding the practical guidelines, such as; relaxing, time, mindful edge and balance.
Balance is a really important aspect and one that I’ve learnt the hard way in many parts of my life. What I really connected with on my training with Norman Blair is the concept of stability over stretch. Our breathing is the best indication in our daily life and also on the mat to whether we have lost a soothing rhythm or applied too much pressure. Finding balance incorporates qualities of letting go (heart filled rather than ego mind) and connecting to our inner voice and wisdom – creating stability and healthy bodies through gentleness and patience.
Yin balances Yang
The word Yin literally means “the shady side of the mountain”, while yang means “the sunny side of the mountain. Yin and yang yoga styles move energy throughout the body and help improve physical, mental and emotional well-being. But yin yoga offers two components that yang lacks: a focus on stillness and an emphasis on longer, deeper stretching of the tissues that surround your body’s moving parts. While most yang styles move quickly and focus on muscle tissues, yin moves slowly and stretches more deeply into the body.
While most forms of yoga focus on building muscle strength and increasing flexibility, yin yoga centres on stretching deeper connective tissues, such as ligaments, tendons, and deep fascia – the tissue that surrounds muscles. This deeper connection is why yin yoga is often called “Yoga of the Joints” as mentions above also.
Yin and Yang yoga classes have so many beneficial qualities – Yin soothes and calms us, whereas Yang invigorates and refreshes us. Both necessary aspects of a healthy life and nice balance both emotionally and mentally. It’s a sheer treat to do a class that blends both styles together, that’s a nice blend of delicious yang yoga flow, that will provide warmth, strength and more space in the body and a lovely yin which gives inner peace as well as freedom within body and mind.
Why do Yin Yoga?
Yin is called a passive practice because you perform yin yoga while sitting or lying down in a passive manner. Gravity plays a role in developing a deeper stretch while enabling you to hold postures for longer periods of time. In Yin yoga, instead of contracting your muscles to build strength or elevating your heart rate to build stamina, you’re encouraged to relax and surrender to gravity.
Yin yoga targets your physical, mental, and emotional concerns through deep stretching and breathing – reaching deeper into the body and mind.
Your physical body will benefit most from practising yin yoga because it touches every element of your musculoskeletal system. Yin yoga focuses on your fascia – tissue around muscles and organs – so you should feel improved health on the inside, which should improve how you feel on the outside. However, we need to be mindful and careful of different body shapes and bone structures to avoid injuries, being open to exploring the bodies good and bad points (open and tight, or even hyper-mobile).
Paul Grilley explains “Everyone’s bones are shaped differently – individual bones of the body conflict with the universal laws of alignment… we have to bring to yoga practice open mindedness.”
The primary physical benefit of yin yoga is strengthening the connective tissues in your joints. They’re strengthened through steady, sustained stretching. By applying stress to your joints through stretching, yin yoga helps to lubricate tight joints.
As you age, you start to lose joint mobility. It’s therefore essential to keep your hips, lower back, and pelvis areas healthy and flexible, so you can remain mobile. Yin yoga can free up those areas to increase the range of motion and improve flexibility, making movement and mobility freer and easier.
Yin yoga is thought to benefit your heart and lungs through increased blood flow and deeper breathing. Many asanas also include moves that compress and decompress your abdomen, which is believed to help stimulate your digestive system and promote healthier kidney and intestine functions.
In addition to physical benefits, practising yin yoga on a regular basis can help to alleviate feelings of stress and anxiety, improve your sleep, and have a positive effect on your mental and emotional states.
Benefits of a regular Yin Yoga Practice
- Calms and balances the mind and body
- Reduces stress and anxiety
- Increases circulation
- Improves flexibility
- Releases fascia and improves joint mobility
- Balances the internal organs and improves the flow of chi or prana
Yin Yoga and the Body and Mind
Yin yoga works on the yin tissues – also known as the connective tissues. Connective tissue responds best to a slow, steady load which is why we hold the poses for longer. If you gently stretch connective tissue by holding a yin pose for a long time in this way, the body will respond by making it a little longer and stronger – which is exactly what you want. Remember, the principle of exercise is to stress the tissue so the body will respond by strengthening it.
Different Yin yoga poses stimulate and remove blockages in the myofascial meridians in the body. This has the effect of balancing the body’s internal organs and systems. Yin yoga requires the muscles to relax around the connective tissue in order to get a stretch, so not all yoga poses can be done safely or effectively when practising Yin style. Thus Yin asanas have different names when practised in a Yin style.
Becoming still in a pose and staying for a while creates those gaps that I was talking about earlier. Keeping the gaps empty creates the space for anything that wants to come up. Anxiety, happiness, sadness, boredom, for example. Anything you suppress with all the on-the-go busyness in your life. Yin yoga gives you the time and space to allow those feelings to be there. Emotions, thoughts, feelings you have kept in the shadows.
Generally speaking, during a Yin yoga class the teacher will encourage you to allow all those feelings to be there, but not identify with them. The teacher will guide you to become the observer of everything that arises in that space. All those stored away emotions, feelings and sensations now have a chance to come out. You have no idea how much energy it costs the body to keep all that suppressed. So the release you get from letting it all come out can also be just as big.
You learn to observe only the pure physical sensations of emotions, without getting caught up in the stories about those emotions. These stories usually have to do with why we feel such and such, whose fault it is etc. Just observing these physical sensations, without giving juice to the stories allow those emotions and physical sensations a way out of your system. You open the door in a way of speaking. This way you clear the mind of these often unconscious emotions and you give your system an opportunity to work through the blockages they have caused in the body. What a wonderful and much-needed process!