An Introduction to Yin Yoga
Updated: Oct 31, 2020
Yoga is one of the most popular styles of health and wellness activities in the world today and continues to grow in popularity. The more popular styles tend to lean towards the dynamic ones such as Vinyasa, Flow and Hot with descriptive words like "workout", "good sweat" and "tone your muscles" used with a liberal touch.
The practice of Yoga certainly has many physical benefits. Practicing dynamic styles can also bring about the mind-body connection, which many practitioners have benefited from. I love and have a regular Yang practice. Yet it is important to remember that we are not using the body to get into poses, but using the poses to get into the body. At the heart of Yoga is an introspective practice, regardless of one's preferred style.
One style that helps create room for introspection is making somewhat of a quiet but growing emergence among yogis around the world -- Yin Yoga.
Yin Yoga is a style of yoga characterized by long, passive, static holds in poses for durations ranging from one to five minutes or longer, depending on the practitioner’s body and practice experience.
Yin and Yang are two complementary polarities of energy, also known as qi, chi, ki and prana, found all around and within us. Yang refers to things that are more warm, masculine, superficial and pliant. Yin refers to things that are cool, feminine, more hidden and closer to the earth. While Yin and Yang may appear to be different, they are not absolute polar opposites. They are closely related and constantly seeking natural equilibrium with each other.
In the body, Yang is associated with the upper body as well as skin, muscles and fascia whereas Yin is associated with bones and connective tissue close to them as they are closer to the center of the body. Hence, the body has both Yang and Yin tissues which will benefit from different styles of activity. A balance between the two is helpful towards creating a healthy body and mind.
Yang tissues benefit from activities that involve rhythmic movement and muscle engagement while Yin tissues benefit from activities that are stationary and allow muscle groups to relax.
Yin tissues are naturally less elastic with lower fluid content and they tend to “dry up” over time with the aging process. They do not have the same ability to stretch and elongate as Yang tissues. This also means they do not respond as quickly to use and require more time for change. Though Yin tissues are also affected during Yang activities, qi tends to be directed to Yang tissues due to muscle engagement and the movement nature of Yang activities. In order for Yin tissues to stay healthy, they have to be worked on in a different way which is more Yin in nature.
Yin Yoga practice primarily targets the connective tissue of the body. While connective tissue is found all over the body, it is highly concentrated in the joint sites and surrounding ligaments. Instead of coming into a pose for a short time and engaging muscles that bring the bones closer to each other, we stay in a pose for a longer period of time in a relaxed state at an appropriate edge. This is not an attempt to stretch the ligaments, but to stress them gently by loading them appropriately. This helps to trigger the body’s natural response to stress by stimulating qi flow into these areas. They grow stronger and more pliant over time, helping to maintain elasticity in the joints as we get older.
Yang activities have many benefits for one’s muscular, respiratory, circulatory systems and more. As mentioned above, many popular Yoga and exercise styles practiced now lean towards the Yang side so a regular Yin practice would complement these activities well by providing balance.
Many people also have busy, fast-paced lifestyles these days. Again, this is more Yang in nature. When carried to extremes, this can cause a great strain on our chi reserves. It is also easy to lose sight of who we are and what really matters in an endless cycle of being busy. As one stays in a pose for a long time during a Yin Yoga practice, there is time to slow down and tune inwards to one’s intuitive and more receptive side. There is time to contemplate and develop patience in a world that is increasingly living faster.
For someone who is interested in developing a meditation practice, Yin Yoga can help to prepare the body for long periods of sitting. The contemplative nature of the Yin practice as one stays still in a pose for a long time is also a great precursor to a more rigorous meditation practice.
Want to get on the yinside? There are many teachers offering Yin Yoga classes online and offline today. If you would like to join one of my classes, feel free to check out the Schedule page.