A quick search of Google produces the following definition from Wikipedia:
‘Yin yoga is a slow-paced style of yoga with postures, or asanas, that are held for longer periods of time – for beginners, it may range from 45 seconds to two minutes; more advanced practitioners may stay in one asana for five minutes or more.’
For anyone who has attended a Yin yoga class, this definition may seem to cover the main principles behind it:
Holding postures for a long time
But it misses the mark in explaining how it works and why we should include this unique yoga into all well-rounded yoga routine.
Defining the undefinable
To understand the light, we must have experienced the dark. This is the same with Yin yoga. If you don’t know what Yang styles of yoga are, then there is no basis of comparison to understand the subtleties of a Yin experience.
Yang yoga styles include vinyasa, Ashtanga, Bikram, power yoga and the list goes on. Basically, any form of yoga where you are exerting effort and working the muscle groups within the body. Yang forms of exercise are common because they help us to build up a sweat, increase our heart rate and often this is what we equate with having had a good workout. Our muscles may ache the next day, ‘in a good way,’ though! But there’s a part of the puzzle missing from all of this exercise and this is where Yin yoga steps in.
With Yin there is no exertion of will over the body, pushing and pulling it into various poses, or taxing our cardiovascular system. The effort is gentler as try to focus on releasing and relaxing the muscles and allowing the ‘stretch’ or rather the ‘stress’ to work deeper. Yin yoga works on the connective tissues, bones, joints, and ligaments, these tissues are more difficult to target through traditional Yang methods and they benefit from the long-held postures unique to Yin yoga.
The journey y-inside
As with all yoga, Yin is a journey. We don’t approach the postures with an end goal in mind, and you will not be adjusted by a teacher to attain a ‘perfect posture,’ as you may expect in other forms of yoga. Allowing gravity to work its magic and then practicing the art of letting go we can begin to journey into our body and mind and then Yin yoga really becomes a meditative experience.
Through taking our focus away from the objective of creating a specific shape, or the emphasis on trying to find a stretch or mind is free to relax and this leads to one of the main benefits of this practice – lower stress levels. The teacher may guide you to take your attention to your breath, which (as in any yoga class) we try to keep steady and slow. This focus helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, resulting in a sense of calm and balance spreading throughout. Over time we can find a deeper sense of ease in the poses, and therefore increasing our feeling of relaxation.
What’s happening in the body?
Yin yoga is great for increasing mobility as it helps to lubricate the joints and works them within their current range of motion in a safe manner. Without any added stress we find that fascia (connective tissue) has a chance to release and tissues are revitalised. With a regular Yin yoga routine, you could experience a return to your original, natural range of mobility. Bearing in mind that everyone has their own unique make-up, and not everyone will be naturally bendy, it’s worth remembering that your natural range of mobility may well be very different than the person on the mat beside you. This is where we engage in practicing non-attachment (aparigraha, one of the 8 limbs of yoga.)
Do I really need to do Yin yoga?
You don’t actually need to do any kind of yoga, but it is a nice way to pass the time and the benefits of a regular practice are pretty amazing. Yin yoga provides an ideal complement to any existing exercise regime. If you’re into weightlifting, running or are a professional sportsperson, this is a great way to improve your recovery time after training and to fit in some extra stretching on rest days. Through focusing on the breath and slowing things down, we can find the yogic benefits transfer into our other forms of exercise – as we learn how to use the breath to fuel movements such as deadlifts and squats.
Even if you are a dedicated Ashtangi, with a 6-day a week schedule to maintain, you can find benefit in adding Yin yoga into your week. Taking some time to add a 30 minute Yin class in the evenings or on a Saturday, may help to improve your flexibility and allow you to work on opening the hips, which are crucial to so many postures in the Primary Series.
For many people, yoga is an enjoyable class to wander along to once a week, have a chat with your friends, and if you’re lucky get to laugh during class too. This doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t benefit from some Yin in your life too.
It’s not for everyone
Yoga is not for everyone, despite what it says on Social Media. There are many studies which attest to the vast benefits of any yoga practice, but this does not mean that it will suit all people, all of the time. Depending on your health and fitness goals and previous ideas about yoga, this may simply be not your cup of tea (at this moment in time.) That’s not to say that you’ll feel the same way next year or in 10 years time. An open mind is an ideal start when attending any yoga class, or any new form of exercise.
My Yin journey
The very first Yin yoga class I attended, I hated it. To begin with, I was running late (it was a Sunday morning), I’d attended a different class at the same studio and hadn’t enjoyed it; when I got there I realised I had no money and needed to find a bank, and parking was awful. So before I’d even rolled my mat out I was having a bad day, and this influenced my experience.
But I did decide to give Yin another go after I’d done some reading and tried it out a bit at home. I found a wonderful teacher in Edinburgh, who was running a 50 hours Yin Yoga Teacher Training. Commuting to Edinburgh every day for a week was an adventure, to say the least, and I was getting over a cold too, but to top things off I was late on my first day as I didn’t really know where I was going.
At the time of the training, I was teaching Ashtanga to beginners and really enjoying this practice at home. But over the course of the week, I found myself learning so much more and opening up to the huge opportunities Yin yoga presented for me. I found peace in the classes we were lead through, and a sense of relaxation begun to flow through me for the first time in my life. Upon completing this intense week, Yin yoga became my ‘thing’ and I would relish my practices at home each day.
Now I have been practicing Yin yoga regularly for 18 months and I love it. I also love to share this amazing form of Yoga through two classes each week. But I still go to the gym and lift weights, and I still do lots of other forms of yoga too. It’s about finding the balance that suits me and this suits me right now. Maybe Yin yoga would benefit you too?