What is Yin Yoga and why should you practice it?

A lot of people are not prepared for what to expect when they take a Yin Yoga class. Yin yoga, in case you aren't familiar with it is a slower paced class where we hold the poses for much longer, anywhere from about three to five minutes in class. As we hold these deep stretches, we allow our connective tissue to open up and also increase blood flow to these areas. Yin can be a really good way to compliment other more active types of yoga or exercise that you do. And it's also a really good complement to the busyness of life, and helps us to have time to slow down, find stillness and move inward.

In a Yin class the positions are mainly floor based, there are far fewer poses and less moving around than in other types of yoga class, and if you don’t understand the principles of what you are doing in a Yin class you may leave feeling that you aren’t achieving anything from it. Maybe you are thinking of trying a Yin class but are not sure if it’s for you and if so this overview will explain a little bit more about this style of Yoga so you can have a better understanding of some of the benefits and what to expect from a class.

Yin Yoga and the Meridians

Yin yoga takes a lot of its wisdom from Chinese medicine and acupuncture and webs this into yoga. The poses can be sequenced in order to focus energy flow throughout the body, with poses linked together to target various energy channels and meridians throughout the body.

The meridians form a network throughout the body which the chi or prana (life force) flow. Blockages in the meridians impede the energy flow and can lead to imbalances in our life and in our emotions. The poses can aid in releasing trapped emotions held within our bodies. Each of our major organs also has an associated meridian and bending and stretching across the meridian lines helps to move out blockages and re-balance the flow of energy to these organs.

Focusing on deep tissue release

As the Yin yoga session involves holding poses for a few minutes at a time with the aim of accessing deeper connective tissues, it can aid in increasing mobility and release tension from our bodies. Our connective tissues are made up the joints, the bones, ligaments, tendons and the fascia surrounding the muscles. These tissues are different in nature to the muscles and so this is why in Yin we move and stress these areas in slow long held movements, in order to open these areas up more slowly and avoid doing damage, and thus promoting fascial release helping you to loosen tight areas.

Stress release and mindfulness

These slower paced classes are great for providing you with a more meditative and contemplative practice, reducing stress and providing restoration for the mind as well as the body. You are offered more time for introspection as you sit within these poses for a few minutes at a time and the practice creates an meditative state which people can use to explore their inner landscape. The first foundation of mindfulness of the body is learning to be able to examine unpleasant and pleasant aspects of our experiences without any judgement and Yin yoga can help introduce you to this.

A Yin Yoga session can provide you with a space to witness your thoughts and maybe to look at them from a new perspective, and this is sometimes the part that people can have some difficulty with if they are not used to doing this. When we release into the pose we do so with the knowledge that we will be there for some time. Paying attention to the thoughts which arise, and simply noticing them can help us develop a capacity for inner listening, not only to the inner thoughts but maybe also to what’s happening in the body, feeling into places we feel tension or resistance within the poses. This is something we may not have as much time to do in a more flowing style of practice as we move much more quickly through the poses.

Passive stretching rather than repetitive movements

As Yin poses are held in a more passive way than you will find in a dynamic class, the body is allowed to open more naturally with the force of gravity doing some of the work. This doesn’t mean that classes aren’t challenging for you but rather that the muscles aren’t actively held in the poses the same as they would be in other types of asana.

Yang movement is generally repetitive movement, muscles engaged with strength, whilst in Yin the poses are more still and static in nature because the tissues we are moving into are much less elastic and could end up damaged with too much repetitive movement. Our bodies are very much still active in a Yin pose, and you move into the pose to feel sensation at your own edge, however the aim is to release the muscles rather than contract them.

Yin is something I find I can come to at any time of the day even if I only have time for a few poses and it always makes me feel really grounded and relaxed afterwards. If you have had reservations about trying a class or have tried it and feel it is not for you, perhaps it’s time to give it a try. Perhaps you won’t leave the class feeling as though you have done a workout but with time you can develop more mindfulness and balance in your life which is something to take with you off the mat as well.


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