Yin Yoga has become really popular over the last decade, it’s certainly now on every yoga studios schedule and people are embracing this slower style of yoga. Yin is definitely the opposite of its yogic sister, Yang! Originally from California, its real roots are in Taoist yoga, in ancient China, but the two people responsible for bringing Yin to the western world and creating the first ever YIN classes, and coining the name, ‘Yin Yoga’ are Paul Grilley and Sarah Powers.
Most Yin postures are floor based, there is zero need to perform and you use props to get into the postures and also stay in the postures. There are Yin postures for every part of the body, from the neck to the toes. You can hold postures for anywhere between 2 minutes and 10 minutes, but for beginners to Yin, 1 to 3 minutes is plenty.
In Yang yoga, the muscle automatically switches on to protect the joints; In Yin yoga, you want to go below the muscle and access the deeper fascia, stressing the ligaments, tendons and joints. To do this, you need to relax the muscles first, which can be hard, using props makes it easier, using your breath and also being conscious of what your body is doing in the posture. After years of conditioning, our muscles often just switch on automatically and before we know it, our back is engaged and our shoulders are up around our ears. Yin teaches you to relax, find your edge (about a 5 out of 10) and then be still for the time prescribed.
There are three very simple principles for Yin.
- Come into the pose to an appropriate depth
- Resolve to remain still
- Hold the pose for time
Sometimes there’s a bit of a blur between restorative yoga and Yin yoga and that’s okay! Some Yin postures can be very challenging and some postures extremely restorative and relaxing. When we do a posture called ‘foot opener’, there is nothing relaxing about it, but it brings a great awareness to an area of the body that can be extremely tight; on the other hand, reclining on a bolster can feel like ‘heaven on earth’, as you open your chest, arms and shoulders, whilst being fully supported by your prop.
If you gently stretch connective tissue by holding a yin pose for a long time, the body will respond by making them a little longer and stronger—which is exactly what you want and it’s similar to lifting weights and stressing muscle. We are working with meridian lines, and the flow of energy through meridians.
Western medicine has been sceptical about the traditional energy maps of acupuncture, tai chi, and yoga, since no one had ever found physical evidence of nadis and meridians, but in recent years, researchers, led by Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama in Japan and Dr. James Oschman in the United States, have explored the possibility that the connective tissue running throughout the body provides pathways for the energy flows described by the ancients.
If we don’t use our full range of joint flexibility, the connective tissue will slowly shorten to the minimum length needed to accommodate our activities. If you try to flex your knees or arch your back after years of underuse, you’ll discover that your joints have been “shrink-wrapped” by shortened connective tissue. In general, a yin approach works to promote flexibility in areas often perceived as non-malleable, especially the hips, pelvis, and lower spine.
Like any yoga practice, you can overdo Yin, and indications of that are a joint may feel sensitive, or there is a sense of soreness or the muscles are gripping around the joint.
Because we are lying still, using our breath and trying to be present, Yin is extremely meditative and it allows you to take some time out with no pressure. Your heart rate slows, your muscles soften, tension is released and your mind feels calmer.
Sometimes it’s nice to be taken on a Yin journey, completely surrendering to stillness, whilst releasing tension from the body and the mind. There is no need to align and make the posture look like anything; you just feel the posture for your body.
As a yoga teacher, our goal is to recognise if you are trying too hard – your face says a lot (no grimacing!) – and also to guide you into the postures and help you to use the props. We also need to ensure that any joints, such as knees, hips and shoulders are okay (no pain) and give you modifications depending on your injuries.
Most people try Yin by mistake, staying on after a Yang style class or attending the class without really knowing what it is all about. For a lot of people, the sudden shift to slowing down and being still can be alarming, the mind in overdrive and the body twitching and it can take half a class to actually go deep and let go.
If you are intrigued by YIN or if you’d like to learn more about its benefits and experience them for yourself, then join us for a workshop on the 5th of January, 2pm to 4pm, for ‘YIN for Beginners’. A wonderful opportunity to try a range of YIN postures and finish with a deep relaxation. £15pp – to book, visit, www.heatfitness.co.uk/workshops.