We live in a culture that’s constantly on the go, requiring a lot of movement, stimulation, and responsibilities. Stress comes at us in as many forms and physical manifestations, and anxiety is one of your body’s responses to stress. If you’ve ever researched how to reduce your stress levels, you’ve likely come across yoga. While many of us are familiar with movement based styles, there is one particular type of yoga that’s a great tool for easing anxiety because of its slow and relaxing nature: yin yoga.
What Happens During a Yin Yoga Class?
Yin yoga is a slow-paced style of yoga that focuses on stillness and creates space for you to tune into your inner experience. Unlike the pace, demands and intensity of daily life that leaves many of us feeling anxious, stressed, overwhelmed and burnt out, yin asks you to do the opposite, to slow down, return fully to the present moment, and connect mindfully with yourself. Yin is perhaps very different from what people tend to think of as yoga (a rigorous, movement and exercise geared flowy style of class with lots of planks, handstands and backbends). An alchemy of yoga, meditation and mindfulness, yin yoga can be calming for both the body and mind.
The poses or postures in a yin class are more passive than other types of yoga, mainly done on the floor either seated or lying down. You will not experience planks, standing postures, or any type of fast movement in a yin class. Yin yoga offers only a few poses throughout the entire class sequence, and invites you to hold those poses for an extended period of time, anywhere from 3 to 10 minutes. It’s common to use blankets, blocks, bolsters and other props in yin so that you can relax into the position without pushing or straining.
The focus of yin yoga is on your mind, body and soul; it’s not a practice about getting physically fit but is certainly not without benefit. The time you spend in these postures could be compared to time spent in meditation. There’s nothing to do but breathe, notice your thoughts, and tune into the sensations in your body. Yin is a lovely way to calm your mind and drop into the deep intelligence and wisdom of your body, and is a beautiful practice of self-inquiry and exploration.
Can Yin Yoga Help Ease Anxiety?
Your parasympathetic nervous system often called “rest and digest” is a complement to your sympathetic nervous system, often called “fight or flight”. Both are components of your autonomic nervous system, which activate automatically within our bodies and affect our internal organs, heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, etc. We need both systems operating at various times and in balance, but in the modern era, we seem to be in the aroused, sympathetic state far more often than in the relaxed, parasympathetic state, which has notable negative health consequences. Practicing yoga, particularly yin can have a positive impact on your nervous system.
Yin yoga provides an opportunity to slow down, it is not a class that you can rush through, and the slow, deliberate poses force you to focus on your body, not your to-do list. Yin postures are almost exclusively done seated or lying down, and there are fewer poses than other styles of yoga. These floor poses look the same as they do in other yoga styles, however they are deliberately given different names because their intentions are different. Yin offers a nourishing and nurturing environment where you can cultivate compassion and love for yourself on a deep level and reconnect to your body in a gentle and compassionate way.
This time in stillness forces you to be present. When you’re worried and anxious, you’re likely fixated on something past or future-oriented. In contrast, when you’re meditating, breathing, being mindful and aware, you’re focused solely on the present moment. The act of becoming aware of what is rather than what was or what could be can help calm an overactive brain and body. While practicing yoga and deep breathing is certainly not a cure for anxiety, it can serve as a wonderful tool in coping with anxiety, fear, stress and worry.
If you’re someone who is always on the go, has a busy mind or usually gravitates towards vigorous workouts, incorporating a regular yin yoga class into your routine is a great way to find balance. Kerry offers weekly yin classes in person or online via Zoom geared especially for those in midlife and beyond. You can also explore free pre-recorded yoga practices on her Youtube Channel.