Guest Post by Nicole Adams
Yin is a slow-paced, gentle style of yoga that targets your connective tissue and fascial system, which respond well to a slow, steady load. Yin utilizes very basic postures, held for a minimum of two minutes to increase mobility and hydrate your body’s extensive fascial network. There is a substantial inward focus in Yin which creates a deeply meditative internal space to tune into your mind and body by sitting with and breathing through potential discomfort and thoughts. While Yin presents as a simple and quiet practice on the surface, don’t think it’ll be too easy or not worth your time, this practice has numerous benefits which make it worthwhile.
What is Yin Yoga?
The yin yoga philosophy stems from the Taoist concept of yin and yang, opposite and complementary principles in nature. The concept of yin and yang is also similar to the concepts of Ida (moon) and Pingala (sun) from the Hatha Yoga tradition. Yin is the cooling, stable, unmoving, mysterious aspect of things, while yang is the heating, changing, moving, revealing aspect. In the body, the relatively stiff connective tissues (tendons, ligaments, fascia) are yin, while the more mobile and pliable muscles and blood are yang. Yin targets the deepest tissues of the body in contrast to a yang practice like Vinyasa yoga which targets the muscles.
A Yin yoga class consists of long-held, passive floor poses that mainly work the lower part of the body, areas especially rich in connective tissues. The poses are held for up to five minutes, sometimes longer. Yin tissues resist stretching, and rebound slowly like stiff dough; muscles stretch easily and rebound quickly like rubber. All tissues are a blend of yin and yang qualities, for example, the tendon of a muscle can be dense like a ligament (yin), but the belly of that muscle can be soft and elastic (yang). If you train your fascia in a yin way, it becomes longer and more elastic, if you train it in a yang way, it becomes shorter, stronger and stiffer.
Yin is slow and static-like traction, while yang yoga is rhythmic and repetitive like weightlifting or running. In yin, the targeted muscles are relaxed, in yang they’re contracted. This slower, meditative practice, gives you space to turn into your mind and the physical sensations of your body. Yin yoga also teaches you how to breathe through discomfort and sit with your thoughts. This basic practice has only a handful of postures that are often assisted by yoga props to support the body’s joints, and you’re encouraged to establish an “edge” in each pose and to work within the limitations of your body. In yin philosophy, time is more important than intensity, as time is what allows the body to relax into the stretch and the mind to surrender to the present moment.
What Are the Benefits of Yin Yoga?
The most important physical benefits of yin yoga can be recognized by understanding the effect the practice has on different parts of your body. One of the main targets is your connective tissue or fascial system. Fascia needs at least 120 seconds of sustained stretching to actually affect its elasticity, and yin is one of the most effective ways at improving your flexibility and releasing tension in tight spots thanks to long these holds in postures.
- Fascia is the thin sheath of connective tissue that encompasses all of your body’s muscles and organs. It can get tight from things like dehydration, lack of movement, stress, and everyday wear and tear.
- Ligaments connect bones to bones, and are stiff, strong fascial bands that protect your joints from going out of place. Yin gently stretches your ligaments and helps maintain the range of motion of your joints.
- Tendons are the connective tissue that connects muscle to the bone. With yang exercises, they become strong and short which results in a decreased range of motion. This is the top reason for injury in athletes. Yin helps tendons retain their range of motion.
- Joints are where all of our physical movement happens. Modern lifestyle’s lack of movement and short-range movements, cause the fluids in the joint capsules to decrease. Yin puts gentle pressure on joints, which revitalizes them and renews the fluids.
Beyond the physical benefits of yin yoga, there are mental and emotional benefits, too. We move quickly in this world, always running from one thing to the next, and the practice of yin requires you to slow down, breathe through discomfort, and push past thoughts of wanting to give up. Because it is a deeply introspective practice with long holds, typically held in silence, yin highly encourages meditation, which inevitably affects the mind and breathing which impacts your nervous system. Altogether, these practices help reduce stress, promote relaxation and support your ability to move mindfully.
In a physical sense, yin is great for beginners because the poses are simple and focus on breathing and meditation. However, yin can push you out of your comfort zone and force your gaze inward toward the internal voice that will help you breathe through the discomfort, which is precisely where many believe the practice’s true benefits and magic lie. That calm you feel after a yin class is very real, and studies have found yin to have a significant impact on lowering stress and anxiety and reducing the risk of depression. It also activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which calms your body and slows your heart rate.
With yin, duration is more important than intensity, and because of this, you’re encouraged not to move into your deepest range of motion. Instead, find an appropriate “edge” that you can comfortably sustain for a period of time. This is where props become helpful to support your body in these positions for longer durations. Beyond the physical body, yin yoga also works with the subtle body via the meridian theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The belief is that by stretching and compressing the meridians of the body, we stimulate the free-flowing movement of qi (or chi). Qi is life-force energy, essentially the equivalent to prana in the yogic tradition which can become stuck or stagnant.
Kerry offers weekly yin yoga classes in person or online via Zoom geared especially for those over 50 looking to age with more ease and wellness in midlife and beyond. You can also explore free pre-recorded yoga practices on her Youtube Channel.