Yin Yoga - An Introduction
How much do you know about yin yoga?
If somebody had asked me that question a few years ago, my answer would have been “not much”. I am still learning but I would like to share my basic knowledge and personal experience about this amazing practice with you with the hope this article will convince you to try a yin class and even integrate it in your weekly yoga practice.
“The pose begins when you want to leave it”
To understand what yin yoga, we firstly need some background information, especially to avoid hurting our body when we start with our practice.
HISTORY AND ORIGIN
Yin Yoga was founded in the late 1970s by the American martial arts champion, Taoist yoga teacher and practitioner of Monkey Kung Fu, Paulie Zink. He integrated Daoist disciplines as well as Hatha yoga and the movements of the five elements in his teachings.
Another important influencer of yin yoga was Paul Grilley, a student of Paulie Zink. He mixed his knowledge of both anatomy and Traditional Chinese Medicine to yin yoga. Later on, a disciple of Grilley, Sarah Powers, evolved yin yoga even further. She began calling postures on the floor, held for long periods of time, “yin” and the vinyasa practice “yang”. Sarah integrates both, yin and yang yoga, with traditional Chinese medicine, Taoism and Buddhism.
When Grilley published his manual, he followed Sarah’s lead and renamed his teachings “yin yoga”. This was not the birth of yin yoga, but the birth of a name, cause the idea of holding a pose for a few minutes has existed for centuries in China and Taiwan as part of the Daoist Yoga, also knows as Dao yin. Dao/Tao can be translated as “the way of the universe”. The Dao is infinite and inexhaustible. Everything is part of the Dao - the earth, stars, sky, ocean, trees and also humans. Only the Dao is unchanging and unchangeable. The Dao is the balance between Yin and Yang.
PHILOSOPHY OF YIN AND YANG
As already mentioned, yin yoga is based on the Taoist concept of yin and yang. Nothing in the universe can exist without these elements, which are opposite but also dependent on one another. Yin and Yang never separate. For example, night(yin) is very different to day(yang), yet it is impossible to have one without the other. But what are Yin and Yang exactly?
Yin is passive, gentle, soft, cooling, downward, internal, feminine, dark, negative.
Yang is external, strong, vigorous, warming, upward, dynamic, masculine, bright, positive.
When we apply these terms into our yoga practice, it looks like this:
Yang Yoga: In our active practice, we work on our muscular body, the “yang” tissues and we target the muscles, blood flow, and generally employ rhythmic repetitive movements, like we do in a Vinyasa flow, to stress the fibres and cells of the muscles. Muscles are elastic and love to get warm.
Yin Yoga: While performing “yin” style yoga asanas, we are holding floor- based poses for longer periods of time to increase flexibility while working on the deep, dense connective tissues of our ligaments, joints, deep fascial networks, and even bones. The reason why we hold poses longer is because our yin tissues are dryer and much less elastic than our muscles.
Yin Yoga is simple, but simple does not mean easy. The focus is on passive, seated postures that target the connective tissues in the hips, pelvis and lower spine, so more the lower body. Yin Yogis don't do many standing poses. They mainly focus on seated and lying poses that allow them to relax fully.
10 Tips for your yin practice:
- 3 steps to get into the pose:
- Play with your edges. Go into the pose and stop once you feel a significant resistance - the edge. Stay there. Listen to your body. Wait. Now your edge might have moved, follow the edge. Again pause and wait for the next invitation. Notice how it feels. Honour your edges. They are likely to change daily. Accept the change.
- Remain still. Be still while you wait. Remain still unless you feel pain or your body has opened up and is inviting you to go deeper. Our aim is to find stillness in our body, breath and mind. If your muscles are inactive, stillness in your body can raise. Once the body is still, your breath becomes quiet.
- Hold the pose between 1 and 10 to 20 minutes as the yin tissues we are working on are plastic tissues. They require a bit of time until the muscles relax enough to let their joints move to the end of their range of motion, where the tension of the stretch moves to the connective tissue.
- Long, even, deep breaths. A quiet breath leads to a quiet mind and therefor to the deepest stillness.
- A yin practice is not recommended when we already had a very relaxing day and were for example behind a desk for 10 hours. Best advice: Listen to your inner voice!
- Yin yoga is not meant to be comfortable. It will take you outside your comfort zone.
- Acceptance is the essence of yin.
- If you feel pain, come immediately out of the position.
- Practice with intention and attention.
- Being relaxed is one of the keys to a successful yin practice.
- No need to warm up in yin yoga, as we want the muscles to remain cool, so that they are not taking up all the stress of the postures. The stress can go deeper into the connective tissues when the muscles are cool.
- You won’t generate heat internally so I recommend wearing socks and one layer more as in your yang practice. You might even want to turn the heating up.
BENEFITS OF YIN YOGA
- Increases the health of your connective tissue, making it more resilient
- Releases tension in overworked joints
- Improves flexibility
- Balances and calms the mind and body
- Opens up the energy channels (meridians) in the body
- Reduces stress and anxiety
- Prepares the body and mind for meditation
- Improves the flow of chi (prana)
- Brings balance to a yang yoga practice
- No warming-up required before your yin yoga practice
Yin Yoga can be an amazing complement to your yang practice of dynamic movements, flows and standing poses. Balance is the key. I love both, yin and yang yoga and wouldn’t want to miss any of them. While a nice vinyasa flow lifts me up and increases my energy level, a yin practice quiets my mind very quickly and puts me into a meditative state which I find harder to achieve when I’m moving dynamically. However, it all depends on your intention. It can be a deep practice of surrender and can bring your emotional baggage to the surface, if you are ready for it. Are you?
At the beginning I found it very challenging to find the edge and I had the tendency to push too far. I also learned to calm my breath in this stillness, which calmed my busy mind. It’s such a beautiful practice and you learn to get to know yourself better and you find areas in your body that needs some extra love. Yin yoga means quality time for me, it’s that time the day when I am doing nothing else but paying attention to me!