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What is Yin Yoga and why should anyone want to practice it?

21st October 2015

On the first day of my Yin Yoga Teacher Training course, I was asked ‘What does yoga mean to you?’ I wrote down ‘Yoga gives me peace, joy, clarity and integration ‘. Everyone around me was busily writing reams and I remember I put my pen down and felt a bit inadequate. But I would still – having successfully completed this 60 hour training – write that, only the ‘clarity and integration’ bit is, or has the potential to be, personified with Yin Yoga.

Yin refers to the deeper aspects of us, physically, mentally and emotionally.

Yin can be described as a means to gently get into the joints and connective tissue; the inner tissue near the bone, the ligaments holding the joints together and the fascia tissue in the body. By taking a pose, arranging each individual body so that a safe (safe being not pinching, painful, sharp) ‘stress’ is put on the target joint, thereby allowing gravity to slowly release body weight as the muscles relax, the ‘stress’ increases very gradually. We take the joint to its full range of motion. The length of the hold and depth of stress incurred varies from individual to individual but the idea is that once the ‘stress’/pose is released, after a rest period not only will the tissue be slightly more elastic but also stronger. As we age this process can only be good as inflexibility throughout the body creeps in.

Along with the work on the physical body and increase in flexibility, we are also working on the energy lines (meridians/nadi’s). All yoga helps to unblock and keep chi flowing, movement being energy’s natural state. When we are in our yin postures, compressing the tissue within our bodies by the strange shapes we hold, ideally still and focused, we are allowing the chi to become concentrated in these tissues and pool in the slightly more open joints, nourishing them. These energy lines are also related to a specific organ in the body (liver, gallbladder, kidney etc). Again, the benefits of stressing the tissue of, and around each, individual organ revitalises and nourishes the area with vital energy. The stillness aspect is important in this process because it is only by ‘keeping the muscles quiet’ (Bernie Clark) that they will relax and release into the stretch. The breath will follow suite and become quiet helping to calm the mind.

Thirdly, along with the physical and energetic aspects of Yin Yoga, due to its very nature, it is introspective. The holding of a pose for a few minutes, the very stillness and quiet allows you to start to feel the interior of your body. You notice a pulling tension in one area and if you just observe this sensation and surrender to it, it quite often dissipates and appears somewhere else. This quiet observation is alerting our minds to the field of sensation that we live ‘in’ every day, but mainly ignore unless painful. As this tissue releases, you may notice an emotional response to stored ‘stuff’ that has been held, unbeknownst to us, sometimes for years. You could think of it as clearing out the larder and finding embarrassingly out of date jars pushed to a back corner and forgotten, but still taking up space. The introspection reaches into the mind, as you are quietly taking your yin posture, you may ask or investigate your own mental inner workings, which opens doors to further changes and growth spiritually.

So what is Yin Yoga?

It is a simple, quiet practice. A static, passive, non-muscular, floor based style of yoga that is activated thru surrender, softness, weight and waiting with acceptance. Yin helps to stimulate Chi, keeping a flow running thru the meridians. It stretches our deep tissue, helps to revitalise our bodies and bring clarity in our minds

Why would anyone want to practice it?

Well all of the above really. It can be taken up by those with low energy, or in recovery from an illness, who can’t imagine doing a stronger style of yoga due to its gentle nature. It strengthens joints and helps to stop aging joints becoming rigid as the synovial capsule surrounding them shrinks. It gets deep into tissue that is not affected by other styles of yoga. It helps organ health. It promotes self-reflection. It promotes the para-sympathetic nervous system, our relaxed state rather than adrenaline fuelled flight or flight stress state. Yin yoga is often a challenge but also beneficial for those more A type personalities to learn to slow down and calm their reactivity to stress induced responses. Getting to know their minds more clearly.

It revitalises chi throughout the body. Chi being our life force.

We learn to live IN our bodies, observing sensations as they come and go, rather than operate on an outward looking basis FROM them, also teaching us to live in the moment rather than yesterday or tomorrow.

So it is safe to say that Yin Yoga affects us in a positive way on many levels.

Very often in yang style yoga there are alignments to be adhered to but in yin, you arrange your own body to get the maximum out of the pose, not specifically as the body next to you. This individual approach in itself can be beneficial and allow differences to be acknowledged and accepted.

In life there should always be balance. This goes for yoga as well. Yin yoga complements the more yang styles of yoga mainly practiced in the West. Many people would hugely benefit from a cooling yin class every so often.