Perhaps you’ve never tried Yin yoga before? Perhaps you’re curious? Perhaps you’re already a Yin convert? (In which case, welcome to the club!) Harriet shares why Yin Yoga can change your life!
In contrast to active, dynamic styles of yoga like Vinyasa, Yin is a passive and soft style, designed to release and soften the connective tissues of the body. Based on ideas coming from Tradition Chinese Medicine (you can read more about Yin’s roots here), the postures practiced in Yin are targeted to parts of our anatomy that don’t often get much attention in a traditional vinyasa (or yang) practice.
So what can you expect in a Yin class? For the majority of poses, you’re not even going to leave your mat (there is only 1 Yin pose that requires you to stand!), and postures are typically held for anywhere between 2-7 minutes, depending on the pose and the students.
The biggest difference between a traditional Yang practice (like Vinyasa) and Yin, is that Yin traditionally requires no muscular activation at all.
Instead, Yin relies on gravity, the weight of your body, and your breath, to create release and deepen you into the pose. That means no pulling, no pushing, no forcing. For newcomers to Yin, this can often be the tricky part: overcoming the tendency, habit and urge to use your muscles to force your way into the pose.
Yin also requires a certain degree of stillness in the body, and this can be when your mind decides to have a party. And this is the next challenge of Yin: bringing acceptance to your situation and resisting the urge to fidget and fuss in both body and mind.
Why practice Yin?
If you’re not meant to use your muscles, and you’re not meant to fidget, and your mind might run wild, what’s in it for you? Why will it change your life?
Simply put: Yin encourages the deep release of fascia that you can possibly experience. In my opinion, that’s where the magic happens. Fascia is a sheet-like connective tissue that surrounds organs, muscles and other structures. Fascia is incredibly flexible and can withstand large amounts of force, hence its protective qualities.
Fascia has a larger proportion of sensory receptors than the muscles it surrounds (which explains why some Yin poses can feel particularly intense), and like anything in our bodies exists in a balance. When fascia is too loose, it can’t protect the body properly, when it is too stiff it can cause extremely limited movement in muscles and joints.
If your fascia is tight, you may never achieve the release or flexibility you’re aiming for, no matter how many active Vinyasa classes you take, because you’e simply not addressing the problem.
Yin yoga, through its passive, releasing qualities, directly addresses the fascia and allow it to relax. This is done safely and mindfully. Fascia has a reasonable amount of elasticity, unlike our ligaments (which once stretched are permanently stretched leading to hypermobility). Practicing Yin under the guidance of a trained and certified Yoga Instructor is the best way to ensure you are practicing safely for your body.
My Yin Story
I started incorporating Yin into my life around 2 years ago, when I started practicing at a studio which offered it. I was skeptical at first, and fidgety as hell. I found it hard to keep my mind focussed and present during the long holds. After all, I was used to the dynamic movement of Vinyasa!
But the promise of an hour where I wasn’t going to break a sweat, and essentially lie down surrounded by blankets and cushions, sounded like something too good to pass up.
Up until this point in my practice I’d really struggled with flexibility in my hamstrings: after years of work, they only seemed to lengthen centimetres a year, and I felt horrendously “stuck”.
I’m pretty sure I was hooked after one class. It just felt SO DAMN GOOD. Yes, some of the poses were temporarily uncomfortable (holding a passive pigeon for five minutes can still feel intense even today!), but I was the most chilled out, peaceful and relaxed that I’d ever been.
To this day, the best savasanas I’ve ever had have been after Yin classes. It’s truly phenomenal.
Yin takes me into myself and teaches me so many lessons: that forcing things is sometimes not the best way to achieve what I want. That letting go brings peace. That I can survive temporary discomfort. That my mind and body are not things to run away from, but to run to.
And my hamstrings? While I’m certainly no gymnast, the improvement in their range of motion and flexibility is remarkable, without any of the associated injuries that come with inappropriate attempts to lengthen hamstrings (most commonly lower back/disc strain, or extremely tender ligaments in the back of the knee). I’ve also experienced considerably improvement in the flexibility of my hips and back.
Yin has something for everyone: if you’re a picture of health, or dealing with an injury (old or new), are feeling tired, sick, or grumpy. Yin can do things for you.