There are many types of Yoga. The four main ones are: Jnana, Karma, Bhakti & Hatha Yoga. Many forms of yoga fall under the umbrella of Hatha Yoga. Yin Yoga is one of them, and this blog entry is dedicated to it.
WHAT IS YIN YOGA?
To understand, first of all the concept of yin & yang needs to be addressed. Yin means dark and negative, while yang means light and positive. Yin & Yang is symbolized in a multitude of physical manifestations. Yin qualities are typically: feminine, black, dark, north, water, passive, moon, earth, cold, even numbers, estrogen, sleep, valleys, soft, shakti. Yang qualities are typically: masculine, white, light, south, fire, active, Sun, heaven, warm, odd numbers, testosterone, wakefulness, mountains, hard, shakti. The list could go on for both, as in fact, everything in physical manifestation can be attributed to having either a yin or a yang dominant quality. Some examples of Yin & Yang that give a better idea of the principles of Yin as receptive and Yang as active: winter & summer, female & male sexual union, student-teacher relationship etc. While yin & yang seem to oppose each other, Taoism teaches us that they are actually complementary and interdependent. Yin and yang are relative to each other, Where one ends, the other begins.
One of the main purposes of Hatha (ha =Sun, tha= moon) Yoga is to bring balance to the yin & yang aspects of our being so that our energies may center. Yin practices nourish the restorative aspects of our being (while Yang ones stimulate dynamism). Yin Yoga is a gentle, restorative type of yoga which was developed by Paul Grilley and Sarah Powers. It is a branch of Hatha Yoga that particularly focuses on the yin aspect of our being. Yin Yoga combines the knowledge of Hatha Yoga with Chinese Medicine’s meridians, Taoist philosophy and Buddhist meditation techniques. According to Taoism (ancient Chinese philosophy), Qi (life energy) runs through our bodies. This is in line with yoga philosophy, according to which prana (life force) runs through nadis, which are a concept comparable (and in some cases equal) to that of the meridians in Chinese medicine. Through the opening that happens as a result of Yin Yoga practices, more life energy flows freely through our being as blockages are released.
There are more or less twenty classical poses plus variations in Yin Yoga. Often, the Yin Yoga postures focus on parts of the body which enclose a joint: hips, pelvis and lower spine. During Yin Yoga practices, instead of moving the body intensely (as is the case in more yang practices such as for example Ashtanga Yoga), you really take your time in each posture, and also in the way you transition from one posture to the next. Postures are not so physically demanding and are typically held for 3-5 minutes (while in more yang types of yoga practices you hold the pose for 3-5 breaths) with a softer engagement of the muscles. It is a much slower practice in which poses are held for a longer time in a relaxed way, working on the body’s deep connective tissues and joints. It is very favourable for your organs, immune system, muscles and joints. It has a passive and restorative style that is pleasant and meditative.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
This gentler approach to strengthening and lengthening does not target our muscles, instead, it targets connective tissue, which is one of the four types of tissue in our body. Connective tissue functions as a web that binds different parts of our body: it holds our organs in place and connects our bones and muscles. They are for example: deep fascia, ligaments, bones, and joints. Joints are easily injured, and Yin Yoga helps to keep them healthy. It helps to stretch tissues that tend to get bound up. The connective tissues slowly and gently unwind. It increases your joints’ range of movement in a passive way, produces more synovial fluid (which has the purpose of reducing friction between cartilage of synovial joints during movement) for the spine and joint capsules and decompresses the spine, creating more space between your vertebra. In the practice, it is necessary for muscles surrounding the connective tissue to relax in order for the stretch to occur. It creates lasting structural change in your body, and you improve the flexibility. You let the pressure sink in, and your body opens up, while honouring your body’s limitations at any given time. By concentrating the mind and releasing tension, you can really go deep in this practice. Paul Grilley says: “you will find more freedom in tight spots.” Practicing Yin Yoga is a great way to prepare your body for meditation because of the way it opens up parts of your body which may otherwise be rather stiff and cause discomfort when sitting in meditation postures for extended periods of time.
PRINCIPLES OF YIN YOGA
Sarah Powers (as mentioned earlier, together with Paul Grilley co-founder of Yin Yoga), defines three principles of Yin Yoga:
1. Finding your edge: you are not pushing or forcing your body into any specific shape or trying to make the most intense version of a pose possible. From an intensity scale 1-10 (with 10 being maximum sensations, and 1 standing for no feeling), you would want to be at a 4 or 5. There is just enough discomfort that you create a change in your body, but not enough to strain your body. So, you don’t push yourself to the limit. Instead, you purposefully choose to find your edge, just before your limit. Pain is not the edge! The key is to find your edge respectfully, really attuning to and listening to your body. Also remembering that your edge might be different every day, as other factors are influential to it (for example: how hydrated you are, how well rested you are, the weather etc.).
2. Being still: you don’t fidget or move once you are in a pose. Props can be very useful to support this practice – bolsters, pillows, straps to support you staying in the pose without moving at all, in a relaxed way. This is a great way to train for meditation. Most yin yoga poses are done lying down, on the ground, using props. The focus on surrender, using gravity as a friend (where more active types of yoga challenge gravity instead)
3. Holding the pose: Overall the poses can be held anywhere ranging from 1-10 min, sometimes even longer depending on the pose, your level of practice, and the aim of the particular practice. At saktiisha, it is usually somewhere between 3-5 minutes.
Another way to look at the practice of Yin Yoga in three parts, is to look at the levels it targets: physical, energetic, and emotional/mental. Physically, it targets connective tissues, joints, and bones. Energetically, it fosters harmony through free flow of life energy through your subtle body. Emotionally and mentally, it prepares you for meditation as it helps you to cultivate introspection and inner stillness.
BENEFITS OF YIN YOGA
-Keeps the joints healthy
-Creates balance and harmony
-Releases stress & tension
-Helps to relax, surrender, and let go
-Supports preparation for meditation
-Releases stored/suppressed emotions
-Increases free flow of energy and improves circulation
-Increases mind and body awareness (overall mindfulness)
-Rejuvenates: working on the deep connective tissues makes our bodies less dense and tight as we get older.
-Activates the parasympathetic nervous system (and this benefits many involuntary bodily functions)
-Supports healing: because of its restorative nature, it can be beneficial for those suffering from or recovering from certain injuries or chronic conditions
YIN YOGA AT A DEEPER LEVEL
The practice of Yin Yoga brings unity and balance, especially for those who live very active (yang) lives. Modern society is very much on the go, with its high demands of performance and sensory overstimulation in so many places. When our yin is activated, we become more relaxed and receptive. When we are relaxed, we are healthier. We all know that stress is not healthy – in fact it has been called the biggest disease of the West, as too much stress inevitably leads to illness. Being receptive makes us more connected to our environment, and also serves conscious relationships (of whatever form – family, friends, colleagues, “strangers”), because it helps us to attune to what the other is feeling. When we are able to connect to others at this level, relationships become more balanced and meaningful (opposed to us selfishly only attuned to our own feelings and needs).
At a deeper level, the practice of Yin Yoga is a safe way to practice surrender and letting go. It helps us to release the need to control. Energetically, you get a sense of wellbeing from the sense of relaxed openness. It helps us to learn to use our mind and breath to manage discomfort in a conscious way – a valuable skill that will greatly serve us (and others!) off the mat. Yin Yoga gives you the space to turn inward, increasing your level of mindfulness, and allowing emotions you may have been supressing to finally emerge! The nature of the practice supports you to witness them without getting too caught up in the story.
Practicing Yin Yoga will have an overall positive effect on your health and wellbeing. One of the greatest gifts it will offer you, besides all the benefits already mentioned – is the opportunity it presents you to slow down and connect to Self. You can choose to practice Yin Yoga on its own, or also as a way to balance more vigorous practices (ashtanga, hatha flow, vinyasa, etc.). You can follow Yin Yoga classes with us at saktiisha. Keep your eyes peeled on the schedule, sometimes there is also a Yin Yoga teacher training offered, which is a great opportunity to deepen your practice.
Thank you for tuning in. I hope this blog provides you with the insights you were looking to learn about Yin Yoga, and that it serves you!