My motivation for writing this article is to get everyone who hasn’t tried Yin yoga, or isn’t convinced of its benefits yet, to try it! Why? Because the feeling that you are left with after you have practised Yin yoga is amazing!
Benefits of a regular Yin yoga practice
- Calms and balances the mind and body
- Reduces stress and anxiety
- Increases circulation
- Improves flexibility
- Releases fascia and improves joint mobility
- Balances the internal organs and improves the flow of chi or prana
Try it out!
New to Yin yoga? Try Esther's Yin Yoga for Beginners class
What is Yin yoga?
Yin yoga is based on the Taoist concept of yin and yang, opposite and complementary principles in nature. Yin is the stable, unmoving, hidden aspect of things; yang is the 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.
A Yin yoga class usually consists of a series of long-held, passive floor poses that mainly work the lower part of the body - the hips, pelvis, inner thighs, lower spine. These areas are especially rich in connective tissues. The poses are held for up to five minutes, sometimes longer.
- Read more about the history and origins of Yin Yoga here
Who is Yin yoga for?
Yin yoga is for you if you are tired and craving energy or you’re over-stimulated and have too much energy; if your mind is overactive or your energy levels erratic.
We live in a world where we are bombarded with stimuli, stimuli that is available 24/7. It’s so easy to end up not switching off at all - to end up with a mind that is constantly busy processing all the information that’s thrown at it. Whether the information is good, valuable or rubbish, it doesn’t matter, the mind still needs to deal with it. The mind gets used to that amount of information and starts to crave stimuli if it becomes quiet. So we end up browsing, looking for stuff; it doesn’t matter what, as long as we fill the gaps. Gaps we really should allow to stay empty to find some sort of downtime - for the mind to stop and for you to just be.
Any kind of dynamic form of yoga caters to this aspect of keeping ourselves busy. Although the mind may calm down as a result of the active exercise, we are still feeding the part of us that craves intensity and wants to be stimulated. We just happen to have found ourselves a healthier stimulus! I am not saying cut out the dynamic yoga, I just think it’s a good idea to also balance all the on-the-go aspects of life and a great way to do that is through Yin Yoga.
Yin yoga and the body
Yin yoga works on the yin tissues - also known as the connective tissues. Connective tissue responds best to a slow, steady load which is why we hold the poses for longer. If you gently stretch connective tissue by holding a yin pose for a long time in this way, the body will respond by making it a little longer and stronger - which is exactly what you want. Remember, the principle of exercise is to stress the tissue so the body will respond by strengthening it.
Different Yin yoga poses stimulate and remove blockages in the myofascial meridians in the body. This has the effect of balancing the body’s internal organs and systems.
Different Yin yoga poses stimulate and remove blockages in the myofascial meridians in the body. This has the effect of balancing the body’s internal organs and systems. Yin yoga requires the muscles to relax around the connective tissue in order to get a stretch, so not all yoga poses can be done safely or effectively when practising Yin style. Thus Yin asanas have different names when practised in a Yin style.
For example, Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle pose) in a Hatha or Ashtanga Yoga class involves lengthening the spine, stretching the muscles of the back and engaging the muscles of the legs and abdomen to fold the torso towards the legs.
Whereas in a similar Yin style version - Butterfly -pictured), the muscles are relaxed, the spine naturally rounds so that the head comes towards the knees rather than the feet as the body releases.
Yin yoga and the mind
Becoming still in a pose and staying for a while creates those gaps that I was talking about earlier. Keeping the gaps empty creates the space for anything that wants to come up. Anxiety, happiness sadness, boredom, for example. Anything you suppress with all the on-the-go busyness in your life. Yin yoga gives you the time and space to allow those feelings to be there. Emotions, thoughts, feelings you have kept in the shadows.
Generally speaking, during a Yin yoga class the teacher will encourage you to allow all those feelings to be there, but not identify with them. The teacher will guide you to become the observer of everything that arises in that space. All those stored away emotions, feelings and sensations now have a chance to come out. You have no idea how much energy it costs the body to keep all that suppressed. So the release you get from letting it all come out can also be just as big.
You learn to observe only the pure physical sensations of emotions, without getting caught up in the stories about those emotions.
These stories usually have to do with why we feel such and such, whose fault it is etc. Just observing these physical sensations, without giving juice to the stories allow those emotions and physical sensations a way out of your system. You open the door in a way of speaking.
This way you clear the mind of these often unconscious emotions, and you give your system an opportunity to work through the blockages they have caused in the body. What a wonderful and much-needed process!
Tips for practising Yin yoga
- Find your appropriate edge: Move slowly and gently into the pose. Don’t go straight to your “maximum” in the pose and never stretch so far as to cause pain.
- Stillness: consciously try to release into the pose, and to remain still, without fidgeting or shifting position too much.
- Hold the position: start with holding a pose for 1-3 minutes and progress to 5 minutes or more.
So now, roll out your mat and try out some Yin yoga - with hundreds of classes, with different teachers and varying lengths.
If you have any special experience with Yin yoga that you want to share, please comment below.
n.b. This is an updated article, which was originally published in 2014.