Let’s start by defining just what this whole “Yin Yoga” thing is. Yin yoga targets the body’s connective tissues—i.e. our ligaments, tendons, fascia, bones, and even the joints—which are typically not the direct focus of more active styles of yoga. It is a slow and steady kind of practice during which fewer poses are held for longer periods of time than a more typical flow or form yoga class.
If fascia is a foreign word and anatomy isn’t your strong suit, you can think of Yin tissues as plastic versus our more elastic Yang tissues (muscles). When bent too rapidly or repetitively, a piece of plastic will snap. For this same reason, it’s important to apply gentle, constant, and patient pressure in Yin yoga poses. Otherwise, ouch.
So why is Yin yoga important?
As we age, our bodies lose mobility and increase in rigidity. It’s the natural curve of things. Yin is intended to help us reverse that bell curve and regain range of motion (ROM) in our connective tissues. Greater ROM in turn creates space for greater flexibility.
In order to get these physical benefits, however, it’s important to isolate the components of the body we want to be working. Yin yoga is most effective when the muscles are cool and therefore can’t take away from the work of our connective tissues. For this reason, it’s best to do Yin early in the morning before you’ve been moving around too much. This is most definitely not the practice to do right after a workout.
Arguably as important as the physical benefits of Yin are its mental and emotional benefits. Yin on its own forces us to be still. This is something take for granted these days. We’re always running around, focused on getting stuff done. When we pause and breath, we begin to notice what’s going on inside of us and discover what it is we truly need. If you can’t find the time to fit your Yin practice in before the school- or work-day starts, you can still reap the psychological benefits of this calming practice with a few poses before bed. It will help steady your mind, decompress your body, and lull you into most restful slumber.
Convinced it’s worth a try? Here is what you do:
Find a small open space where you have room to stretch out. You don’t need more than that and you don’t even need a yoga mat. If you’d like, you can lay down a mat, towel, or blanket for comfort.
Commit to following the three principles of Yin: (1) come into the pose to your first edge—where you first feel resistance and feedback from your body—without forcing yourself deeper; (2) come to complete stillness in the pose, primarily in the body but ideally in the mind as well; and (3) hold for the intended length of time. If you are just starting out, trying holding for two to three minutes. After a few sessions lengthen your holds to four to five minutes. Over time, in certain poses you can work up to eight, 10, or even 20 minute holds.
Select five or six Yin poses to try based on the parts of your body that feel the most stiff, achy, or tight. A full list of Yin poses are available on this website. I also highly recommend Bernie Clark’s book, “The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga.”
Close your practice with at least five minutes of savasana (dead man’s pose) or seated meditation. Basically, be still, with little to no physical effort, and breath.
Whether Yin works for you or not, take the time to take care of yourself. It is truly one of the most important and compassionate things you can do for yourself and everyone around you. Stress and tension are contagious. Don’t let yourself be a carrier!