Have you ever heard of Yin and Yang? The two opposites.
They also apply to yoga.
In this post, we’re going to focus on the benefits of Yin Yoga, but to understand Yin, we first have to talk about Yang yoga.
Moving Yoga Practice
There are many styles of yoga, like Hot Yoga, Power Vinyasa Yoga, and Ashtanga Yoga. This shortlist refers to only several of the many moving yoga practices.
With these variations of yoga, you typically move through asanas (yoga postures) guided by breath. If we were to categorize these moving practices, we could classify them as Yang Yoga Practices.
Above means that you are generating energy, strength, and muscle engagement as you move from pose to pose. The intention is to bring heat and movement to the body resulting in flexibility, agility, grace, and control.
We Are Moving Beings
When someone begins a yoga practice, one can expect a moving to help make shifts and changes in the physical body.
Over time, one experiences more energy due to the improved breath and oxygen flow. You also encounter more flexibility in tight areas of your body for better movement and overall functionality.
We are moving beings: walking, running, jumping. That is the outline of how we live and move in our everyday lives.
Yoga allows the physical body to remain active, hopefully for the rest of our natural lives.
What is Yin Yoga
There is another yoga style that can also offer increased mobility, release, and healing. This practice is called Yin Yoga.
It can be considered a subtle yoga practice and viewed as an opposite approach to the moving practices: Yang Yoga.
In Yin Yoga, rather than moving the physical body consistently through asanas in a class, you remain in stillness, holding yoga postures.
The idea is to disengage active muscles. One completely relaxes the body for more profound healing and release.
You can say that this style of yoga is not necessarily opposed to Yang-style classes, but rather complementary. You may have heard of Yin & Yang: the idea and concept of dualism. It is the phenomenon that seemingly opposite forces are interconnected, related, and work in a complementary fashion in the world.
Yin Yoga offers that balance to our Yang-style yoga practices and lifestyle.
In Yang-style yoga classes, as mentioned, you are moving your body, which requires muscle contraction and engagement. The benefits of Yin Yoga take place when the body is inactive.
What happens to the body when you completely relax?
It’s All Connected
First, it is worth noting that your body is made up of fascial and other connective tissues (i.e., tendons, ligaments, joints). The fascia in the body can be described as a “webbing” throughout your entire system.
Essentially, it is what holds you together. Fascia is tightly packed collagen fibers that are patterned in a way to provide multidirectional movement in your body.
Due to its durable, fibrous nature, it also protects the body when it is physically challenged. And although it is durable, fascia is also flexible; it allows you to “bounce back” when there are strenuous demands put upon the system.
When you have an injury, this can shift the structure of these connective tissues, especially the fascia. A strained shoulder, for example, may create tears in the fascial system, limiting the mobility of the joint even after the shoulder has healed.
When the injury is recovering, scar tissue forms, which decreases the volume of the fascial tissue in that region. It binds and tightens so that movement may become an issue. The range of motion is limited in the joints, ligaments, and tendons.
Because an area, like the shoulder, is continuously in motion, it would be difficult for it to rest fully for complete mobility to return. The movement continues to put a strain on the previously injured limb.
To release the bound up fascial tissue, it would take invasive measures, like surgery, physical manipulation, like deep tissue massage, or something much less invasive, like Yin Yoga.
Stillness Helps You Move
Yin Yoga is growing in popularity and is showing up in more yoga studios.
Although new in the modern yoga studio, it is an ancient concept and practice. The first mention of this concept found in older texts, like in Hatha Yoga Pradipika.
It only referred to about sixteen postures that were practiced.
It seems quite minimal due to the vast array of yoga postures that are practiced in Yang-style classes today.
In Yin Yoga, though, the set of postures practiced was intentionally limited. The goal of a Yin Yoga practice is to create a soft, slow, meditative mental and physical state for more significant inner healing.
It provides an essential balance to all the movement work that is done in Yang-style yoga practices like Vinyasa Yoga.
The body needs stillness and the disengagement of muscles for tight regions of your body to heal fully.
What Happens In Yin Yoga?
In a Yin Yoga class, the practitioner is guided into specific poses that are held for long periods – up to 12 minutes.
The body is in complete repose, often with the support of yoga props (i.e., blankets, bolsters, sandbags, blocks, etc.)
It allows for the yogi to relax entirely and hold the posture so the healing process can take place.
The supported postures are to ensure that you are entirely relaxed, void of any muscle engagement, which causes the physiological response of eliminating tension in the body.
One can target specific areas, like the shoulders, knees, hips, and back, to experience the muscle and fascial releases.
In these holding positions, you enter a meditative state as the posture takes you physically deeper into its fibers and connectivity.
Yin Yoga is a much deeper practice than Yang-style yoga practices. In these passive positions, the muscles ultimately soften, and the fascial webbing can begin to return to its natural state.
An example of a Yin Yoga Posture is Pigeon Pose.
In this lunge-like position, one leg is bent at an angle on the floor in front of you. The other leg is extended straight behind you. Your upper body lies over the bent leg.
Blankets, pillows, bolsters, and blocks, for example, can be used to support the body (i.e., under your hips, under your torso, under your head) so that the body can completely relax in this position.
Due to the posture, sensation may arise in the outer hip, inner thigh, and glutes of the leg that is bent in front of you. The extended leg can experience release in the hip flexor region.
Gentle pressure is applied when you lay your torso over the limb, which becomes the working of the pose.
In Yin, you will hold this posture for 7 to 12 minutes; this amount of time is essential for the muscles to soften and the fascia and other connective tissues to unbind.
At first, the pose will feel uncomfortable; even though you’re in a relaxed position, you may experience more sensation. However, the longer you hold the pose and able to get “over the hump” of heightened feeling, the yoga is working its wonders; healing is happening.
The Breath & Yin Yoga
Breath is also key to this type of practice.
Intentional, slow, deep breathing will keep the body and mind calm and relaxed while you continue to hold the posture, especially as you move through the heightened sensations.
Further, the breath oxygenates the worked areas. As these tight spaces open up, blood circulation also improves.
Not only is the physical body benefiting from the held posture, but Yin Yoga also affects the emotional body. Because you are in a deep state of meditation while maintaining a Yin posture, this, too, softens the mind.
This state can lead to a decrease in stress and anxiety – other sources of tension that builds up in the body.
On a metaphysical level, Yin Yoga is attributed to creating a whole new sense of being. As these tensions and inner obstacles disappear, what is revealed is your true Self.
The Benefits of Practicing Yin Yoga
Yin Yoga fits into the overall philosophy of yoga; to create freedom of mind, body, and spirit to gain access and connection to the Divine.
If the physical body is suffering from blockages due to shallow breathing, limited movement, or mental stress, we limit our potential and the goal of reaching enlightenment.
The practice of Yin Yoga fits into the tapestry of the intention of yoga. It offers an opportunity for the physical and emotional body to be relieved from binds, stress, and other limitations.
The result of a consistent Yin Yoga Practice is an overall balance to your body and mind.
Physically, you have offered your system the opportunity to release bond up areas and induce healing to previously injured parts of your body.
You will experience greater mobility, flexibility, and agility. You will see an improvement in your range of motion when running or throwing a baseball.
Everyday functions like sitting, standing, and walking all will feel more natural.
Mindfully, you will gain an increased sense of ease and calm. Tension and stress will dissipate from the inner sections of your mind.
Blood and oxygen flow are also much improved with Yin Yoga. If you want to experience this type of balance in your life, add a Yin Yoga practice to your regimen, and watch your yoga journey expand.