What is Yin Yoga?
Yin yoga is a beautifully delicious practice that helps us to heal both our hearts and mind. It allows us time to sit within ourselves, to just be still, to notice what our body and mind are telling us.
It is a form of yoga that is performed to stretch and to target both the deep connective tissues, and the fascia throughout the body. The aim is to increase circulation in the joints and improve flexibility as the poses stretch and exercise the bone and joints areas. It also helps us to regulate the body's flow of energy. The primary areas of focus during a practice include the hips, thighs, shoulders and lower spinal area. This type of asana practice is beneficial to a wide variety of people and feels simply wonderful.
Yin Yang – how they differ
Yin and yang tissues respond quite differently to being exercised. The connective tissue, the yin tissue, responds most effectively to the long steady holds within yin, allowing the stiffness to slowly release. Yin yoga is unique in the sense that your teacher will ask you to relax into your pose, softening your spine, and the muscles and moving closer to the bone. All of which offer a much deeper access into the body. Whereas the muscles are more yang, and as such have greater softness and elasticity so need to be exercised in a more physical and heat building manner.
Yin yoga asks you to hold your poses for anything between three and seven minutes. The time spent in these postures can be lightly compared to time spent in meditation. Your teacher will spend time talking to the students and guiding them through the poses, assisting them in staying within the poses and outlining what they can expect.
‘Use the postures to get into the body. Do not use your body to get into the postures.’
- Bernie Clark
The quote above sums up yin yoga very nicely. In yin we slowly ease ourselves into our poses, and allow the poses to open up our bodies and minds. In hatha practice traditionally we work in the opposite way, in that we use our body to try and work our way deeper into our poses.
This is one of the reasons that this practice is a beautiful way for those of us who have disconnected from our bodies to reconnect in a gentle and compassionate way, learning to really listen to the messages that are there for us to receive when we take the time to tune in and pay attention. Yin provides a fantastic opportunity to calm our nervous systems, in the same way pranayama works, by providing a space for the body to deeply relax, recover, and renourish.
5 Ways Yin Yoga will help you to get a healthy mind and body
1. Yin compliments your practice
After weeks, months or even years of practicing a flow style of yoga it can be hard to believe that you need anything else. Yet yin yoga takes the yoga philosophy to a whole new level. It takes all of the physical benefits of a yoga practice and compliments them by adding in the challenge of remaining still in each pose for significant periods of time. This allows the body time to challenge our mind to play with the edge of our pose (and sometimes our sanity!), to practice determination, focus and to achieve a sense of clarity.
Yin teaches you to slow down, to pay attention and listen to your body. The practice of yin goes hand in hand with practicing mindfulness. Once you start introducing yin yoga into your world, and feel the incredible mental benefits, you will realize that you have only been experiencing half of the benefits available to you in yoga through your yang practice. Yin is the other half to this equation.
2. Sit still and learn to be with yourself
It is an intimate practice of yoga that requires yogis to be ready to get intimate with the self, with their feelings, sensations and emotions, something that can be easily ignored during a faster paced class. Yin yoga is simply delicious, and helps us to still our mind, learn to really accept what is happening in the present moment and focus on how to move forward. This can be particularly hard for many people, especially those of us with monkey minds, but “practice makes perfect”. Yin really brings you much closer to your authentic self.
3. You actually listen to your breath
It is an amazing realization when you learn just how powerful your breathe is, something that we do inactively every single day, yet coming to an understanding that your breath can quite literally calm down your entire nervous system, mind and body in 60 small seconds is quite incredible. Gifts that we can all take away from your yoga mats and apply to our day-to-day lives.
4. Learning to find way to deal with your mind and emotions
This can be one of the biggest challenges for many people – sitting still for long periods of time with the constant noise inside their heads. Yin teaches you that the stillness in and of itself can be exactly what you need to actually quiet the mind. Instead of fighting the stillness, and the urge to fidget constantly, yogis learn to find ways to accept it and allow for the mental and physical growth that follows.
When you are stuck mentally, or when the monkey chatter in your head reaches a peak, this is when you really, really want to leave the pose. By actually paying attention to what is going on, bringing your attention to the sensations of the body, by observing your thoughts and your reactions to your thoughts you can learn so much about yourself. The power to walk away is over whelming, yet yin teaches you that staying still, in this moment, and learning how to deal with whatever comes up one breathe at a time will actually help you to grow. Yin teaches you to find a place of comfort in a not so comfortable position or situation.
5. The shocking realization that your journey of growth occurs through stillness
It may seem counterintuitive to think that seeking stillness, rather than picking up the pace, is the key to becoming a better yogi. However, it is amongst the quiet time that we learn the most. Amid the chaos of our daily lives, yin yoga calms the brain, allowing you to take care of your mind. The part of your body that you use the most if you are anything like me, but probably spend the least amount of time taking good care of.
I spent most of my twenties always looking for the next thing to do, see and experience. I had (and still do) a million thoughts a minute. My mind struggles to sit still. Everything I did, including the way I walked, talked, exercised, ate and slept was rushed. Upon discovering yin I learned to listen to my body, and slow my mind down. To be able to see my thoughts come in and out of my mind, and experience and digest them, instead of having them race through my mind is sheer bliss. I am not fully there yet, but now instead of throwing on my trainers and running as hard as I can down a dirt track to quiet my mind, I make my way to my yoga mat and practice yin yoga.
For me yin is all about finding my edge, and playing with that edge through the use of breath and strength of my determination.
Things to Expect in a Yin Yoga Class
Yin yoga is not comfortable
It is not necessarily meant to be. Your first yin yoga class will ask that you put on your big girl/guy yogi pants and be open minded about a practice that will take you WAY beyond your comfort zone. Many of the wonderful benefits of the practice come from staying in this zone that exists beyond the comfort zone, despite the mind begging you urgently to leave. This is where your yin teacher comes in to guide you through your practice with gentle reminders of why you are there, what you are achieving, how you might be feeling and how to stay strong, focused and determined in your shape.
Yin is practiced in a safe environment
Following on from the recognition that yin yoga is not meant to be comfortable, comes the fact that yin is practiced in a safe environment with an experienced teacher. Your teacher will accompany you through your practice, with engaging comments and information to keep your mind focused, and to stop your body bolting for the door. It allows for a safe place for your mind and body to enter and consequently grow.
Familiar poses: same same but different
You will notice as you attend yin classes that you are familiar with the poses you sit in, however the names differ between your yang and yin practice. This is linked to yoga tradition and is deliberate to show the different benefits from each pose within each style of practice. In yin we practice relaxing the muscles, nothing is forced, everything is a subtle movement. The intention is to deeply reach into the joints and deep tissues around them as opposed to the more superficial muscles and tissues at a lighter level within the body.
As a yin yoga teacher and practitioner, I am familiar with the collective sighs and desperate plea of my yogis to make eye contact with me for permission to leave certain poses early. Namely the pigeon, or swan as we call it in yin. The pose, when held in yin, is in fact one of the deepest hip openers and as such it is probably the most dreaded. As we have a tendency to store our emotions in our hips, we often find that stored up feelings, anxieties, emotions all start to stir when we reach the mind a little bit deeper into our bodies. So be aware that this can happen, that it is a normal part of the practice, and that in fact it means your response to yin is symbolic of significant internal and external personal growth.
Yin opens up a whole new focus within your yoga practice and will help you to grow on a mental and physical level in a way that any other practice cannot compare to. The benefits are enormous, and the sense of having the ability to hit the reset button after each session is just wonderful. Enjoy!
Caroline Layzell is a certified 500-hour yoga instructor, based on the paradise island of Nusa Lembongan, just off Bali, where she is lucky enough to be teaching yoga full time at the Yoga Shack Lembongan. When she is not doing yoga she can be found underwater diving with the beautiful manta rays in Lembongan. Diving is her moving meditation! Caroline came to yoga after a lifetime of marathon training, cross country running, triathlons and short distance races. It helped her to put her body back together after numerous injuries, and it is here that her passion for yoga began. Now she is a self-confessed yoga addict! Join Caroline on Facebook, Instagram or on her website
Images via: @clairezovko