Slow and steady.
That’s the idea behind yin yoga: a yin class typically consists of fewer poses held for a longer amount of time, allowing the stretch to reach to all those nooks and crannies in your body that sometimes feel a little neglected.
For some, yin is delightful—a chance to enjoy a deep, satisfying stretch. For others, it’s harder than the most energetic power yoga class. Holding still and feeling deep sensations for extended periods of time isn’t as easy as it looks. Most people could benefit from the balance that yin provides. Read on for a crash course in yin yoga.
Meet Yin and Yang
They say that yin and yang are like two sides of a coin: though different, one cannot exist without the other. To simplify an incredibly rich and intricate concept, yin and yang are two dynamic sides that, together, create a balance. Think darkness (yin) and light (yang); feminine (yin) and masculine (yang); even (yin) and odd (yang). Each side needs the other to exist.
To apply this concept to yoga, there are yin tissues and yin practices, and there are yang tissues and yang practices. A power class, hot class, or flow class would be considered a yang practice. A well-rounded lifestyle needs a balance, so a yin practice targeting yin tissues would balance out a yang practice, which targets yang tissues like muscles. More on the specific yin tissues later.
The Principles of Yin
So we know that yin isn’t a high energy, fast-paced yoga practice. Then what, exactly, is it?
There are three basic principles to a yin practice; the first is to come into the pose to an appropriate depth. This means knowing your limits, and understanding how to both expand them and respect them. It’s about accepting and working with your body, not pushing it to the point of pain.
The second is to resolve to remain still—often easier said than done!
The third is to hold the pose for time. One defining aspect of yin yoga is that the poses are held for much longer than in yang practices. Some yin practices involve holds up to twenty minutes! Why hold poses for that long? Well, to help you…
Yin is all about stimulating deeper muscular tissues, likes ligaments, joints and bones. Longer holds mean that the stretch goes beyond the superficial muscles, and often ignored bits and pieces finally get some attention, like connective tissues in the lower spine, pelvis and hips.
Many people think that yin yoga is easy. True, you might not be practising more “yang” asanas like standing balances, but that doesn’t mean that the yin practice comes without challenge. The aspect that people often find a little tricky is the amount of time that the poses are held. To get to those hard-to-reach places, the asanas are held for long periods of time: five minutes or more per pose is not uncommon.
While your mind might try to wander at first, you’ll soon realize that something interesting is happening: over the time you’re holding your pose, you’ll experience subtle changes in your body. What wasn’t possible a minute or two ago might be more accessible now. What felt incredibly awkward at the start of the pose might transform into a deep, satisfying stretch. Once you realize the benefits that come from holding a pose for a longer amount of time, you’ll find it easier to rest your mind and let your breathing do the work.
Get Ready to Get Intimate
There’s not much to hide behind in a yin yoga class. Physically, you’ll learn to accept and work with your body’s abilities, limitations and possibilities. Mentally, you won’t have many distractions. During the day, we often preoccupy ourselves to push away sensations, emotions or feelings. In a yin practice, there are no more distractions. You finally have the opportunity to face the music.
For that reason, yin yoga is a great tool for working through non-physical obstacles in your life. It’s a great option for people in recovery, dealing with mental illnesses or anxiety, or working through trauma.
Anyone Can Yin
Barring any injuries that might get in the way, just about everyone can participate in a yin yoga class. All you need is a mat, some patience, and perhaps a block or two to help modify the poses.
What will you get from yin? A good stretch, to be sure. Some people feel that a good yin class is even better than a massage. You’ll also get the chance to rest your mind. Once you’ve learned to quiet your mind in those long holds, everything will start to feel quiet and peaceful. It’s not unlike the feeling right before you fall asleep—almost dreamlike, like you’re floating through outer space.