Imagine if you could loosen up all of the tight places in your body, remove energy blockages in your meridian system and learn how to cultivate mindfulness, self-compassion, and serenity all in one practice?
This, my friends, is why I LOVE teaching and practising yin yoga – it may appear deceptively simple on the surface, but it is in fact a rich, multi-layered and deep practice for body, mind and heart….and the insights and wisdom gained on your mat can start to carry over into your everyday life.
But first, let me explain it in a nutshell: unlike the popular forms of dynamic yoga (where you move rather quickly through a sequence of poses) and which work mainly on the muscles to develop stamina, strength and fitness, yin yoga is comprised of fewer poses, held for longer (usually between 2 and 10 minutes) with slow pacing and transitions.
It also works different areas of the body: in particular the densely-knit fascia, tendons and ligaments of the hips, back and legs which enables a deep release of tension and improved circulation and flexibility.
The deliberate, slow pacing and long holds also make it an ideal segue into turning the attention within and cultivating patience, stillness and mindfulness.
Balancing Yin & Yang in Yoga
The ancient Chinese concept of yin and yang relates to the notion that within two opposing forces, there is interdependence, connectivity and balance. Certain styles of yoga have been classified as either yin or yang within the yoga community to describe their inherent qualities.
Yang qualities include activity, dynamism, masculinity and heat. Yang style yoga practices are so-called because they are active, sweat-inducing, heat-building, dynamic and repetitive. They generally consist of the contraction and tensing of the muscles and are self-supported. Examples of this style of practice would be Ashtanga, Vinyasa and Bikram yoga. Most other types of exercises and sports are also yang in nature.
Yin qualities include femininity, stillness, receptivity, pliancy and coolness. Yin yoga is more passive, inwardly oriented and cooling. Rather than tension, contraction and building strength, the focus is on releasing. Rather than stress (or loading) being applied to muscles, it is applied to joints and fascia, and the poses are supported by the floor.
Like two halves in a whole, yin and yang styles of yoga or movement are complementary and equally important.
Regardless of whether you practice more yang forms of yoga or not, given that we live in a very yang-oriented culture, I believe all of us need to bring a bit more yin into our lives. Our culture is very much based on busy-ness, rushing, striving to succeed and chasing after external goals…this imbalanced way of life can give rise to problems associated with excess yang energy: anger, aggression, irritability, frustration and stress. A regular yin practice may well prove to be somewhat of an antidote to modern day life, and provide a space for you to turn within and allow yourself simply to be, without having to do or accomplish anything.
Wanna try a class for yourself? Download a free 60 minute video class HERE!
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) supposes that our bodies are powered by a vital energy force called chi (or qi) that travels in currents through energetic pathways known as meridians that are associated with specific organs. Health, generally speaking, is experienced when chi is abundant, balanced between yin and yang and flowing freely through the body. Problems occur when excess or depletion arises and meridians can become blocked with stagnant energy – popular therapies such as acupuncture and acupressure work to remove these blockages.
What is interesting about yin yoga is that it may also work to release meridian blockages – more so than other forms of yoga – for two reasons.
Firstly, yin works predominantly on our connective tissue known as fascia. Fascia is an interesting tissue found all through our body that literally holds EVERYTHING in place. But strangely, though it is the architectural structure of our body, it is also a fluid system – the juicier it is, the juicier we feel.
Only recently discovered, fascia is also a rich electrical and sensory system, in fact it is one of the richest sensory organs we have, with between 6-10 times higher quantity of sensory nerve receptors than muscles and it may even be equal to or superior to the retina in terms of sense receptors, which up until now has been considered the richest human sensory organ. What has this to do with chi and meridians?
In TCM, chi has also been described as being connected to all parts of the body as well as being fluid and electrical in nature. It has therefore been theoretically supposed that while fascia may not be the meridians per se, they could be intricately connected to them due to their chi-like fluidic and electrical properties.
Secondly, all of the meridians at some point flow down through the back and legs and fascia too, is most dense in these areas. And while any yoga style could have an effect on the meridians to a degree, yin yoga is predominantly comprised of poses that work on the lower back, hips and legs. As the poses open up kinks in the fascia and allow more fluid and electrical energy in, it has been supposed that it may also be helping chi to flow more freely through the body, which can improve organ function and general health.
Try it for yourself! Download my free 60 min Yin Yoga Video HERE 🙂
Yin Yoga Makes Your Body FEEL Good
If you’re finding all this talk of energy and meridians a bit woo-woo, never mind, stretching your fascia with yin yoga has purely physical benefits too. You know when you sit on a plane or at a desk too long and you feel all crunched up and sore? It’s not your muscles holding tension, but your fascia.
Like-wise when you get a massage and your therapist finds those big knots to work on. When fascia is not hydrated or moved enough it gets stiff and sticky forming “adhesions”, and because fascia is one big interconnected sheath, an adhesion in just one area can pull the whole sheath out of whack – making you feel uncomfortable, tight and achy. Loosening up the fascia with yin yoga will help you feel that sense of ease, freedom and lightness in the body, just like after a good massage.
Yin Yoga Calms The Mind
The slow, long hold poses of yin yoga mean that, well, you are not really doing too much! This is a good thing, because it helps us to tap into a state of being rather than doing. You begin to turn the attention inside and notice what’s going on in mind, body and breath.
Also, the poses, while not difficult, can certainly be deeply intense. This intensity of sensation allows you to examine your reactions when you find yourself at the edge of your comfort zone. Do you resist or fight against it? Or are you able to surrender, accept and meet yourself with a sense of compassion? With practice, it becomes the latter, and the cultivation of these qualities is what begins to transform your life off the mat as well.