By Sarah Henderson, Summersalt Yoga teacher
Yin yoga is a very slow, passive yoga practice, that increases the range of motion in your joints, and cultivates mindfulness and emotional well-being. Yin poses were designed to prepare the body and mind for deeper and longer periods of seated meditation. If you’ve thought about beginning a meditation practice, Yin is a nice introduction and will give you a taste of the benefits of meditation.
The benefits of practicing Yin yoga can be felt in your body, your mind, and your heart. After practicing Yin you may experience reduced anxiety and stress, greater balance and connection between your mind and body, and increased flexibility and mobility in your joints. Consider Yin yoga as a complement to the “yang” aspects of your life – vigorous exercise, Vinyasa yoga, or a hectic and busy day.
Yin is considered a cooling practice and works to actively stress and strengthen the connective tissues (tendons, ligaments, fascia) in and around your joints. These tissues are known as your “Yin” tissues.
Why would you want to stress your Yin tissues?
The fibres that make up your ligaments, tendons, and fascia in and around your joints can become “wrinkled” over time, leading to decreased mobility and range of motion in your joints. We want to smooth out these tissues, ironing out the “wrinkles”, making them thicker and stronger. Yin tissues are not elastic like your muscles; they are plastic, and can only safely stretch 4-11% of their length. We need a slow, deliberate, supported physical practice to safely stress and strengthen the fibres making up the Yin tissues. Yin yoga poses provide safe, effective, and gentle pressures to the plastic tissues of your body.
So how do we “stress” these tissues?
We physically access the Yin tissues by supporting the skeletal body with props, which keeps your muscles inactive. Every time you move, your muscles contract or lengthen. You need to keep your body supported so your muscles are not active during a pose, so your Yin tissues can absorb the “stress” of the pose.
What should you expect during a Yin yoga practice?
Yin poses are and held for significantly longer than in other forms of yoga – typically 1-5 minutes, with some poses being held up to 15 minutes.
- You will first move into a pose, finding your first edge – an appropriate point of resistance in your body. How will you know where that is? Listen to your body and your breath – they will let you know. Your breath should stay smooth, natural and even. If it becomes short, forced or unnatural, you are too deep in the pose.
- Check in with yourself – are you feeling anything resembling pain, electrical feelings, numbness, or tingling? If you are, back out of the pose immediately. You can expect to feel discomfort while holding a pose, but should never feel any resemblance of pain, or continue to stay in a pose while feeling pain.
- Support your body with props. You want to make sure that your muscles aren’t engaged for a long period of time in an effort to support your skeleton. As you can imagine, if you tried holding a pose for 10 minutes without anything to rest on, your muscles would be burning!
- Resist the urge to fidget. Once you’ve found an appropriate depth in your body, allow your muscles to become inactive. Remember that to access and stress the yin tissues you need to keep your muscles still. Relax and let your body sink deeply into your props and your mat.
- While holding the pose you may feel all sorts of sensations: impatience, boredom, calm, or contentment, to name a few. Don’t judge your feelings – simply be aware of them. Stay present during your practice, and mindful of what you’re feeling for the duration of each pose.
- If your mind is wandering, bring your attention to your breathing. As your body becomes still, so will your breath, and as your breath becomes still and quiet, so will your mind.
With continued practice, you can expect to feel positive changes in your body, mind, and heart. Because Yin yoga demands your attention to your breath, emotions, and the sensations you’re feeling in your body, the practice cultivates self-awareness and a strong mind-body-heart connection.
While holding each pose, you will have time to feel all your emotions as they arise, and you’ll learn to sit and breathe through them. The slow, steady, rhythmic breathing activates your parasympathetic nervous system, fostering feelings of peace and calm. You may notice improved sleep quality, reduced stress and anxiety, and increased emotional well-being. Physically, you may begin to notice an improved range of motion in your hips, pelvis, and spine, and overall increased mobility and flexibility within your body.
There are also energetic benefits to practicing Yin yoga – a subject of its own that I will have to detail in another post!
If you’re curious about the physical, emotional, and mental benefits of Yin yoga, or if you’ve been considering starting a meditation practice but don’t know where to start, give yin yoga a try!
Start or deepen your yin yoga practice with these resources:
Clark, Bernie. (2012). The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga – The Philosophy & Practice of Yin Yoga, White Cloud Press, Ashland, OR.
Yin Yoga 50 Hour Teacher Training & Intensive course notes. Bernie Clark & Diana Batts, Semperviva Yoga, Vancouver, BC.