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What is Yin Yoga?

December 14, 2015

yoga, restore, relax, meditate, zen, health, well-beingThere are so many different types of yoga, hot, vinyasa, restorative, hatha, power, raja, ashtanga…. enough to make your head spin. And for anyone who wants to start a yoga practice, the different types and styles of yoga can be overwhelming.  It can also cause one to not like yoga, I hear people say, “Oh I tried yoga once and didn’t like it.”  Well, in reality it could be the type or style was what the person didn’t like, maybe a different style would have resonated with the person.

This post is about one very specific type of yoga — YIN YOGA.  When you think of “YIN” you might think of Chinese or Asian — which would be partly correct. Yin is most commonly known in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Among other things, yin sometimes means cooling or calming. And yes, this is partly what Yin Yoga is about. It’s a cooling, calming practice.

What is Yin Yoga? Well, in a nutshell it is a practice that targets the connective tissue – i.e the ligaments, bones and the joints in the body that are normally NOT EXERCISED in the more active yoga styles. In fact Yin Yoga complements the more dynamic styles of yoga (such as ashtanga, hot and vinyasa). For those that are into the more active styles of yoga, Yin Yoga may seem boring or too passive — however, don’t be fooled by the fact that you are not moving dynamically within the practice. It can be quite challenging. Some of my students, who have practiced vinyasa or power yoga for years, have told me Yin Yoga was the hardest practice they have ever done. Usually for these students it is the emotional and mental part of the practice they find challenging.

In Yin Yoga, you come into a gentle pose — such as Childs Pose — but instead of being in the pose for say 20-40 seconds – you stay in the pose for 3 – 5 minutes. You might me asking, “What’s the point?” A short anatomy explanation is in order… I’l make this easy to understand.  The muscles are our first line of defense prior to injury. In a dynamic yoga practice such as power, vinyasa or ashatanga you are definately working the muscles. However, because of the dynamic nature you are not working the ligaments – in fact you can’t work the ligaments because it would cause injury. You would have to push too far to get to the ligament. The muscle is your first line of defense, the muscle would tear in order for you to get into the ligament. This is because your muscles are dynamic – there is tension placed on the muscle.

Here’s an example, show me your bicep, take one of your arms, make a fist, bend the elbow and show me the best and biggest bicep you can!  Hold the pose — when you do this the muscle is tense. When the muscle is tense can you increase your flexibility?  Absolutely not, it’s impossible to gain flexibility with your muscle tense.  In power, vinyasa, ashtanga or other dynamic yoga styles you are tensing the muscles — which is really great for building strength… not so good for flexibility.  Yin Yoga to the rescue!  In Yin Yoga the muscles are passive — they are relaxed — and guess what — the muscle learns to surrender and when it completely relaxes the pose gets into the ligament. Why is this important?  Ever seen a body builder who only works the muscle and doesn’t stretch? Ya, we have probably seen this, they find it really difficult to move freely and they might have big muscles, but they can’t touch their toes.

One of the main purposes for practicing Yin Yoga is to increase the range of motion, to increase flexibility, to work the ligaments and get into the actual joints. Yin Yoga can be a powerful practice. The secret to the practice is to remain relaxed at all times.  When practicing and holding the pose for long periods of time you may find the pose becoming intense. When this happens you will need to back off, the edge within the pose will change. Remember, your muscles are your first line of defense — they will tense up when they think the body is in danger. Therefore, the secret to this practice is to keep the muscles relaxed at all times.

Yin Yoga is great for all levels. For those just getting started you will gain a great deal of flexibility in a short period of time. This is a great practice for those suffering from back pain as well as sciatica. It also is a great practice for learning how to calm the mind. Because you are holding gentle poses for 3-5 minutes each pose becomes a mini meditation.

Want to try Yin Yoga? I offer a 4-part Yin Yoga series, visit my Online Studio for more information.

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