What is YIN Yoga?
As I continue to deepen my practice as a yoga/meditation instructor and practitioner, I have come to the realization that naturally I posses a lot of Yang energy. I can rarely sit long enough to watch a film without simultaneously conducting another task, mildly panic when I feel as though I am not being productive with my time and constantly urge to multitask even though I am aware of my tendency to get mixed up. The longer I teach and connect with my students, fellow teachers and mentors, the more I realize that not only am I NOT ALONE in this, but that the majority of us could use a little YIN in our lives. This is ultimately what drew me to take my Yin yoga teacher training with Soul Fire Power Yoga in St. Catharines, Ontario, and then my Meditation Teacher training with Hoame Meditation Studio in Toronto, Ontario, shortly after. Essentially, I haven't discovered a type of person unsuited to practice Yin Yoga... Yin Yoga is for EVERYBODY.
There are many profound benefits to Yin Yoga, including reduced stress and anxiety, increased circulation and flexibility, improvement in the release of fascia and joint mobility and increased flow of chi or prana (life force) through the body. *We often hear the word Prana in Yoga to refer to energy or life force flowing through the body; as the concept of Yin and Yang derives from Chinese medicine, we use the Chinese word chi to describe this force moving through the meridians in the body when we practice Yin Yoga.
Yin Yoga is a slower moving, more meditative style of yoga where postures are held for about three to five minutes. Postures in YIN Yoga are typically lower to the ground and focus on the gentle contraction of the harder/inner parts and tissues of the body; our connective tissue, the joints and ligaments. This is different from our commonly known "yang" styles of yoga such as Ashtanga or Vinyassa that aim to strengthen and stretch the softer/outer parts of the body; our muscles. Yin Yoga aids in engaging our relaxation response, offers moments of reflection and has shown to aid tremendously in levels of stress and anxiety.
Understanding Yin and Yang
It is impossible to understand Yin without understanding Yang, as one simply cannot exist without the other. We all posses both Yin and Yang energy and neither is good or bad. The concept of Yin and Yang derives from Chinese medicine where the two forces work to make up all of life's phenomena. We can think of Yin as the cooler, harder and introspective aspects of things or us, where Yang can be used to describe the warmer, bright and active qualities of ourselves or things. For example, the moon is Yin and the sun is Yang. Our teeth in our mouth are Yin compared to our lips because they are harder and inside our mouth as opposed to soft tissue on the surface of our face like our lips. Activities that increase our heart rate and make us sweat such as running, boxing or power yoga are considered Yang, where meditation, restorative (and of course Yin) yoga are considered Yin activities.
How is YIN Yoga different from other styles of Yoga?
In Yin Yoga, postures are held for about three to five minutes. This is because this practice targets our cooler, inner and harder parts of the body and this is how long it takes to soften past the muscular layer of the body, and cause gentle contraction of these parts in the area of the body targeted by the yoga asana (posture). Specifically, this practice targets the connective tissue in the body; an inner web that holds our organs together, they wrap around our bones and connect bone to bone, as well as muscle to bone. Yin Yoga can help us to keep these tissues healthy so that we can keep our joints healthy. These tissues cannot be stretched by Yang activity, but rather require gentle and consistent stress, held for a longer duration of time, with relaxed muscles. This gives the student the opportunity to closely monitor the amount of stress applied in each posture. The founder of Yin Yoga as we know it today, Paul Grilley, uses the concept of dental braces to describe this process. In order to shift the teeth in the mouth, it would be paradoxical to grab the teeth and wiggle them around vigorously to get them to move. However, with the gentle, constant pressure applied to the mouth around the teeth, slowly over time we begin to see the teeth move. As we are unable to access these deep tissues during Yang forms of exercise, students often experience a deep release of built up physical tensions in the body when they practice Yin Yoga. This makes Yin Yoga an excellent compliment to more vigorous forms of exercise and especially helpful for athletes in intensive training programs.
Mentally & Emotionally
As the student experiences more time in each posture during Yin Yoga, there is time to turn inside for a deeply introspective experience. You also have more time to notice the physical changes happening in your body. There is more time for the student to take their awareness into the stressed area of the body. As the practice is normally guided, it is an educative and self-reflective practice that offers a safe space for the student to become more introspective of their body. Many people have a static or fixed view of their body; that is difficult or impossible to change. Emotionally it can be very moving to feel the body go through physical changes in this case. As the yogis believe that we store emotional tensions and trauma in the body (especially in our hips), it is not uncommon for students to experience an emotional release in Yin Yoga along with the physical release of tension in the body. Time in each posture presents the student with the opportunity to face the thoughts of their mind and make a decision to let them go rather than run away or bury them. There is a sense of well-being when you come out of a Yin posture and this has much to do with the release of blockages in the energetic meridians of the body which allow chi (life force) to flow more effortlessly throughout our system.
What to expect in a YIN Yoga class
There are three principles of Yin Yoga that help to describe what a typical class will look like.
1. Finding Your Edge:
When guided into a Yin posture, you want to come to your "edge". This is a place in the posture where you are able to experience sensation WITHOUT PAIN. Even if you feel like you can push yourself a little bit further, working at your edge will allow your muscles to soften enough to move past this soft layer to your harder, inner tissues. The point is not to be at your most intense stretch.
2. Become Still:
Let go of finding your idea of "the perfect posture". Soften the muscles and turn your attention inwards (to sensation, to breath, to thoughts, anything present for you!).
3. Stay A While:
Typically you will stay in your posture for about three to five minutes before being guided out of the posture and into the next. When it begins to feel (manageably) uncomfortable, acknowledge this as the work and see if you can stick with it.
What to Bring to a YIN Yoga Class
It is possible to do Yin Yoga with nothing but your yoga mat or a surface to practice on, however, as students sit in their postures for longer in a Yin Yoga Class, many find the assistance of props to be quite helpful. Props common in a Yin Yoga Class are yoga blocks (thick books work too), a thick blanket, comfortable clothing, a bolster or large pillow, a yoga strap (or a belt or scarf), and a weighted or scented eye pillow. Non of these props are entirely necessary but can work to provide additional comfort and support to students in various postures where necessary.
The Modern World is Very Yang
The world around us as we know it today is very Yang. As we continue striving to constantly do more, work harder and at a faster pace, it becomes increasingly difficult to unwind and cultivate our Yin energy. Ultimately we need both Yin and Yang energy to feel a sense of equilibrium in both mind and body and thus, Yin activities and practices are important for restoring this sense of balance in our lives.
Practice Yin Yoga with Me
For more information on my weekly offerings, private sessions and YIN Yoga Classes please visit my website: www.yogabyabbey.com
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