A few things you may not know about yin yoga
1. Let’s slow things down a little
Most of us live in a typically “yang” dominated world: fast paced, an emphasis on achievement, keeping constantly active and being over-stimulated. In chinese philosophy yang stands for action, virility and fire, while yin represents stillness, femininity and water. Two opposing forces. One cannot survive without the other. In the western world we are most familiar with yang forms of yoga such as Bikram, Vinyasa flow or Ashtanga: hot, physical and active. Most people are drawn to these classes as they match their accelerated lives, and believe that the more active the class, the stronger/ fitter/ more toned they’ll become, and that has to be better doesn’t it? Well no, not always. By over exerting and pushing the body repeatedly damage can often be done. Perhaps not seen in the tight, youthful skin of your 20’s and 30’s but definitely a risk for further down the line. Yin takes a more passive and meditative approach, holding poses for 3 to 5 minutes at a time and offering a much deeper access to the body through the connective tissues and fascia.
2. So is it just yoga for lazy people?
Definitely not! What comes easy won’t last and what lasts won’t come easy. And yin yoga is certainly not easy. For starters there is the physical challenge: you are sitting in a posture that is often not very comfortable for up to five minutes. For many people finding stillness in the mind during this time is an even greater challenge, and become quite restless in a pose. Yin yoga confronts both the body and the mind, takes you out of your comfort zone and teaches you “how to find comfort in discomfort”.
3. You are only as young as your spine is flexible
As we grow older our flexibility naturally decreases, particularly in the spine and the hips where our connective tissues become more rigid and hard. Yin yoga stretches your connective tissues, and in the same way a plant soaks up water after the rain, the deep stretching and relaxing of muscles during a yin session makes these tissues more supple and moist. Think of it like giving all the thirsty, dried up connections around your bones and joints a deeply hydrating and rejuvenating drink. And the physical results are that these joints and bones feel more agile and active again. And although yoga is not supposed to be goal focused or competitive, if you hold a secret ambition of wanting to achieve hanumanasana (more commonly know as the splits!) it is much more likely to happen through practising yin yoga.
4. Silence is golden
A yin session is like a soothing tonic for the body and mind. During the practise your breathing naturally becomes deeper, releasing any physical tension and also lowering cortisol levels (known as stress hormones). This has the effect of washing away anxieties weighing us down and bringing a sense of calm to the mind. Practising yin also stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, switching on the “rest-and-digest” mode for our bodies. This slows down the heart rate, the world around you comes to a pause further enhancing a sense of stillness on the mind. All is quiet and peaceful in your head beacuase you are doing nothing, apart from experiencing each pose. On a physical level if you start the class feeling drained, the healing process of blood, nutrients, and energy flowing more freely throughout your body will replenish any lost energy. Better (and cheaper) than any spa weekend!
5. The (yin) yoga glow
Hands up whose favourite yoga pose is Savasana (corpse pose)?! The dreamy afterglow you experience following Savasana is multiplied tenfold when you practice a yin sequence. While you may not feel like you have broken a sweat in the same way you would from a vinyasa or Ashtanga class, the time spent moving through each pose more intensely, expanding your breath to a deeper level and mindfully stretching the vast network of connective tissues leaves you leaves you feeling clearer in the mind and lighter in your body. The light, floaty feeling that wraps itself around you like a fluffy cloud afterwards is worth all the discomfort that you may have undergone opening up all those creaky joints!