Introduction to Yin Yoga
Yin yoga is a unique practice that works to improve the health of our joints while cultivating stillness in our minds. Unlike cardiovascular exercises that focus on 'powering through' for the benefit of working your muscles and heart, yin yoga works in an opposite, still and calming way, to nurture the actual physical connections within the body.
The yin yoga practice consists of various poses that are usually mat based and target connective tissues such as ligaments, tendons and fascia by the application of moderate stress (or pressure) which is then held for several minutes. Anatomically, the targeted tissues are usually in the regions of the hips, pelvis, inner thighs and the lower spine.
Yin vs Yang
These physical areas targeted in yin yoga are not often exercised by the more active, ‘yang style’ movements (such as running or power yoga) so yin yoga can be very complimentary to those who usually practice them. The higher energy ‘yang type’ practices can also result in inflammation of the deep fascia tissue caused by repetitive movements which can cause pain and stiffness that the long-held ‘yin stretches’ can help release.
It’s important to understand that there isn’t specific dedicated yin or yang poses per se, what matters is how the poses are practised. For example, a wide legged forward fold (dragonfly) practised the yang way would mean continuous engagement of the inner thigh muscles and using the exhale breath to lower the belly closer towards the ground in a continuous motion. The same pose practised the yin way would mean setting the body up in to the shape where it feels most appropriate for the individual and staying there. The shape should usually be towards the edge of someones safe range of movement – where there is no pain but a mere sensation of expansion. It won’t be an entirely comfortable experience but one that the person can sit still with for several minutes. Encompassing the physical body this way creates a sense of calmness in the mind and allows for plenty of space to practice mindful meditation or just self-reflection. This is probably why a sense of ease and lightness usually follows my own yin yoga practices and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Benefits of Practising Yin Yoga
In addition to improved joint and mental health, there are many other tangible benefits to practising yin yoga and physiologically some of the most significant ones are improved circulation around the targeted area and stimulation of the bodies’ meridian lines (or energy pathways) that originate from the principles of traditional Chinese medicine. Although all kinds of movements stimulate these meridians, yin yoga can be especially effective because the poses are held longer which gives the life force (also referred to as prana) in our bodies a chance to expand for longer too. This should result in a more balanced distribution of energy and by association, increased healing and vitality.
Practicing Yin Yoga at Home
Yin yoga can be wonderful to practice at home because it doesn’t require much energy or a lot of time. The below five poses work to engage all of the major meridians and don’t require any special set up. If this is your first time practicing yin yoga, I would recommend setting a two minute timer to hold each pose (or each side) and gradually with practice, you will be able to build up the time and stay for longer (for up to eight minutes a pose). It’s important that you stay tuned into your body and listen to its limitations, easing off on intensity or coming out of the poses sooner if it feels appropriate. Take your time with both, coming in and out of the poses and move in a way that feels most natural as you do so. With all that being said, enjoy the practice and allow it to work it’s wonders on you with an open (and alert) mind.
To begin, just set yourself up on a flat surface and don’t forget to alternate sides for the two poses where one leg comes forward at a time. Once finished, take a couple of minutes to lie down flat on your back to allow the body to recalibrate.
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“Within you, there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at anytime and be yourself” Hermann Hesse