What is Yin Yoga and Should I Try It?
Yin yoga, most remarkable for its holding of poses for between three to five minutes, is predominantly done to stretch the connecting tissues and envelope the practitioner in calmness. It’s similar to restorative yoga, although relaxation is not the goal. Based on the principles of yin and yang in Chinese philosophy, yin focuses more on the still, calm, and static in the natural world, where yang has more to do with the vigorous, the changing, and movement. While much of modern western yoga tends to embrace the “yang”, yin yoga (obviously) prefers the yin.
Stretching, long holds, stillness, and relaxation
Meditation while sitting is very yin, and following up with a series of stretches is as well. Joints in the pelvis, hips, and lower spine are all primarily addressed in yin yoga, as is sitting with an uncomfortable pose over time, and the encouragement to stay with something even if we don’t necessarily like it. The poses emphasize stretching and relaxing the muscles and joints over several minutes, differing sharply from yang yoga.
Traditional holds, with a slight twist
Poses within yin yoga are taken from well-known traditional yoga poses, but have been adjusted and then renamed to better suit them. Instead of the pigeon pose, there’s the “sleeping swan,” for example, and the “butterfly” takes the place of the cobbler’s pose.
Developed by teacher Paul Grilley, yin yoga is intended to prepare the body for sitting in long meditations and act as a counterpoint to the more prevalent “yang” yoga styles. In yin yoga, basic, well-aligned poses are better suited than impressively difficult ones, since they are to be held for several minutes.When Grilley was a student of Taoist yoga, he admired his teacher Paulie Zink and adhered to the portion of class encompassed by the Yin poses he was taught. Later, he communicated the processes and benefits to health and wholeness Yin yoga provided and taught them to his students in turn. Grilley explains that, “In general, a yin approach works to promote flexibility in areas often perceived as non-malleable, especially the hips, pelvis and lower spine… connective tissue responds best to a slow, steady load. If you gently stretch connective tissue by holding a yin pose for a long time, the body will respond by making them a little longer and stronger—which is exactly what you want.”
Looking within while stretching in stillness
The concept of stillness is very much appreciated in yin yoga, since holding the poses in stillness is said to “promote the cultivation of inner life.” Enhancing one’s skill at looking within is a strong point of Yin, and according to Kourtney Hartmoyer, who does Yin yoga regularly, “the shapes are simple, perhaps even boring. To the outside world it doesn’t look too interesting. However dull from an outside view, what I have found is that the quiet stillness of Yin allows me to better observe the inner self a bit more clearly. It magnifies everything. That is where I find the magic.”Kourtney further describes it as, “Yin yoga is a deeply restorative, nurturing and healing practice. I think of it as the chicken soup of yoga.”
Trance-like deep states of relaxation
Deeper states of relaxation come with the territory as well. Joanna Barrett, another Yin lover, explains that you’ll need time to allow your body to adjust to each pose, your breathing to deepen, and the depths of relaxation into a trance-like state in utter stillness. She explains that her Yin time assists her, helping her “to sit with sensation, moving toward or into deeper states of relaxation.”
Greater receptivity and patience in a bustling whirlwind of a world
Yin also helps practitioners to develop greater patience and receptivity. In today’s bustling, rushed lifestyles, a calm receptiveness to one’s surroundings is rare, almost unheard of. And a feeling of relief, release, flexibility and ease come with the territory as well.
Mental and emotional benefits
While helping to promote restful sleep at night, Paul Grilley adds that Yin is nurturing to the body physically, mentally, and emotionally as well, since the joints and muscles are gently manipulated and held with such care to promote their well-being. Kourtney Hartmoyer writes that, “Yin yoga is a deeply restorative, nurturing and healing practice. I think of it as the chicken soup of yoga.” Maybe we could all benefit from a little stillness and chicken soup yoga in today’s busy world!