I started a yoga teacher training program in October. At our first meeting, our instructor asked us if there were only one yoga practice that we could do until the end of time what would it be? It was a pretty easy answer for me – Yin Yoga. This is my current yoga addiction, I’m sure I will have new yoga passions in the future but at this point in time I am in love with Yin Yoga!
Much of the yoga that we practice in North America is a Yang in nature. It is active, creates heat in the body, and engages muscle strength. By contrast, Yin Yoga is slow and steady with a sense of calm and surrender. This is not to say it is easy. If you have ever tried a Yin Yoga class, you will understand this is an entirely different type of challenge. Poses are held for a long period of time (usually at least four minutes) to target deep ligaments and connective tissues and most of the practice is done on the ground (very few standing poses). Check out Suzanne’s article for an introduction to Yin Yoga.
In her book, Insight Yoga, Sarah Powers discusses the three main principles in Yin postures. These principles help you come into each yoga pose in a safe and nurturing manner. Although we often practice the same poses in Yin as in other types of (more Yang) yoga practices, the mindset with which you come into the pose differentiates the style and its intended effects.
1. Come to Your Appropriate Edge
The intention with this principle is to make sure that when you come into postures you do so with respect for your body, in a nonaggressive and sensitive way. Pay attention to your breath and allow it to guide you – not too deep because if there is great intensity at the beginning this will hinder the flow of Chi(energy) and you will not be able to hold the shape for any length of time. At the same time, you also do want to make sure that you exert a certain amount of tension(discomfort is okay, pain indicates you need to back off) to expand the range of motion and energize the flow of Chi.
2. Be Still and Allow Muscles to Be Soft
Yin yoga focuses on stretching and lubricating the joints and connective tissue. In order to benefit and stretch the joints, your muscles must be soft. Once you have found your pose, relax and allow gravity to help you go deeper rather than using your muscles to push yourself further. The movement of a Yang practice causes Chi to flow to the muscles. In a Yin practice, we want to move Chi into the bones and joints and this is achieved by diminishing movement and settling into as much stillness as possible as we hold the posture.
3. Hold Each Shape for a Period of Time
By holding postures for a longer period of time, chi is coaxed deeper into the body and the organs which can have a profound healing effect. If you are practicing at home, you may want to use a timer so that you don’t have to think about how long you have been in the posture. In her book, Sarah Powers recommends starting out with 1 to 3 minutes for each pose. In classes you will often be asked to hold them for longer periods of time. Once you have set yourself up in the posture, it is time to focus on the breath. This helps turn your attention inwards. Holding the poses for longer periods of time helps to develop surrender and gain a willingness to “just be” in an uncomfortable situation.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to try a Yin yoga class, I highly recommend it. Be sure to drop by and leave a comment about your experience.