What is Yin Yoga?
What is Yin Yoga?
Yin yoga is a popular style of yoga for those looking for something a little slower. Now, don’t be fooled, just because it is slow doesn’t mean it is easy, but it is built to be accessible, so beginners and all abilities are very welcome in classes.
A slower, more considered practice, it is still mentally and physically demanding, with one pose being held for between three and five minutes, sometimes even longer.
When we think of yoga, many of us will imagine sitting crossed-legged and meditating or a physical and active practice designed to work up a sweat. Yin is both of these things while being neither at the same time. Let us explain…
Yin yoga is designed to target the connective tissues between muscles. The flow will lengthen and stretch in places you didn’t know existed, and by holding the poses for such a length of time, you really get the chance to explore, sink deeper and release into the poses.
Alignment is an important factor, especially with holding poses for such a length of time and, of course, there will be an element of discomfort. However, the principles of Yin Yoga acknowledge that every body is unique and that everyone will feel and practice a little differently, so listening to your own body is encouraged throughout a class, and it is important not to take it too far, as you don’t want to cause any damage or discomfort throughout the body.
Where did Yin Yoga come from?
Before we dive deeper into the practice, it is important to know where this style of yoga came from, and why we practice it today. Yin takes inspiration from the Chinese Taoist practices, where certain stretches were held for longer periods of time, and it also works with the Chinese system of meridians, which are channels in the body that allow the flow of qi. Qi is vital energy and what keeps us alive, functioning and the person that we are, and yin yoga can play an important part in unblocking these energy channels when they get stuck. There are twelve main meridians throughout the body, all of them serving a different purpose, connecting with different emotions and body parts, which can contribute to the things we feel and the changing of the seasons too.
Why Practise yin yoga?
There are many different reasons someone may practice yin yoga. For some, the slow pace of the class is more suited to their needs, and for others, yin may be a seasonal practice, when it is time to ground and root down, turn the attention to ourselves and to delve deeper. It is also a great accompaniment for those who are active in other areas of their lives. For example, runners may build up a lot of tightness and tension due to their activity, and so yin yoga is a great way to lengthen the connective tissue, work on the joints and the hips, as well as finding space to open up in different ways.
The practice of yin has been likened to receiving acupuncture treatment, due the the shared foundations at the heart of each practice, and for the way that the body unwinds and releases during a yin yoga session.
As well as the releasing and the lengthening, there is a whole range of other benefits that you can soak up when practicing yin.
For one, it is a great way to increase circulation within the body. With spending such a prolonged amount of time within a pose and breathing into it, you bring more oxygen into the body as you slowly start to breathe more deeply. This increases blood flow along with circulation.
If that is not enough, it is also a good technique to bring in when you are looking to reduce stress levels. It activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which calms the body, reduces stress and anxiety levels and slows your heart rate. This is the literal opposite of the fight or flight mode that we spend most of our lives in, so regular yin practices really help calm the body down.
A secondary benefit, we would say, would be the increased flexibility that yin yoga can bring. With stretching deeply for prolonged periods of time, you open up the body and sink deeper. Technically speaking, more mobile joints and elastic fascia are two big contributors to increasing our flexibility, both of which yin will help with.
Yin is usually practiced in a standard studio or space, and it isn’t traditionally practiced in a heated space. However, it is important to wear suitable clothing and layers, and you might even want to take a blanket to the class. You need to be at a comfortable temperature in order to practice yin and enjoy it, as the slightest bit of chill is going to make it uncomfortable and difficult to relax.
If you are thinking about trying yin yoga, we would absolutely encourage it. We know that the sound of a slower practice can be off-putting to many, but it is a really effective way to build stretching into your schedule, alongside more dynamic activities. Equally, if you are someone who is looking to get back into exercise but isn’t sure how to go about it, yin is a great route back in, for something a little more gentle on the body and without the addition of high impact movements.
You get out of it what you put in, and you can choose to go as deep as you like. Props like blocks and straps are also often used in yin to both support and strengthen the stretch depending on what it is you are looking for or need.