The Quiet Practice of Yin

If you have not heard of Yin Yoga it is a wonderful practice to integrate into your weekly yoga routine. Unlike a Yang (vinyasa/flow) practice where you work your muscles a Yin practice moves beyond the muscles into the joints and deeper connective tissue of the body. Typically the practice targets between the navel and the knee, concentrating on the lower back, hips, hamstrings and quads.

So why is it that we need to exercise our joints and the surrounding connective tissue?

As we age, become stressed or suffer an injury we begin to lose our flexibility and our functional mobility. Our connective tissue begins to shrink wrap around our joints, so gradually that at first you may not even realize. However after years of not moving our bodies fully we lose our range of motion. You may notice that you can no longer reach the high shelf in the kitchen because of restriction in your shoulders or you may go to pick something up and the tightness in your lower back and hamstrings prevents you. You may even notice that you are having difficulty breathing or difficulty sleeping.

Yin Yoga can eventually release the tension your body feels as well as increase base line flexibility. The practice improves joint health by increasing blood flow to the tissues providing more room in the joint, which increases flexibility. It develops and balances hyaluronic acid levels in the body which lubricates the joints. It circulates fluid in and out of the spine, which re-inflates the discs in the spine. The practice of Yin is even great cross training for runners and cyclists as it stretches tight muscle for longer range of motion.

So what can you expect in a class?

The practice of Yin is one that is slow, quiet and reflective. Expect ninety percent of the postures to be done sitting and fewer postures to be offered than you would experience in a yang (flow) style class.

You will be encouraged to move to your own edge in every posture being introduced. Everyone’s edge is different. It is a place between flexibility and inflexibility. A place where you feel significant resistance in the body but definitely not pain. One of the key concepts of Yin is to surrender to any muscle engagement. So try to relax your muscles in the pose. After 30 seconds or so you may feel your muscles let go and your body invite you to go a little bit deeper.

Once you find your edge become still. When we fidget and move around we engage our muscles. Our muscles naturally want to engage to protect our joints. It is only when the muscles are relaxed that we are able to go deeper into the joints. However if you feel pain it is important for you to move out of the posture to avoid injury.

Our deeper Yin tissues are very plastic in nature it takes time and gentle pressure for them to lengthen. So expect to be in your shapes for at least one minute and maybe up to 5 minutes. I have heard of some instructors keeping student in poses for up to 20 minutes.

Once you are ready to come out do it slowly. It is very normal to feel stiffness or a sense of fragility when you exit a posture. This sensation will go away within a few breaths and you will be able to move in to the next delicious shape.

Now that you know what to expect try adding a class to your routine and see how it makes you feel.

Hope to see you in Yin!

This blog post was originally posted by 889 Yoga on February 18, 2011. To view all related comments click here.