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What is Yin Yoga

By Gabi Pointer

You may recently have seen Yin Yoga appearing in Yoga studios, blogs and posts.  Some people compare it to Restorative Yoga – but actually there’s a big difference!

The principle of the complementing energies of Yin and Yang originates from Daoist Philosophy which dates back to the 4th century BC. Yang, being connected to brightness, light, passion, growth and activity represents the male principal whilst Yin, with its cooling, dark, soft, slow, relaxed, silent and passive features, stands for the feminine aspect of all things. In order to bring health and harmony to our lives it needs the balance of both qualities to create a sound equilibrium.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) vital energy or Chi as the foundation of all vitality is omnipresent in and around us. It moves through our bodies via a web of energy lines that TCM refers to as “meridians”.  Due to our stressful lifestyle or traumatic events, blockages within meridians may appear that hinder or stop the flow of Chi. As a result, we feel unwell or fall ill.

Based on TCM, each meridian is linked to an organ and each organ has a physical, emotional and energetic function.
There are 14 Yin-Yang meridian pairs of which 12 can be addressed through various techniques like yoga, acupressure or acupuncture. These 12 meridian doubles are connected to 6 Yin Yang pairs of organs. Through asanas that work with compression and tension held for a longer period of time, Yin Yoga activates respective meridians which leads to a steady and healthy flow of Chi.

Compared to the myriad of asanas we know in yoga practice, Yin focuses on only a few poses. There are twenty main Yin yoga poses that can be called archetypal; those 20 poses target your main myofascial groups in your legs and torso: in the legs they address hamstrings, glutes, adductors and quads, and in the torso, they target the rectus abdominis, obliques and the thoracic-lumbar group.

Paul Grilley, one of the fathers of Yin Yoga, has often said that “Twenty is plenty!” You don’t need a lot of postures to touch deeply the key areas of the body in a Yin Yoga practice. You don’t have time for very many either because we hold the postures longer than in a Yang-like Hatha Yoga practice.

Most of us are more or less regular practitioners of Yang Yoga styles, whether it be Flow, Vinyasa or Hatha practices. What we gain are strength, flexibility and stability that all address mostly muscle tissue. On top of that, Yoga improves our posture, helps us lose weight and supports our body-mind connection.

During Yin Yoga we address the healthy flow of Chi by stimulating specific meridians as well as loosening our fascia (connective tissue) through some foundational principals:

  • Muscles are fully relaxed; the deepening of a pose is reached by giving in to the force of gravity
  • Poses are being held for an extended period of time, starting from 1-3 minutes progressing up to 5 minutes and sometimes more
  • Finding stillness in the pose is the final aim

No action is required; the body is allowed to do its work.

In order to achieve a fully beneficial Yin experience, props like bolsters, blocks, blankets or cushions are used for support, basically any comforting item that allows the body to soften and sink. In this state of meditative stillness Yin offers deep access to the body; it requires students to be ready to get intimate with the self, with feelings, sensations, and emotions, something that can be easily avoided in a fast-paced yoga practice.

As well as all the mental benefits, Yin yoga holds the capability to reach the fascia, the connective tissue that fits like a sleeve around muscle groups and individual muscles as well as joints and ligaments. Since these tissues work hard to support and stabilize muscles and joints, they inherently resist changes from dynamic physical exertion. However, connective tissues lose elasticity if they are underused (which can happen if you have a mostly sedentary lifestyle) or as a natural by-product of aging. This can present physically as stiffness, achy joints, or limited joint mobility. By slowly loading various types of connective tissues with weight and maintaining long static holds, Yin Yoga aims to train fascia to become more flexible and ligaments that support joints to become stronger. This creates space for our muscles to lengthen more than in yang practices and for our joints to safely enjoy an increased range of mobility during our daily movements.

Some of the benefits of Yin Yoga are:
  • Calming and balancing to the mind and body
  • Regulates energy in the body
  • Increases mobility in the body, especially the joints and hips
  • Lowering of stress levels
  • Greater stamina
  • Better lubrication and protection of joints
  • More flexibility in joints & connective tissue
  • Release of fascia throughout the body
  • Helps with TMJ (Temporomandibular joint/TMJ syndrome) and migraines
  • Deeper Relaxation
  • A great coping strategy for anxiety and stress
  • Better ability to sit for meditation
  • Ultimately you will have a better Yang practice

For me, there is no preference when it comes to choosing between a Yin or a Yang practice. I think both have immense benefits in their own right and complement each other perfectly. Balance is what we are looking for in our lives and Yin Yoga gives us the key to find it.

Who is Yin Yoga for?

Yin is for everyone! There are no restrictions and it is appropriate for any age or level of fitness. Through variations in positions and props the practice can be made accessible for every single Yoga practitioner.

Dare to Yin – see you on the mat!