The on-the-go mentality of our modern culture desperately needs balance, but we bypass softer classes, like yin yoga, in favor of “getting a workout.”
I get it.
Vinyasa yoga classes appeal to your achieving-striving mindset with its fast-paced flow, profuse sweating, and endless chaturangas. But it’s time to balance out your hard-core power classes with my favorite style of yoga.
In this blog I’m sharing with you a brief explanation and history plus four amazing reasons to practice (and teach) yin yoga.
Be sure to all check out the next two blog in this yin yoga series:
what is yin yoga
Yin yoga is a quiet practice of mostly floor postures held for longer periods of time. Yin poses target the connective tissue, fascia, and joints of your low back, pelvis, hips, and thighs.
But why call it yin?
To best answer that it might be helpful to define “yang” yoga. Yang yoga refers to any style of yoga that focuses on dynamic movement, generating heat, and stretching your muscles.
Think: power yoga, vinyasa, and hot yoga.
Ever heard of yin and yang? In ancient Chinese philosophy, this represents the concept of seemingly opposite forces being complementary.
If yang yoga equates to heat, strength, and stretching muscles, then yin yoga, as its complementary, is cool and restful with a focus on connective tissue.
But don’t let the description fool you. Yin yoga can be a challenging practice, too.
Unlike restorative yoga where the aim is to completely relax the muscles, in yin, the way we focus on a specific part of the body can cause uncomfortable physical sensations.
Yin yoga also challenges your mind. The longer you hold poses, the more time your mind has to feel bored or be distracted by your constant internal chatter.
history of yin yoga
The practice of “yin” yoga dates back many centuries. In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, a book composed around the 15th century to explain the entire science of hatha yoga, lists eight seated/introspective poses.
The yin we practice today has more modern roots thanks to Paul Grilley and Sarah Powers, two of yin’s biggest influencers.
Paul’s yin journey began in 1989 when he took a Taoist yoga class and was first exposed to the idea of long-held postures. Over the years, he studied anatomy, Daoist yoga, and meridian theory that eventually became his core yin yoga teachings.
Sarah took classes from Paul, loving how much the long-held poses helped her with meditation. Her yin teachings encompass her own insights and background in Buddhism and Taoism.
4 reasons to practice yin yoga
There are many reasons to practice yin yoga, but I’m sharing what I consider the top four. Benefits anyone can understand and appreciate.
- Suitable for all levels
- Relieves stress and anxiety
- Targets connective tissue
- Prepares you for meditation
Let’s dive into the top four reasons to practice (or teach) yin yoga.
#1 suitable for all levels
All levels can practice yin yoga. You don’t need any special skills or have to be uber-flexible. Beginners to seasoned practitioners can participate and benefit.
However, like any asana class, you want to take into consideration your individual abilities, so check with your healthcare professional before starting a yoga practice.
“Yin Yoga offers a great way to begin a yoga practice, one that can branch out in many directions, one that can last for the rest of your life.” -Sarah Powers
#2 relieves stress and anxiety
Stress is any psychological or physical situation that stimulates your sympathetic nervous system to release hormones into your body.
This survival mechanism is also known as the “flight, fight, freeze, faint” response.
When the perceived danger, or stress, has passed, your brain signals your body to eliminate the hormones and return to its normal functions.
The “rest and digest” response is controlled by your parasympathetic nervous system.
Unfortunately in our modern, on-the-go times we’re constantly under stress and skip practices that trigger our parasympathetic nervous system.
👉 Long-term stress can lead to anxiety, depression, and many other physical and mental ailments.
Yin yoga helps you release stress and tension through its deep, focused breathing, postures held for several minutes, and savasana.
#3 targets connective tissue
In yang yoga, you focus on contracting and expanding the muscles of your entire body. Yin yoga generally targets the connective tissues of your hips, pelvis, and lower spine.
Connective tissue gives you shape and restrains your movements, and consists of bone, blood, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, and fascia.
- Cartilage is similar to bone in that it provides structure and firmness and made up of the same components, but the ratio of components differs allowing for more flexibility.
- Tendons connect your muscles to your bones.
- Ligaments connect bone to bone.
- Fascia is Latin for “bandage” and refers to the fine mesh structure encasing your muscles and spreading throughout your entire body.
The idea of “stretching ligaments” sounds counter-intuitive because in modern exercise theory “ligaments don’t stretch.” With yin, we seek to create positive tension or traction in the area.
Sarah Powers provides a more thorough explanation of targeting connective tissue and stretching ligaments as well as addresses some other misunderstandings of yin yoga.
👉 In no styles of yoga do we ever want to cause harm or pain.
#4 prepares you for meditation
Many individuals who’ve struggled to maintain traditional seated meditation find yin yoga a bridge to the mindfulness practice.
How does it do that?
By developing the two qualities necessary for meditation: a still body and a quiet mind.
When you spend three to five minutes (or more) in a posture, you create stamina and ease in your body. The less tension, the less you’re distracted by your body’s physical sensations.
And those precious minutes give you plenty of time to recognize, acknowledge, and release the constant chatter in your head.
final tips on yin yoga
You may dislike your first few yin classes as your body communicates its discomfort and your mind chases so many shiny objects.
But then you’ll remember your breath. You’ll tune into your inhalations and exhalations. You’ll start to feel grounded and more present. Over time, your deep breathing eases your physical and mental discomforts.
Before you know it, you’ll grumble when your teacher announces that it’s time to move to the next pose because you were blissfully zoned during the last one.