The Cooler Side of Yoga: Yin Yoga
“Yin” yoga classes are popping up all over the place, but the style is often misunderstood by those who have yet to experience a session. The misunderstanding is, well, understandable since while passing by a class one witnesses serene looking people-pods doing seemingly nothing but tugging the tail of the cat for five or 10 minutes at a time.
But anyone who has hung out in Sleeping Swan for any duration will be quick to tell you that yin yoga is definitely not going to rock you gently into Shavasana. Quite the contrary – yin yoga is deceptively aggressive in its passive approach and the results can be astounding.
“Yin” and “Yang” are the representation of opposites in yogic tradition – light and dark, female and male, cold and hot, equanimity and excitement, etc. Yin and yang are not the representation of things that are good and things that are bad, however, though this too represents a set of opposites encompassed within the relationship.
And as without, so within – the body is comprised of opposites that need to be balanced in order for an individual to thrive.
Yang yoga practices (with include the majority of styles we see in the West save restorative yoga) focus on the body’s muscle tissues, which are yang tissues. “Yang” is represented by heat and action, and muscle tissue exemplifies these characteristics in that they are best exercised when hot and with force. Yin tissues include the body’s connective tissues – tendons, ligaments and skin – and those tissues are responsible for the majority of the body’s flexibility limitations. One will make the most gains in flexibility in a shorter amount of time by practicing a yin style versus a yang.
Connective tissues need to be exercised and stretched when the body is cold, and poses are typically held between two to 20 minutes in a yin session. The key to ensuring that the stretch remains in the connective tissues and doesn’t engage the muscle tissue is staying focused on keeping the muscles relaxed. Thus, yin yoga requires the practitioner to continuously be aware his or her body – once focus on purposeful muscle relaxation is interrupted, the muscles responsible for protecting the ligaments, tendons and joints currently being stretched will engage and take the stretch out of those said tissues.
Yin yoga, therefore, is an extremely “active” style in the sense that one’s mind must remain task-focused while the body holds still. This is a fabulous entry point for individuals who want to begin a regular meditation practice but have difficulty quieting the mind since the mind has a purpose on which to focus during a yin yoga session and the body is engaged in activity (though it appears not to be so).
If you are interested in learning more about yin yoga, look for Bernie Clark’s extremely comprehensive “Yinsights: A Journey into the Philosophy & Practice of Yin Yoga.”
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