YIN 101: Here's what you need to know

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If you haven’t tried a yin class yet, you might simply be wondering what it’s all about. Maybe you have dropped into a class or two, and have even more questions about this style of yoga…We’re going to help break it down for you here so you’ll be ready to jump in.

What exactly is yin yoga? Compared with more familiar, more active practices such as vinyasa and other power-style classes, which typically focus on dynamic movement of both breath and body, yin classes have a much slower pace. Similar to most other styles, yin yoga has a meditative approach in which the physical body is used as a vehicle to access deeper, more internal states of being.

Postures in a yin class are primarily passive in nature and typically held anywhere from one minute to five minutes in order to target the body’s connective tissues, rather than muscle groups. Sounds relatively effortless, right? Think twice! Holding these postures does often require a lot of physical effort, but it’s the mind work that is often where the most powerful breakthroughs occur.

Some other benefits of a yin practice

  • 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 (no one needs that)

  • Greater stamina

  • Better lubrication and protection of joints

  • More flexibility in joints & connective tissue

  • Release of fascia throughout the body

  • Help with TMJ and migraines

  • Deeper Relaxation

  • A great tool for anxiety and stress

  • Better ability to sit for meditation

  • Better vinyasa/ashtanga practice

What do you think about in all those long holds? It’s true that during a yin practice you may find yourself with a bit more “mind time” to manage than in, say, a “one-breath-one-movement” vinyasa class.

Deciding how to handle your mind during this time is part of the effort that goes into a yin session. Using this time to allow yourself to be with your thoughts and emotions can allow you to better connect with and understand your Self, a fundamental component of a full yoga practice.

If you regularly meditate or want to begin a meditation practice, Yin Yoga may be an ideal opportunity to do just that. Holding a pose presents one of the few opportunities many of us have to simply just “be”—not forced to think about anything, do anything, or even move. Take advantage of that! Or become present to the various sensations and feelings that arise over the many minutes you hold a posture.

Does alignment matter? The concept of alignment in a yin class is different from the concept of alignment in Vinyasa yoga.

In Vinyasa yoga, alignment serves to keep you from over-stretching or hyper-extending, to direct strengthening and lengthening to specific areas of the body, and to avoid straining the ligaments of the joints. Addressing these concerns helps to avoid stressing or injuring the body in such classes.

Since yin relies on gravity to support postures and targets some of the areas that vinyasa alignment rules hope to protect (such as your ligaments), the rules are somewhat different.

For example, you may be instructed to relax your upper body completely, allowing the spine to round, in postures that you’re accustomed to maintaining a long spine in while hinging from the hips, like forward folds.

So when I feel discomfort, is that progress? Or should I be worried? If you’ve ever worked with the idea of “finding your edge” in your yoga practice, you’ll become quite intimate with the concept during a yin session.

Knowing that you have a longer period of time to find your fullest expression of a pose, there’s no reason to rush through your “edges.” When you reach your first edge, you can hang out there and explore the sensations you’re feeling and the thoughts you’re having, similarly to how you might in a mindfulness practice.

Discomfort that presents as sharp pain in concentrated areas or causes uneven, strained breathing should alert you to ease back. Certainly, you should inform your instructor of any injuries you may have.

Is it for me? Chances are, yes!! As Yin yoga typically focuses on the connective tissues of the hips, pelvis and lower spine, anyone who sits all day, has low back pain or tight hips, this practice will a great cross training to your daily life.

Ready to start? Join us in Journey to the Heart, a 4 week Yin series November 3-24th. Click to register!

Brittany MessutiComment