I discovered Yin yoga during a hot yoga challenge I did in University. I had signed up with a friend after completing a therapeutic yoga course, but I was not ready for the aerobics type classes offered at the studio. I'd spend at least half the class in a savasana, and grew tired of teachers encouraging me to get deeper into a powerful pose that wasn’t right for me. I noticed on Monday evenings they had a different kind of class - Yin yoga. The receptionist explained to me that it was a much slower type of yoga where poses were held for 3-5 minutes each and most were done seated or lying down. This sounded like the perfect practice for me so I decided to try it.
Over the last 10 years of my yoga practice, I find myself adding more and more yin yoga into my routine. It’s a great complement to a more active yoga practice and provides a different perspective to my yoga therapy practice that helps me understand my entire body. We need all kinds of movements to keep the body healthy, and yin yoga helps the body move in ways we aren’t used to.
The slower pace of the practice means it’s a great way for people living with a chronic illness to try yoga. When I teach yin yoga classes, many students find the practice more challenging than a quicker practice, because it involves being still with your body - often causing those running thoughts kept at bay by focusing on tough poses to flow back into focus.
Yin yoga helps you slow down, and really feel what is going on in your body and mind.
Sound interesting? Let’s take a brief look at what Yin yoga is
What is Yin Yoga?
The word Yin comes from Traditional Chinese Medicine. You may have heard of ‘Yin and Yang’ as opposite forces in the universe. In yoga, the active practices usually done in the west would be seen as encompassing Yang. But we are missing the other half that exercises the more subtle tissues and fascia in the body - the Yin.
Yin yoga focuses on contrast. Contrast to the more active lifestyles we are often living. A yin yoga practice can help balance an active lifestyle or even an active mind. You may think that you are already living a Yin lifestyle if you need to spend a lot of time resting because of illness. However, we often have racing minds (hello, insomnia & feelings of stress or worry) that activate a Yang type of energy. In yoga, we try to find balance.
As I mentioned above, Yin yoga consists of holding poses for 3, 5, or even 10 minutes. This is helpful to the body in several ways. We are able to give the stretch time to works its’ way into the body and begin to change the fascia and tissues. This length also gives us the time to build awareness of our body in each pose. To feel how the pose sits in our body we need more time to stay in one place.
Holding these yin yoga poses can also help to re-shape the tissues in your body. If you’ve been ill, had surgery, given birth, or been bed bound for any other reason, a yin yoga practice can help to restore the tissues over time. This can help you feel less pain and prepare the body to be able to do other exercise (whether that’s going for a hike, or pushing a stroller to the shop) in a healthy way.
Yin yoga mostly focuses on the areas of the hips, pelvis, and lower spine. These are the parts of our bodies that are most often affected by an inactive lifestyle. Nourishing these parts of the body will help improve your posture and prime the body for other forms of exercise.
Often, we don’t realize we need to slow down until we are already ill. Building a yin yoga practice into your life helps you slow down and maintain balance and connection with your body.
Next week, I’m very excited to share with you an inspiring interview with Jennifer O'Sullivan. She has been teaching yin yoga for 14 years and deeply understands the physiology and spiritual aspects of yin yoga that can help people living with chronic pain or chronic fatigue. If you’re interested in learning more about Yin yoga keep an eye out for this interview! I learned so much talking with Jennifer and can’t wait to share it with you!
Yin is not for every body. There are many conditions in which Yin Yoga in particular and Yoga in general may not be a good idea. It is impossible to spell out all the cases, so all we can offer is some broad generalizations, but please realize that never is never right and always is always wrong. There will be exceptions to every generalization and yoga, like health care, is best tailored specifically to the individual student. The best thing to do is speak to your doctor before starting any new physical practice.