Yin Yoga - Basic Principles & Practices
If you haven't practiced Yin Yoga yet, you are in for one of the most amazing, life-changing experiences of your life. I started practicing Yin Yoga about 6 years ago and while it took me some time to get used to the slower paced, longer holds practice, I find myself drawn to it now in ways I NEVER would have imagined all those years ago.
What is Yin Yoga?
Yin Yoga is the practice of holding mostly floor bound poses for longer periods of time (1-8 minutes usually), emphasizing and focusing on the connective tissue, bones, ligaments and joints of the body (referred to in yoga as "cold tissue"). The idea is that by releasing the muscles, practicing these poses "cold" (with no warmup), and holding them for extended periods without much movement, we are mobilizing the tissue as well as placing a controlled amount of stress on the "cold tissue" to strengthen it. To put this in perspective - think of traction. A controlled and steady pressure is placed on bone to help it grow stronger and heal. Yin Yoga seeks to have a similar effect.
3 Basic Principles of Yin Yoga:
1. Come into the pose at an appropriate depth (differs for each and every person each time they practice)
2. Resolve to remain still
3. Hold the pose
A 4th principle I always add is to have patience and breath! Let's break these down....
What is an appropriate depth? Each person has a range of motion (changes day to day, hour to hour sometimes). In Yin, the idea is to find your edge, that point where you at your deepest and take a few steps back to maybe 2/3 of your full depth in the pose. During the hold, you can check in with your body and see if this is enough - sustainable for the whole period of the hold - or if you need to checkin at the "gate". The Gate Theory of Yin Yoga holds that as you check in with your body during the pose, you may find that it is releasing and you can open the gate and go deeper OR you may find you are perfectly well where you are at OR you may find you need to pull back a little more. Each person much gauge this for themselves. Any pain - sharp, shooting, causes breathlessness - is BAD and you should back out of the pose or come out altogether. However, feeling pulling, deep stretching, tightening is completely normal.
Resolve to remain still. In a world where we are overwhelmed and overbooked, this concept can be quite hard to put into practice. In Yin Yoga, we are in the pose for and extended period and most people find themselves fidgeting quite a bit. I always suggest you get your "settling in" movements out in the first minute and then focus on your breath and checking in with your body to keep you still and in the moment.
Hold the pose. Here's where the first 2 principles really come in. Beginners often hold the poses 1-3 minutes. More experienced practitioners of Yin will hold poses 4-8 minutes. If you are at your appropriate depth and are settled in to stillness, time will not be a huge issue for your body but your mind might feel otherwise. This is where my 4th principle comes in - be patient with your mind and body, breathe deeply, notice how you feel and resolve to use this time to turn inwards and find peace and quiet. Some poses are more difficult some days and you will need to really focus!
One last note on HOW to practice Yin Yoga - focus on releasing the tension of the muscles, the body as a whole - while breathing into those areas with the most tension. This will facilitate your overall experience and you will experience more softness in the poses.
Who should practice Yin Yoga and when should Yin Yoga be practiced?
Yin Yoga is an all level practice that can be done any time. It can be a complementary practice to more "active" practices such as Vinyasa Flow or sports/exercise activities and can be practiced on off days, every day or as a warm up/cool down prior to or post other physical activities. However, different times of day may have slightly different results.
Yin AM: Yin is physically MOST effective practiced in the AM when your body is cold. You can roll out of bed and start the practice immediately before your muscles warm up. Because the tissues are "coldest" in the AM, the mobilizing and strengthening effects are more pronounced; so if you are practicing Yin for this focus, AM practices are best. It is also a very soothing complementary practice to a morning meditation practice as both help you focus, turn inward and calm your nervous system. It is a great way to start your day and one I highly recommend (I mostly practice Yin in the morning and am offering YouTube practices geared for this - look for the Yin AM practices here: http://www.youtube.com/c/TheYogaRangerStudio.)
Yin PM: Yin is also a perfect practice in the evening as a bedtime routine! Because the tissues are warmed up from the day, you won't get the depth of mobilization/strengthening for the "cold tissue", but you will get some and you will experience the deep peacefulness and settling that occurs from holding the postures longer. I find that my PM practice is longer and I am able to hold the poses for longer periods. It settles, quiets and brings focus and peace to my day - helping me wind down in preparation for a deep sleep. It also helps me stretch out the day's tensions before bed! I will be uploading some longer, deeper hold Yin PM/Yin Deep classes to my channel so check back often!
Yin Yoga can be practiced as a focus area practice (hips, shoulders), a balancing practice (Chinese meridian or elemental theory), or simply as a health focused practice (balancing digestion, insomnia). My YouTube channel has many Yin Yoga practices (both emphasis and length) so please head on over and check them all out!
Please feel free to contact me with more questions and you can also find more information on Yin Yoga at www.yinyoga.com and/or through books by Bernie Sanders and Sarah Powers.
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See you on the mat!
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I have been "playing" and experimenting with yoga, aromatherapy and healthy living since my late teens - researching, testing, reading, investigating, and learning anything that would make my life - and the lives around me - better naturally.
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