Yin Yoga is increasingly practised by yogis and is now a staple in many yoga studios.
Nonetheless, most students are familiar with the more “yang” practices – the active yoga classes such as Hatha, Vinyasa, Power Yoga which focus on dynamic movement to build heat and may not have tried a Yin Yoga class.
If this is you, today’s in-depth guide will take you through everything you need to know about the Yin Yoga practice, and why you should try a class today.
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What is Yin Yoga?
Yin Yoga is primarily passive in nature and consist of hold poses from 3 minutes to over 5 minutes. By holding poses for a longer time, we are targeting the body’s deep connective tissues (ligaments, joints, bones, fascia) rather than the more superficial muscles.
Most Yin poses are done seated or lying down, and usually, work on the lower part of the body – hips, pelvis, inner thighs and lower spine. These are the areas that are rich in connective tissues.
Because of the nature of Yin Yoga, it is slower and more meditative, allowing you to turn your mind inward and become more aware of your physical and mental activities.
This does not mean that Yin Yoga is easy. In fact, Yin Yoga may be challenging both physically and mentally. On the latter, the idea of staying completely still in a pose for a few minutes may present a real challenge to the monkey mind.
Why it is important to slow down
Most urban people are used to being busy. The constant buzz and noise whether in our workplace or our minds can cause disturbances to our physical, mental and energetic bodies.
The human body is not made to cope with constant stress, as this means that the fight-or-flight system (the sympathetic nervous system) is always turned on. Common bodily ailments are a result of energy blockages due to stored emotions such as anxiety, fear or stress. These emotions are usually manifested as pain, or knots, or tight hips and shoulders.
It is important to allow our mind, body and energetic systems to slow down. This will help to activate our rest-and-digest (or parasympathetic) nervous system and release any stored emotions to keep the body balanced and healthy.
Slow and deep stretches in Yin Yoga gives us a way to quieten our minds and become aware of any stored emotions. We can then begin to recognise them and work towards reducing or eliminating them.
Who is Yin Yoga For?
Yin Yoga is great for people who
- Live constantly fast-paced lives and are over-stimulated,
- Only do dynamic or “yang” types of exercises such as Ashtanga yoga, running and other high-intensity workouts,
- Are suffering from chronic joint or bone issues such as arthritis or osteoporosis,
- Are suffering from an injury (or injuries),
- Simply want a deep stretch that balances your energy at the same time.
The modern world surrounds us with constant stimuli. Our minds are always busy processing new and old information, regardless of whether this information is useful or not.
With this constant noise and non-stop brain activity, it is no wonder more people are searching for ways to find some quiet. Some people do cardio exercises, some meditate, some journal and others seek refuge in Netflix.
While some of these activities are good, others may only be a temporary solution – your mind, body and emotions are still not getting the rest they need. Cardio and dynamic yoga still feed the part of us that craves stimulation and activates our stress response (the sympathetic nervous system)!
I am not asking you to cut out dynamic yoga or intense exercise, but you can balance and reduce your stress response while increasing your calm (the parasympathetic nervous system) through a little bit of slower yoga in the form of Yin.
Yin Yoga is also great for helping you to prevent injuries and stay flexible, especially if you are always doing the “yang” forms of exercise such as dynamic yoga or high-intensity workouts.
Benefits of Yin Yoga for the Physical, Mental and Energetic Bodies
Lengthens Connective Tissues
From a physical perspective, Yin Yoga is all about release and surrender. The yoga poses and breathing exercises focus on manipulating the fascia, which are deep connective tissues that surround the muscles.
Other connective tissues including the tendons (connecting muscles to bones) and ligaments (connecting bones with other bones) also benefit from Yin Yoga when we maintain long, static holds. These tissues support and stabilize the muscles and joints, but lose elasticity if they are underused due to sedentary living, or due to ageing. Common symptoms such as joint stiffness, aches, or limited mobility are a result of a reduced tendon or ligament elasticity.
Overall, Yin Yoga helps to increase flexibility in the fascia, and support the ligaments and tendons that stabilise our joints. This helps to create space for the muscles that we use in “yang” or dynamic activities. We will reduce the risk of injuries and also be able to enjoy a greater range of mobility in our daily lives.
It is not uncommon to feel a great sense of calm after a Yin Yoga class. Research has found Yin Yoga to have a significant impact on lowering stress and anxiety, as well as reducing the risk of depression.
There is a reason for this phenomenon: Yin Yoga activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body’s rest-and-digest mode. You will feel your heart rate slow down, and your body relaxing as a result.
By holding each pose for a longer time, we are bringing more oxygen to the muscles and organs. This helps to increase blood flow and circulation.
Encourages mindfulness and awareness
Being still in a pose and staying there creates space for suppressed emotions and thoughts to emerge. These emotions are always there, but they have been suppressed b the busyness in life.
Yin Yoga allows these emotions, thoughts and feelings to surface as your mind quietens and you become more aware of yourself.
The important thing about Yin Yoga is to learn to observe the sensations going through your body and mind, but not get caught up in them. Allow these emotions to all come out, acknowledge them, and let them all go with your breath.
Improves the flow of prana (life force) and energy
The action of observing and letting go in Yin Yoga helps clear the mind from these unconscious emotions. It allows you to work through the associated physical and energy blockages, and truly experience a much-needed release in your mind, body and soul.
Specifically from an energetic perspective, different Yin Yoga poses help to address energy blockages that exist in any of our major energy centres or Chakra.
For instance, people suffering from lower back pain are likely having blockages in the Sacral Chakra, the second chakra located just below the navel. Yin postures such as Swan (or Pigeon Pose) help to release the muscles at the second chakra and allows the oxygen and energy to flow freely in the area.
A little food for thought:
Yin Yoga and our Chakra (or Chi) Energy
The practice of Yin Yoga is based on ancient Taoist principles, which posits that there are pathways of energy running through our bodies. They call this energy ‘Chi’ or ‘Qi’. Most yogis are familiar with a similar concept called the Chakras (energy centres) or Nadis (energy channels).
By stretching into the deeper layers of our bodies, we are opening any energy blockages in our bodies and allowing energy to flow freely. A healthy flow of Chi or Chakra energy brings physical benefits (with more blood flow to our organs), as well as mental and emotional benefits.
Yin Yang Yoga
Yin Yoga was never created as a standalone practice. As with all things yoga, Yin Yoga is all about balance.
As Yin Yoga brings cool, feminine energy to the body, it is created to be paired with “yang” activities such as dynamic yoga, HIIT, or running.
In fact, Yin and Yang yoga can be done in the same session – to create a balanced pairing that brings helps to harmonise both hot and cool energies in our bodies.
These classes are usually called Yin Yang Yoga, or sometimes known as Vin-Yin Yoga. Yin Yang Yoga is highly popular because it combines the best of dynamic yoga (which builds adrenaline, sweat and the ‘yoga high’) with the best of restorative yoga (holding poses to calm and cool the body).
In a typical Yin Yang Yoga session, you would go through a power or vinyasa class in the first half of the class, and use the second half to practise the Yin postures.
5 Basic Principles of Yin Yoga
Find your edge:
Ease into the pose, gently and slowly. Don’t try to get into the “maximum” you can. You want to push yourself to a point where you feel a deep sensation also known as “comfortable discomfort. However, you should never stretch to the point of pain.
Try to release into the pose and surrender completely. Remain still both physically and mentally, and avoid fidgeting too much.
Hold each pose for around 1-3 minutes to start, then progress to 3-5 minutes or even longer if you feel good in it.
Breath is a key element of Yin Yoga because it gives you something to focus your attention on while staying still in challenging and uncomfortable postures. Try to breathe from your diaphragm, allowing the air to fill up your belly and ribs with each inhale. Try to make your exhales twice as long as your inhales.
Prop your poses:
For a more comfortable and restorative version of Yin Yoga, you can use props such as bolsters, blankets or blocks. Props help to support your poses and allow you to stay still and hold without feeling too uncomfortable.
Yin Yoga Practice Questions & Answers
What should I think about when holding a pose?
We are so used to thinking incessantly that when we are thrown in a Yin practice, the extra “mental break” may be hard to handle.
You may find many thoughts and emotions emerging during a Yin class – allow yourself to be with them. It is one of the best opportunities to realise what are some of your hidden thoughts or emotions.
During the practice, you should acknowledge those thoughts, but try not to get caught up in the stories. For people with a regular meditation practice, you may use the Yin Yoga practice to meditate.
Try to just “be”.
You do not need to force yourself to think about something or do anything. Be completely aware of the physical sensations, feelings, or thoughts that arise. And just let them be.
Should I close or open my eyes?
For people who are new to Yin Yoga, closing your eyes will help you to find that point of stillness more quickly since you would be removing one source of distraction – visual stimulation.
Closing your eyes also help eliminate distracting thoughts such as comparisons with your neighbouring yogi, or wondering about happenings in the environment.
If you find yourself able to stay focused easily, feel free to open your eyes during the practice.
There’s no hard and fast rule. Find what works best for you during the practice.
Is it normal to feel physically uncomfortable?
During a Yin Yoga practice, you would be working on “finding your edge” throughout the pose. This means that there is no reason to find the deepest version of the pose immediate but explore and deepen over the hold.
You should be feeling a strong stretch in Yin Yoga, but your breath should still be easy and you are in “comfortable discomfort”. You can then hang out here and explore the sensations you are feeling, like a mindfulness or meditation practice.
However, if you feel any discomfort such as a sharp pain or realise that your breathing is uneven and strained, this probably means that you have gone too far and should ease on the stretch. In this case, try to come back to a less intense stretch, take a variation, or prop your posture.
What if Yin Yoga is too slow for me?
In a world that is constantly on the go, you may find yourself craving intense and fast workouts which make you sweat. These are all well and good, but remember that they still feed your automatic nervous system responsible for the fight-or-flight response ie. The stress response.
Yin Yoga offers a much-needed balance and break from constant activity. But it doesn’t mean you need to do it daily. Try to do Yin Yoga say once a week when you first start. You can increase the frequency when you’ve adjusted to the style of Yin.
Perhaps your first class is difficult to go through mentally, as your mind requires time to appreciate stillness and take rest. But go for more than one class to allow yourself to adjust and allow the benefits of Yin Yoga to show up.
Keen to Try Yin Yoga?
If you haven’t yet tried a Yin Yoga class, here’s a beginner-friendly Yin Yoga class for stretching out the full body, reduce stress, and induce calm.
Check out the beginner’s Yin Yoga below.
If you are unable to watch the video above, you can access it on YouTube here.
The bottom line
Yin Yoga is not your usual dynamic, sweaty vinyasa yoga. But it presents as much of a workout, and much more of a work-in than the sweaty yoga flows. Give Yin Yoga a try the next time you need a physical or mental break.
No time to read this? Get the downloadable PDF of this post here.
The YogaMad is founded by Candace, an avid yogini who is passionate about inspiring others to live their best lives while finding mind-body-soul balance. She has a background in business consulting but has left the corporate world in her quest to live out her dreams as a yoga nomad.