It seems that yin is in. I only came across yin yoga last summer although it has been around in one form or another since the 1990s. During my first yin yoga class I felt instantly soothed and nurtured, and I believe it is this effect which makes yin yoga so popular at the moment and so suitable for relieving stress.
What is yin yoga?
Yin yoga is a style of yoga, in which poses (typically floor-based), are held passively for several minutes. Yin yoga is a quiet, contemplative practice, in which we allow the body to soften and relax while we are tuning into the internal aspects of each pose – bodily sensations, breath, thoughts, emotions. Yin yoga is not meant to replace other styles of yoga but was designed as a supplement to other, more active, dynamic forms of yoga and exercise. Thus, yin yoga provides a welcome ‘counter practice’ within the Hatha yoga tradition of using postures and breath control to keep body, mind and soul united, healthy and balanced.
Why yin yoga?
‘Yin’ and ‘yang’ are terms originating in traditional Chinese philosophy, describing the duality of qualities within an object: Seemingly opposite or contrary forces may actually be complementary and interdependent aspects of the whole. Yin is the stable, unmoving, hidden aspect of an object, while yang is the changing, moving, revealing aspect of an object. Yin yoga is based on this concept as well as the meridian system of traditional Chinese medicine because it is historically rooted in Chinese Daoist yoga.
Yin poses vs yang poses
Many poses can be executed in a muscular, directive ‘yang style’ as well as a relaxed, permissive ‘yin style’. For example, the traditional yang-style Bound Angle pose Baddha Konasana involves taking the feet close to the seat, lengthening the spine, and engaging the muscles of the legs and the abdomen to take the knees down towards the floor and the torso towards the legs.
In the similar yin-style Butterfly pose, the feet are further away from the seat, the muscles are relaxed, and the spine naturally rounds so that the head comes towards the knees.
How to practice yin yoga
The power of yin yoga is time, not effort. Yin yoga poses are typically held for 2-8 minutes. As we allow the muscles to relax, our pose can work more on the joints and the connective tissues such as the bones, ligaments and fascia. Our breathing is relaxed and flows naturally. We come in and out of poses carefully and we can use props such bolsters, blocks and blankets to support ourselves. Less is more as far as yin yoga is concerned, we focus our practice on a small number of selected poses.
Relieving stress with yin yoga
Yin yoga cannot solve any stress-related problems, and if we suffer from stress we need first of all seek help and advice from a health professional, such as our GP, and ask for support from friends and family. However, yin yoga can help alleviate the symptoms of stress, such as tensions, restlessness, and anxiety. As our muscles relax, our nervous system calms down, we feel more peaceful, more connected with our needs and our inner resources. Can there be a better way of relaxing while at the same time getting all the benefits from a yoga asana? And maybe, maybe, if we allow our minds to drift freely, we will glimpse that sparkling insight, which helps us move forward.
P.S. Thank you to one of my wonderful students for taking the yin-yang photographs and to Dawn Wright for providing an inspiring yin yoga training last week.