The practice of Yin

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For a long time, power yoga (vinyasa flow) was my go-to yoga practice. I loved the muscular effort of the practice. I loved how lean my thighs and tummy became after several weeks of consistent power practice. I loved the sweat and the effort. I loved the strength I developed. One day, my vinyasa teacher said she was offering a yin practice, and that I should go. She told me that yin yoga involves holding static poses for several minutes with the intention of stretching the connective tissue between the muscles. Bo-ring, I thought to myself. I didn’t go. For years, I didn’t go. Friends and family reported back to me that they were loving yin, that I should go, that it feels amazing, that it feels relaxing, that it increases strength, that it compliments the muscular aspect of vinyasa flow. Still, I didn’t go. I wanted six-pack abs, I wanted defined triceps, I wanted strong quadriceps. What could yin yoga possibly have to do with those things?

Yin Yoga, it turns out, provides an ideal compliment to an energetic, heat-producing power class. Indeed, vinyasa flow and power flow classes are often referred to as yang-style yoga. Yang is energetic, hot, changing, mobile and active. Yin is  stable, passive, immoveable and cool. Generally a yin yoga practice will include only a few poses, all of which will be held for 3-5 minutes or longer. By sitting in postures for a relatively long period of time, students will give the connective tissues in their joints a chance to lengthen and loosen. A yin practice involves settling into the shape of a pose, finding the physical edge, and then staying still in that shape.

Yin yoga deliberately targets the deeper connective tissues. Connective tissue is made up of fascia, tendons and ligaments and by targeting these elements of the body, practitioners of yin are able to increase stamina, balance, body awareness and have a greater ability to comfortably sit still.

What to expect from a yin practice

To reap the most benefit from a yin practice, it is suggested that muscles be cool and relaxed. If muscles are warm and active, then they tend to absorb most of the benefits of the tension of the stretch. To this end, yin yoga can be practiced in the morning, after a long trip, or before sleep.

Before practicing yin yoga, consider the following suggestions:

  • practice on an empty stomach.
  • avoid wearing perfume and cologne during practice.
  • remove jewellery and wrist watches
  • dress in layers; this type of practice does not generate internal heat.

During a yin practice:

  • Every time you come into a pose, go only to the point where you feel significant resistance in the body. Refrain from immediately going as deeply into a pose as you possibly can.  By not going “all the way” into a pose, your body has a chance to move deeper into the stretch as the connective tissue loosens.
  • The essence of yin is yielding. Yin yoga is an opportunity to notice what your body is capable of and accept its limitations. During practice, many emotions may bubble up to the service; notice the sensations and emotions that arise, sit with them, accept them.
  • Let go of whatever expectations you have of how poses should look. Accept where your body is in the moment, and allow yourself the freedom to be in that moment.
  • Find stillness: stillness in your body, stillness in your breath, and stillness in your mind.

Patience, yielding and acceptance of the body and mind will lead to a satisfying yin practice. Ideally, a calm mind and rested body will be attained from a regular yin practice.

For me, after all that reluctance at first, I now practice and teach yin several times a week. I find that it is the perfect compliment to my active lifestyle and I look forward to my evening yin practice.

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