In most common styles of Yoga in western culture, we don’t hold poses for more than a minute or two (until Savasana — we could hang out there for hours). We’re also more focused on uniting breath with movement, which serves multiple purposes, among them keeping us focused and present. The breath acts as a tool we use to keep our minds in the present moment. It’s harder to give into the “Chitti Fritti” or “Monkey-Mind” when we have something consistent and omnipresent to focus on. Inhale, rise; exhale, fold. While the Hatha style of Yoga is undoubtedly beneficial, there is another less well-known style of Yoga with its own set of benefits.
Yin Yoga, initially called “Daoist” yoga, targets the deep connective tissues of the body (vs. the superficial tissues commonly accessed in Yang styles of Yoga) and the fascia that covers the body’s muscles. This type of yoga is said to help regulate the flow of energy in the body. Yin Yoga postures tend to be more passive postures, typically on the floor, and the poses to choose from only equal about 30, much less than the more popular Yang practices. Yin Yoga is unique in that you are asked to relax in the posture while softening muscle. Yin offers a much deeper access to the body. Poses are often held for three to five minutes, and can even last 20 minutes at a time.
My favorite part about the Yin Yoga practice is the meditative quality of it. We’re asked to move beyond the physical sensations, beyond external and internal distractions, and focus only on emptying the mind and staying as present as possible. Easier said than done, right? The beauty of meditative practices like this is that there is no possibility of failure. We are able to start anew with each inhale, releasing our muscles and our minds with our exhale.
The physical focus also goes much deeper than Yang-like practices. Here the yogini is trying to access the deeper tissues (connective tissue and fascia), and many of the postures focus on areas that surround a joint (hips, sacrum, spine). As we age, flexibility in the joints decreases. The theory behind this approach is that staying muscularly passive for long periods of time gently stretches connective tissue, which gets stiff and immobile with age. Yin Yoga is a wonderful way to maintain and even increase that flexibility over time.
Yoga is an intimate practice and requires students to be ready to get intimate with the Self, their feelings, sensations, and emotions. Sometimes this connection is avoidable in fast paced Yang styles of Yoga. In my experience, Yin Yoga offers a much more contemplative practice, allowing practitioners to learn to just sit still. Have you ever practiced sitting still in front of your own reflection for an extended period of time? It can get really uncomfortable! We’re not accustomed to reflecting on our Self for long periods of time without the ability to dodge our self-talk, and while this might sound like something you wouldn’t exactly volunteer for, the practice of self-reflection is part of why Yoga (in general) can have a greater impact. Not only is it beneficial, you’re now being offered a safe space in which to do it.
Plain and simple, the benefits are worth the step outside of our comfort zones:
- Calming and balancing the mind and body
- Increases mobility in the body, especially the joints and hips
- Lowering of stress levels
- Deeper Relaxation
- Greater stamina
- Better lubrication and protection of joints
- More flexibility in joints & connective tissue
- Release of fascia throughout the body
- Helps with TMJ and migraines
- Regulates energy in the body
- Better coping with anxiety
- Better ability to sit for meditation
Yin Yoga teaches us how to really listen. We don’t have the crutch of distraction to avoid what our bodies and minds are telling us. Being that we’re placed in somewhat uncomfortable positions, Yin Yoga asks us to be present with any given moment — and more so, accept the potentially uncomfortable situation with grace. I can think of a few situations in my personal life that would benefit from this kind of practice. Alone with our Self, we are prompted to view our intentions in life and in Yoga, and further dissect how we are showing up.
I encourage everyone to try a Yin Yoga class once (or twice, or three times…). Whether you’re new to Yoga or a seasoned practitioner, take time for your Self and dive a little deeper; you might be surprised at what comes up. And at the end of the day, how ARE you showing up?
Interested in checking out a Yin Yoga class? Get a taste on Tuesdays at 12:15pm in Plaza Park with Ventura Pop Up Yoga!