What is Yin Yoga?
In the simplest terms, Yin Yoga is a yoga style that holds passive yoga postures for a longer duration of time. These poses are usually held for a duration of between three to ten minutes.
The concept of holding passive poses for a longer period of time is taken from the practice of Hatha Yoga, where poses are usually held for up to ten minutes. Ten minutes can be a long time, as Hatha Yoga was originally practiced by monks as an austere practice - but when Hatha Yoga was introduced to common people it was modified to be between one to three minutes, to make it more accessible.
What makes Yin Yoga different is that only the passive poses are used. Muscle use is kept to a minimum, with muscles only gently encouraged to hold the posture without extra effort. As poses are held for a longer duration, props such as cushions and bolsters are encouraged. The poses are taken from Hatha Yoga but are given new names to differentiate between the two.
The History of Yin Yoga
Yin Yoga is a fairly new style of yoga, and it started in the late 1980s. While attending a Taoist Yoga class taught by martial arts champion Paulie Zink, Paul Grilley practiced holding the Taoist Yoga poses for long periods of time, from five to ten minutes. However, after practicing for months, Paul didn’t see much improvement in his flexibility. So, he stopped attending classes and continued to practice and teach dynamic poses from Vinyasa Yoga.
While he taught some passive stretching classes to his students and saw huge results. The quicker improvement in his students' range of motion led him to focus on these movements, and he started to call his classes Yin Yang Yoga, due to his interest in Buddhism. Even in Hatha Yoga, poses are held for up to three minutes - not as long as in Yin Yoga.
When poses are held for a longer period of time, the yin tissues are stretched. These are the deeper tissues such as the tendons, ligaments, and other connective body tissues. These tissues are less vascular, which means they are less supplied with blood, and also less elastic. This means they need more time to stretch, but stretching them increases overall flexibility, circulation, and range of motion.
Differences between Yin and other types of Yoga
More dynamic styles such as Vinyasa Yoga and Hatha Yoga, the movement makes your muscles do a lot of the work and stretch. Muscles are our Yang tissues, and they are quick to warm up and stretch, but also quick to cool down and rebound. So, when you only practice dynamic practices, you can gain muscle strength but not a wider range of motion. To have a healthy range of motion around our joints, we need to stretch the deep connective tissue and the joints.
Breathing is also an important part of yoga. The way breathing is regulated affects how the muscles and mind respond to a particular pose. In Yin Yoga, there is more of an emphasis on relaxed belly breathing. The focus is on long slow and deep breaths which are vital for letting the body relax and be in a pose for longer.
Benefits of Yin Yoga
The benefits of Yin Yoga are multiple, especially on the yin tissues. The Fascia tissue is stretched and stimulated by the long holds in the body. Stretching the fascia allows for an increased flow of nutrients, improving the overall functioning of the body.
The ligaments also benefit from Yin Yoga. The ligaments connect bones to bones, and they are stiff and strong and protect our joints from going out of place. Yin Yoga can gently stretch our ligaments and maintain the range of motion in our joints - keeping our body young.
Our tendons are the connective tissue that connects muscle to the bone. WIth dynamic exercise, the tendons can become short and decrease the range of motion. Yin poses can lengthen the tendons gently and retain the range of motion.
Yin yoga also helps to put gentle pressure on the joints, which revitalizes the joints and renews the fluids. This can help to increase the lifespan of the joints.
There are also a lot of mental benefits to Yin Yoga. Yin Yoga can help to release stress which is stored in our deeper tissues. Stretching these muscles in Yin yoga releases tension and stress, and you might feel an emotional response.
Yin Yoga can also help emotional balance. Yin Yoga stimulates our endocrine glands by pressuring them in longer held poses. The effect is an improved hormonal balance which also results in more balanced emotions. Sitting still in longer poses can also help to bring more mental clarity and focus.
If you are interested in starting Yin Yoga, why not try our 3 part series: Yin Yoga 101. This is a great way to introduce yourself to the practice and learn the basics while giving yourself a chance to reap the benefits.
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