Here at the Yoga Space we love Yin Yoga! It is a great complement to all active styles of yoga and great for sports people and meditators alike. Here our Yin Specialist, Marina Boni lets us know all about Yin Yoga!
Through the practice of Yin yoga one is encouraged to recognize the value and the subtleness of non-action.
This practice is based on the effects of the work on the joints and connective tissues along the body. As mentioned by Grilley (2002, p.12), “it is not muscular strength that gives us the feeling of ease and lightness in the body, it is the flexibility of the joints, of the connective tissue”. Connective tissues such as ligaments, tendons and fascia are considered most important for the understanding of Yoga and these are found all over our body, like a mechanical network at a very deep level. The range of motion of a joint is dependent on the condition and flexibility of these deep layer structures. However, for most people the idea of stressing a joint is very new and the sensation associated with that is most times unknown to the ordinary Yang Yoga practitioner. The static and long stress applied for a certain period of time is the idea of traction (also used for certain physical therapists when treating orthopaedic ailments). It is important to understand that all tissues in the body such as muscles, connective tissues or even bones have the ability to change and adapt, in different degrees; and if not exercised appropriately they may become weak and eventually atrophy (Grilley, 2002, p. 13).
During the practice of Yin Yoga we do hold the poses for 2-5 minutes as we move towards settling into the posture and comfortably cultivate stillness. It is important that we gradually pull back on our habit to move. This way, “the joints can be safely and desirably exercised by gently stretching them” (Grilley, 2002, p.14). Also, as we relax into the pose we are not encouraging muscle contraction (although it may happen at times, we then must move towards releasing more and engaging less) and to go deeper into the pose. If there is no muscle relaxation the connective tissues cannot be elongated and strengthened. Before moving into a more energetic level of the practice, it seems that an appropriate foundation needs to be developed by the practitioner. It is important to understand that Yin exercises must not be repetitive or rhythmic like what is done on Yang exercises.
By working on connective tissues we avoid degeneration, prevent fixation and immobilisation and maintain healthy meridian channels. Degeneration occurs when the bone starts losing its mass/ density (a condition called osteoporosis) and it may happen due to several contributing factors such as nutrition, race and age. Fixation happens when two surfaces are temporarily stuck together, like in this case with bones or joints and it can occasionally happen to anyone (Powers, 2007, p.57). As a consequence, this fixation decreases the range of movement on a given joint. Connective tissues are water-rich cells and the so called meridians are believed to be surrounded by water. If we are able to maximize our ability to safely move the connective tissues and also keep them well hydrated, more space within the joints is created, therefore energy (chi as called by Chinese and prana as called by Indians) is able to flow through our body keeping it balanced and light. When the energetic flow responds to a stimulus, chi flow is harmonised so the skeleton and the muscle structure will also start to respond. This flexibility is built from inside out and not the other way around as when practising Yang Yoga.
The benefits of Yin Yoga can be classified in three categories: a) Stress relief and relaxation as the practice encourage silence and conservation of energy; b) Openness and flexibility of the physical body through the increase of the range of motion in the joints; c) Provides the adequate atmosphere for spiritual and meditative awareness which will eventually lead to self-transformation.
Knowing how to relax is an important part of the Yin Yoga practice, and it may have to be progressively taught to students. It seems that in our current fast-paced society, relaxation is a challenging process. Anxiety, worry and fear seem to be a common denominator in our social circles. As mentioned previously, Yin Yoga encourages a quiet practice where the students move towards introspection and perhaps self-inquiry (process which is more accentuated when in forward bend poses).
The Yin practice draws the mind inwards in a process for self-transformation where we gradually let go of our identifications with the external senses. It may well balance life with the understanding of non-action and the inherent ability of doing less with more awareness