My journey into Yin Yoga only began about a year a half ago. The first Yin class I took, I wanted to run out of the room after two minutes! I went in way too deep, way too fast. And I was cursing the teacher under my breath asking myself why anyone would want to do this silly practice. I left mad and irritated. Not exactly how you want to leave a yoga class. The next class I went to, I didn't go as far and I learned more about my edges and finding the right shape for me in each pose presented. One day, I was asked to substitute teach a Yin class. I found some sequences online and went for it. The more I learned about this practice, the more I realized I needed it in my life. So, as I do. . . I signed up for a Yin Yoga training.
Now, Yin yoga is considered a newer practice when compared to the other older lineages of yoga, such as Iyengar or Mysore. The founder of Yin Yoga, Paulie Zink, developed this practice after studying many years of Chinese Taoist Yoga. It was Paul Grilley's (another amazing Yin teacher, who studied with Zink) student, Sarah Powers, who coined the practice "Yin" in the late 1990s. Bernie Clark, who studied under Powers and Grilley, has written some great books on Yin yoga such as The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga- my Yin yoga bible.
So, what is Yin yoga exactly? In the practice of Yin, poses are held passively for longer amounts of time than in a Hatha or Vinyasa style class-anywhere from 1-6 minutes. The practice is floor-based, so no, you won't be holding Warrior 2 for 6 minutes. In fact, the only standing pose is a forward fold and knees can be bent significantly. In some practices, with lots of experience, the poses can be held for up to 20 minutes! Yin is a practice that is meant to bring the body back to balance and to go inward, or "Yinward," as Josh Summers would say. We stress the soft tissues of the body (tendons, joints, ligaments, and fascia) by compressing (squeezing together) or adding tension (pulling apart), and sometimes twisting. Now, I know this sounds scary to be stressing the soft tissues in the body, but that is how we are able to strengthen them. And we allow time and gravity to do the work. In our faster, warmer Yang practices we are strengthening our muscles. We use props like a Restorative or Iyengar class, but the props allow us to hold these positions for longer amounts of time or to help us to go deeper into the pose. One of my favorite quotes from Bernie Clark is, "We do not use the body to get into the pose, we use the pose to get into the body." Overall, it's not about the shape or how far you go in each pose, but the sensations in the soft tissues that we call the "target area." Each pose has target areas. There are times when you will experience sensation in other areas in addition to the target areas. That's okay, that's where you're supposed to feel it.
There are three basic principles in Yin yoga. The first one is find the appropriate depth for each pose or what we call the "Goldilocks" position. Not too easy, not too hard. Next, is to hold for the appropriate amount of time. Which means if you are new to the practice, don't feel as if you need to stay in the pose longer or as long as those who have a stronger practice. Come out of the pose when you are ready. And lastly, we remain still in the pose. Finding our breath and experiencing the sensations of the pose.
As I go deeper in my own yoga practice and journey as a student and teacher, I appreciate how yoga is changing. It's not just about the shape your body is making. It's how you feel in it. Yin to me, is a very personal practice because the shape I make will look much different than the shapes of other people in class. There is no such thing as a one-size fits all yoga asana. You make the shape your own. There's nothing I love more as a yoga teacher than to see all of my students making good, safe choices for their bodies. In class, I always reiterate that you are the boss of your body. I am simply here to guide the practice, but ultimately you decide where you take the pose.
So. . . why do you need Yin you ask? Because life is Yang. We are hard on our bodies, sitting for long periods of time, driving, and doing all sorts of workouts that strengthen our muscles, but what about our soft tissues? Enter Yin. This practice can be done by those new to yoga or well-seasoned yogis and everyone in between. There are many benefits to having a complementary Yin practice to your Yang life. You will increase your joint mobility and balance, it will improve your range of motion and flexibility, it will calm down your nervous system, it will help to prevent injuries caused by tension and tightness, it encourages greater physical awareness, greater self-awareness, and it will train you to mentally slow down and be present in your body. Who doesn't want all that? I'd love to practice with you, come and join me anytime.
I teach Yin on Fridays at Hogan Sports Center in New London, NH from 4:30-5:20pm and Fridays at Evergreen Healing Arts in Bradford, NH from 6:15-7:15pm.