As a practitioner and teacher of different forms of yoga, I have to say that Yin is one of my favorite yoga classes to teach and to practice. It is also one of the more confusingly-named forms of yoga, especially for new students. What is Yin yoga?
What is Yin yoga?
Yin yoga, developed in the 1970s in the West, is a fusion of Chinese Taoist (Daoist) perspectives with Indian yogic traditions, all brought into the modern era. Yin involves roughly three principles that differentiate it from other forms of yoga, such as the popular vinyasa power flow style (a form of yang, or active, yoga):
Hold the Yin pose for some time - this is not a breath-to-movement flow. Yin poses are generally held for 3-5 minutes each, though the amount of time can vary.
Find that edge where your comfort zone ends in a given pose. Then stay there or move deeper, as feels appropriate to your body (no pain my friend!).
Refrain, to the best of your ability, from squirming, fidgeting, moving, etc. while in the pose. Change positions if there is pain, certainly. Here we focus on the breath to find both inner and outer stillness.
The concept of qi (chi) flowing through the body’s meridians in Yin is the same concept as in acupuncture. Yin, however, involves acupressure through its poses. Yin works on the body’s fascia and on certain joints. Fascia is fibrous connective tissue that mostly consists of collagen. It attaches and surrounds muscles and other internal organs throughout the body.
The concepts of qi and meridians are analogous to the traditional yogic concepts of prana (energy, breath) and nadis (channels). These all play a role in Yin yoga.
What are some of the benefits of Yin?
-Acupressure; stimulates meridian lines
-Deep stretching of the connective tissues (this is the focus, rather than muscle stretching) and beneficial stress to the joints, especially in the low back, hips, and legs.
-Improves posture and the ability to sit comfortably for meditation
I love teaching and practicing Yin for all of the above reasons. One of the most beneficial aspects I feel I can impart to students as a Yin teacher is the sense of holding space. I emphasize non-competitiveness in all the classes I teach - no competition with others and none with oneself. The depth a student may have experienced in the pose last week may not be the same as the depth the student experiences today, and that is ok. The practice is not rushed and the environment truly feels more leveled than in other types of yoga classes; you will not see someone pressing up into a handstand next to you in Yin. It is common for students with various injuries and at different stages of recovery to ease their way back into their yoga practice through Yin; it is also common to see high-energy yang yoga students fighting to remain still in the poses and sometimes doing anything they can to avoid a Yin class. Yet, this is the class that could benefit you most if you are very active, as it will balance the yang energies that power you through your day-to-day schedule. Yin is truly for everyone, regardless of mobility and ability.
What can I expect from your Yin yoga class?
From the physical aspect, we will move through approximately 5-7 different poses during the 60-minute class, holding each pose for usually 3-5 minutes on each side of the body. You'll need a yoga mat and comfortable clothes. We will begin the class with pranayama, or breath work, before beginning other movement. There will be many props at your disposal, such as bolsters, blankets, blocks, straps, and sandbags. I encourage the creative use of props as you seek to find the shape that challenges your body in the appropriate way. Throughout the class, I cue students into the poses and give several options for each pose.
Yin students leave the class feeling more "open" and mobile. Perhaps you will also feel relaxed with a sense of healing. You may sense a different sort of energy ("Yin energy") within you. For most, the practice of Yin is relaxing with a bit of an edge to it - it is not restorative yoga and is meant to be rather challenging. Depending on what the student's state of mind is when they enter into the practice, Yin may force out some interesting feelings, which may not always be pleasant. For students who find they must stay busy every minute of the day in order to have a “good” day, Yin could be very challenging as it encourages stillness - stillness with the self. I challenge you to give Yin a try.
As a note to those who would like to know the backstory of Yin yoga in greater detail, I recommend looking up Paulie Zink, Paul Grilley, Sarah Powers, and Bernie Clark's teachings. Also, check this out: Best Yoga Mats Based on In-Depth Reviews, A comprehensive guide to Eco-Friendly, Non-Toxic Yoga Mats