Derived from Hatha yoga, the practice of Yin yoga is based on the Taoist concepts of Yin and Yang; the opposite and complementary principles of reality.
Simply put; as an energetic state, yin is feminine. It’s stability, passivity, downward moving and cold. Yang on the other hand is masculine, dynamic, upward moving and hot. The moon is considered yin, and the sun, yang. Yin is water, yang is fire.
A balance of these aspects can be found in the natural world, as well as our inner psyches. This beautiful duality creates the Whole, and when you pay attention, you’ll start noticing it everywhere!
Within the body the pliable muscles and blood are considered yang, while the comparatively stiff connective tissues are yin. This means that in yoga, more passive asanas (postures) are yin, while the dynamic asanas that generate heat are considered yang.
Many yin yoga asanas are similar to those within Hatha yoga, however they’re named differently, due to their being performed with significantly less muscular exertion (and often with props).
What are the Benefits?
Yin yoga differs significantly from a Vinyasa yoga practice, making it the perfect complement. By having a Yin and Yang practice, you can cultivate a balance within your energy systems, a positive shift that you’ll feel on both physical and mental levels.
It’s all about tuning into your mind and body, and choosing the flow that suits your current state. When I’m feeling restless, frustrated or energetic, a dynamic flow is perfect for directing this energy in a positive way.
On the other hand, yin is the perfect answer for days that I would rather not move at all! If you’re feeling sad, drained or in need of rest, yin yoga offers healing and grounding. This practice can calm the nervous system, open our hearts and provide a space for the body to relax deeply.
Below are a few other key benefits of yin yoga.
Yin and Yang tissues respond differently to being stimulated. Muscles use heat and movement to release in a Yang practice, while connective tissues respond best to the long steady holds in Yin practice. This means deep stretches and over time, increased flexibility.
The physical benefits of Yin yoga will depend on the duration of each asana, and the temperature of the muscle. Asanas are usually held for five to ten minutes each, a massive difference from other styles of yoga.
Because yin yoga does not generate body heat, it’s a good idea to keep the temperature of the room higher than usual, or to use blankets.
It connects you with your body
One of the immediate benefits of yin yoga is how it inevitably causes you to really notice your body. More than that, in slowing everything down, the practice teaches you how to listen to your body. With each practice you will notice tiny shifts in your flexibility, strength and state. This heightens your sensitivity to your body, in everyday life – plus, it causes an appreciation and reconnection to your body, which also tends to trickle into other areas of your life. You’ll certainly feel more inclined to love and respect your body after a long practice of feeling gratitude for it!
It’s a form of meditation
At this point we’re being constantly exposed to current affairs, pressures and the digital world, like never before. A fantastic way to disconnect from that noise, is to practice pure stillness.
When we stay in our asanas, we almost always meet a stream of seemingly never-ending thoughts. You’ll often find yourself wanting to end the pose midway. Yin teaches us to find a place of comfort in the not-so-comfortable, as we are forced to observe our thoughts and reactions from a witness perspective. Just like many other traditional meditation methods, we watch our thoughts arise, and watch them pass.
This subtle sense of ‘dropping’ or ‘letting-go’ is necessary in meditation. Eventually, this discipline will start to enter our daily lives. By practicing ‘catching thoughts’ and bringing them back, you will strengthen your mind – eventually becoming more resistant to boredom or emotional extremes.
It provides release
Yin yoga means getting intimate with your emotions and sensations, areas that are more easily ignored during a faster paced practice. When held at length, what starts as an easy pose can quickly change into something incredibly challenging. This is the real gift of Yin – the poses and the way they are held tends to release incredibly strong sensations, both physically and emotionally.
According to yogic schools of thought, we store emotions in various parts of our bodies. Memories and tension linger in cells stored deep in our tissues. When we go into a yoga pose that opens a part of the body otherwise left unused, these deeply stored memories and emotions can resurface.
My very first experience with Yin was at a Happy Buddha midweek retreat. Without this background knowledge I was quite baffled when by pose three I felt tears rolling down my face!
This isn’t to say that every time you practice yin yoga you will experience a dramatic catharsis… but practice can absolutely lead to a wide array of reactions such as sadness, anger. Yin provides the gift of watching these lift, clear and pass, almost always leaving you feeling lighter by the time you leave your mat!