I’ve practiced different kinds of yoga in many venues over the past 10 years. But I had never heard of yin yoga until we joined Fitness First (our gym) here. Early in our membership term, I saw “Yin Yoga” on the class schedule and decided to give it a try. I didn’t know what it was, but figured I had enough yoga experience to handle whatever the class threw at me. And while that was (sort of) true, yin yoga turned out to be a unique and captivating yoga experience.
Before we go any further, let me try to oversimplify the Chinese philosophy of yin/yang duality. Broadly speaking, yang is characterized as hot, dry, solid, and fast (associated with fire, sky, sun), and yin is characterized as soft, yielding, passive, and cold (associated with water, earth, moon). The two work together and complement each other – two parts of a greater whole. In the same way, the practice of yin yoga is intended to complement the practice of other types of yoga (vinyasa, ashtanga, and bikram are all be considered “yang”).
As you (now realize) the name implies, yin yoga is a slower, sustained, more passive flavor of yoga. The roots of yin yoga are ancient, based in Taoism, and grounded in ideas of energy, energy flow, and meridians – although I won’t delve into this (particularly as it is seldom discussed in the classes I take, and my understanding is rudimentary at best). The modern day yin practice has only recently become codified and marketed, and is currently growing in popularity (see this article in the LA Times).
There are only ~30-35 postures in yin yoga, and most are seated or lying down poses. Many will be familiar to practitioners of yang yoga, although the names of the yin postures are different, a conscious choice made to help differentiate between the two practices. In execution, the primary difference is that each yin yoga posture is held for 3-5 minutes, or more. The goal is to relax into the posture and soften the muscles to target the stretch deep into the connective tissue and joints. Hips are the primary area of focus, although time is also spend on the shoulders, back, and legs.
There are many acceptable variations and depths for each posture, and as students, we are encouraged to “find our edge”: where we feel sensation and mild discomfort, but at a level that is sustainable for minutes at a time. We use towels, blankets, and blocks to support our body and allow us to relax and stretch more deeply. The lengthy holds provide adequate time to test, investigate, adjust, and ease into a posture. These long holds also allow the instructor time to assist and guide each student achieve proper alignment, full relaxation, and deep stretching.
For me, yin yoga requires a different kind of focus than most other yoga. In yang yogas, I focus on alignment and strength – keeping my muscle groups active and engaged to stabilize and energize my movements. At times, I even feel overwhelmed trying to remember everything: planting my feet, splaying my toes, keeping my thigh parallel to the floor, not letting my knee collapse inward, tucking my pelvis, powering my core, relaxing my shoulders, elongating my neck, sending power into my arms, and on, and on, and on.
In yin yoga, however, I concentrate on relaxing, releasing, letting go, and moving deeper in response to tension in one specific area. The many variations of each posture allow me to explore and discover my body’s preferences and limits. Physically, I find that yin yoga further increases my awareness of my body and its weaknesses, stiffness, and asymmetries. Mentally, yin yoga allows me to relax and focus on just one thing: finding my edge.
Would I recommend yin yoga? In short, yes. The benefits have been great enough to convince me to add one – and two if possible – yin yoga classes to my weekly workout schedule. I think that those new to yoga would find a yin class in some ways simpler (fewer postures and less movement), and in others more challenging (greater single-focus concentration, and tolerance of mild to moderate discomfort). But as with all yoga, I truly, truly believe that the quality of the class depends on the quality of the instructor. Find yourself a good instructor, and any student, of any level, will have a great class. [Singapore Fitness First members, Joyce is my favorite yin yoga instructor!]
Ever done yin yoga? What are your thoughts?
[And now, you can head back to my original Tuesday post by clicking HERE.]