I remember my first yin yoga experience some 10 years ago. At the time I lived in London and I was a dedicated vinyasa yoga practitioner. I had signed up for a workshop with a teacher who I’d heard was really great at teaching anatomy. It turned out that it was the teacher that put together yin yoga as we know it today : Paul Grilley.
I can’t remember my expectations at the time, but I certainly wasn’t expecting to have to stay in a pose for 5 minutes! I was used to moving rather quickly through a flow of different poses and it was painful for me to lay still for that long.
Just being – without doing anything.
The yin poses were challenging and it really took a lot for me to stay on the mat and not leave the room screaming! My body was tense and my mind was about to explode.
But then something amazing happened. After a while my body started to yield and I began to sink deeper and deeper into the pose – and into silence.
I let go and surrendered to yin yoga.
What is yin yoga?
Yin yoga is a silent, meditative kind of yoga practice, where you stay in one pose for 3 to 5 minutes (or longer). Many of us are used to practicing various kinds of more dynamic yang yoga like hatha, iyengar and vinyasa, all yoga practices that mainly work on the muscles.
We don’t use our bodies to get into a pose, we use the pose to get into our bodies.
With yin yoga we try to let go of as much muscle activity as possible to get to the connective tissue and joints and loosen up any blockages in the energy channels in the body instead. More on that later….
The dance between yin and yang
According to Chinese philosophy everything in the world is a dance between yin and yang. Yin is to be found in the feminine, the silence, devotion, heaviness, cold and dark. Yang is to be found in the masculine, movement, action, activity, warmth and ease.
When we embrace the dance between the two sides, we achieve life balance. There’s a natural changing rhythm between yin and yang all of the time like nature that changes between seasons, night and day etc. We need both!
Most of us live in a yang - based world controlled by external circumstances, by ambition and action. We’ re taught to achieve something and to always move towards the next goal in life.
Essentially this is how I used to think about things as well. Practicing yin yoga has taught me how to let go, to receive and accept, to relax and to turn my attention towards the silence within me. To the place inside of me where I find all the answers to my questions, where I hear my inner voice, my intuition, my inner guide.
The connective tissue that holds the body together
So, in yin yoga we aim to stretch – or actually stress – fascia, part of the connective tissue and the joints to become more flexible and keep the body mobile. Fascia is like a spider web that keeps all parts of your body together. Among other things, it consists of 70% fluids and contributes to your body’s flow and free movement.
If you don’t move your body on a regular basis, or if you’re stressed and your body is full of stress hormones, fascia dries out and tightens, your body becomes stiff and you may experience physical pain.
Meridians – the body’s energy channels
In yin yoga we also work with the body's energy channels – the meridians. According to traditional Chinese medicine, our life energy also known as 'Ch'i' flows through these energy channels.
When the channels are blocked, the body is out of balance and tension and disease can occur. On the other hand, when your life energy flows freely through your body, you will experience physical and mental balance.
Relieve stress with yin yoga
Yin yoga is also really helpful when you experience stress in your life.
When you practice this slow, meditative style of yoga, you relax the muscles, your breathing becomes slower and it affects your parasympathetic nervous system, which enables you to relax and stress less.
Yin yoga also strengthens your presence and your ability to feel what’s happening in the body. When you become more aware of what’s going on in your body and align with your actual needs, you’ll also be able to avoid stress building up.
It‘s not always easy to practice yin yoga, in fact it can be very challenging at times and there’s a lot to learn from it.
Learning to be present.
Learning to accept things and to let go.
This is real yin yoga.