Have you ever seen people doing Yin yoga? From the outside, it looks quite comfortable and beginner-friendly. People are mostly lying around stabilized with bolsters, pillows, blocks, and other props, which make it even more convenient to stay in the pose. They do not move much, and if they move, then very slowly. So, it actually looks very relaxing. Nonetheless, it is, at the same time, quite challenging!
The Focus of Yin Yoga
In Yin yoga, the focus is to stretch or compress the Yin tissues in the target area in a healthy way and hold this position for 3 to 10 minutes. At the same time, other regions of the body stay active and support the posture. This activity separates Yin yoga from Restorative yoga, which does not have an active part at all.
Challenges of Yin Yoga
Every yoga style has its challenges and learning fields. The two main complexeties of Yin yoga are:
- Finding the right amount of stretch and
- Keeping your mind focused on the present while staying relaxed
“How to find the right amount of stretch?” is usually the most common question in Yin yoga. Leaving the ego that always wants more and more aside is the main trick. We need to stay inside the green zone of pain, so in a sensation that is for sure not hurting, that stays the same or even gets less during the duration of the pose. This kind of wellbeing pain can occur in the target area that gets stretched, e.g., in a forward fold the complete backside of the body or in an area of the body that gets compressed, e.g., your lower back in a backbend. Both are welcome.
When we do any style of Yang yoga, for example, Anusara yoga, we mostly combine the breath with the movement, which relaxes our parasympathetic nervous system and makes it easy to stay focused. Not having these movements in Yin yoga, while breathing into the stretching sensations and still relax, is the challenge. To stay in the present moment and NOT to write a to-do list or to overthink the past is not easy, especially for beginners. Being able to help you with these two challenges separates a good teacher from a skillful and sensitive one.
Benefits of Yin Yoga
Yin yoga targets our fascia and connective tissue, while Yang yoga aims at the muscles and our blood circulation. Most of our tension is not in our muscles but in our fascia, where this tension can build knots and makes the fascia glue together. Fascias and connective tissues need more time, static traction, and relaxation in the muscles to let go of these knots and tangles.
Yin yoga allows us to feel the tension and how it releases. This brings physical and mental relaxation. With time we aim at stretching to the maximum what our joints are capable, so ultimately, we regain our most healthy range of motion.
Mental and Emotional Benefits
As we stay for a couple of minutes in each pose, we feel our body, but as well, we get the observer of our mind and emotions. We learn to get aware of the fluctuations of our mind – called vrittis in yoga – which is a perfect preparation for more profound meditation. The better we learn to witness our body, mind, and emotions, the better we understand how they are interconnected and how they influence each other.
Benefits on an Energetical Level
With Yin yoga we stimulate our vital energy called Prana in yoga and Chi in Chinese medicine, which is floating in the fascia and the connective tissue. And as we release tension in these tissues, the healing energy can stream effortlessly and reach all the meridians and organs.
When to do Yin Yoga
Only doing Yin yoga, so beautiful and relaxing it is, does not work. Our muscles, specially our hearts, need as well a kind of Yang practice. This might be running, swimming, weightlifting, HIIT training, or another demanding Yang yoga style. In conclusion, Yin and Yang need to be balanced. You can practice Yang on one day, and Yin on another day. I love to combine both in my classes after each other. Usually starting with Yang and ending with Yin yoga is the perfect combination for myself most days.