Yin yoga is a slow, meditative style of yoga where poses are held for several minutes at a time. A relative new addition to the yoga world, yin is becoming increasingly popular, but people often are often unclear about what it really is. Keep reading for a brief guide below.
Yin and Yang
In Taoist philosophy, the concept of yin and yang describes the duality of life where everything interconnected and natural forces exist in complementary pairs. Nothing is every completely yin or completely yang as one cannot exist without the other and they combine to create something greater than the sum of their parts
Literally translated yin and yang mean bright and dark. More generally, yang attributes are energetic, rapid and dynamic things, whereas yin attributes are calm, slow and steady.
Modern yoga has come a long way from its origin as few seated poses designed to prepare the body and mind for long periods of meditation. Over the years more and more athletic practices with an emphasis on ‘yang’ elements (muscular strength/ flexibility and an elevated heart rate) have become the norm.
However, increasing numbers of, even very advanced, practitioners were starting to notice that despite years of dedicated ‘yang’ practice their bodies were ill prepared for the subtle rigours of meditation. Sitting still challenges the body in a very different way; well-trained yang muscles are largely still and the yin connective tissue and joints take most of the strain.
Yin yoga emerged to bridge the gap between the modern yang forms of yoga and seated meditation. In a yin practice the aim to gently stress the connective tissue (fascia/ tendons/ ligaments) and joints so they acclimatise to stillness. These 'yin' tissues have no direct blood supply and therefore respond much more slowly to change. Hence, yin poses are held for much longer than you would in a regular yoga class, typically 3-5 mins but sometimes as long as 10, to give the body time to adapt.
Yin postures mainly target the big stiff joints of the body involved in sitting e.g. hips, pelvis and lower back. They often stem from traditional yoga poses but are given alternate names to delineate the different emphasis e.g. pigeon is re-named swan.
Lastly, yin yoga also works on energy channels within the body. These energy channels, called meridians in the Chinese system or nadis in the yogic system are believed to run throughout the electrically conductive fascia of the body (see research by Dr Motoyama or Daniel Keown). Stretching the fascia as we do in yin poses stimulates the meridians, helping to clear blockages and promote healing within the body.