Yoga has many wonderful functions. If you’re simply looking to improve your strength or flexibility, you can find a yoga class to fit your needs. If you’re an athlete and require an alternative way to stretch or enhance your mobility and speed, yoga can be that vehicle for you, too.
But what about yoga as a source of healing and recovery? Yes, certain types of yoga poses and styles are designed specifically to complement recovery from an injury like a pulled muscle or after a surgery like a knee replacement. Yin Yoga is one form of yoga that can target specific parts of your body to support a restored and rejuvenated body.
This article will help you understand the wonderful benefits of Yin Yoga. It will focus on the following:
- The Definition of Yin Yoga
- A Brief History of Yin Yoga
- What You’ll Need for the Practice
- How is Yin Yoga Different from Restorative Yoga
- Five Benefits of Yin Yoga
- How to Get Started with Yin Yoga
The Definition of Yin Yoga
Yin Yoga is an asana practice where the practitioner holds yoga postures for an extended amount of time. In these passive holds, you may sit in a posture for three to five minutes, sometimes longer depending on the pose.
The intention is to release connective tissue and fascia that have bound up in the body.
The result is greater flexibility and mobility in targeted parts of your body. Many of the postures in Yin Yoga are done on the floor in a seated or lying down position. This will encourage your muscles to relax and the bound-up connective tissue to slowly release.
A Brief History of Yin Yoga
Yin Yoga is a relatively new style of yoga but has its roots in the ancient traditions of yogic philosophy. Its main origins come from Chinese Taoist theory. Formulated in the 1970s and made popular in the mid-1980s, Yin Yoga was conceived to boost flexibility and range of motion.
It’s called Yin Yoga because of the passive movement performed by the student. Rather than focusing on engaging your muscles, the focus is on your joints and ligaments. The intention is to release bound-up connective and fascial tissue and to allow for full function of your ligaments and joints.
How Yin Yoga Affects the fascia
Fascia is like a webbing throughout your body that holds everything in place. It is a thin yet strong form of connective tissue that surrounds your organs, bones, nerves, and muscles. Due to its form and function, fascia can become tightly bound up and stiff due to lack of movement or injury to the body.
To get a better understanding of fascia (or fascial tissue), imagine a piece of cling wrap. When balled up in your hand, it holds its shape. This is how the fibrous tissue behaves in your body when you’ve had an injury or have limited movement.
For example, when you sprain your ankle, you have likely torn, overstretched, or in other ways damaged soft tissue (fascia) that holds your ankle in place. As the ankle heals, you may experience some pain or lack of mobility. It may resemble that balled-up piece of cling wrap, unable to smooth itself out on its own.
In order for that cling wrap to unravel, it takes manual effort to pull it back to its original smooth state. That is what Yin Yoga can potentially do for an injured area. When allowed to gently stretch, the fascial tissue begins to unbind providing relief in that formerly damaged area.
You can think of Yin Yoga as a source of rejuvenation and support healing. Since the poses are done seated or lying down, it allows the body to fully relax and disengage so the healing process can take place.
What You’ll Need for the Practice
Because Yin Yoga involves yoga postures held for a long time, it is ideal to use yoga props to support your body in these positions.
These are just a few items you may consider using while practicing Yin Yoga. You may also want to wear loose comfortable clothing. Since you will not be generating heat with active movement, long pants, and a long-sleeved shirt would be appropriate to wear.
A padded or thick yoga mat could also come in handy. Since you will be performing most of your Yin Yoga postures sitting or lying down, having extra padding will further support your body.
How is Yin Yoga Different from Restorative Yoga
As you have read the description of Yin Yoga so far, it may sound a bit like Restorative Yoga. Are they the same thing, you ask? There are some similarities between the two practices. Both involve yoga postures done seated or lying down. Both use yoga props to support the body as you hold yoga positions for an extended time.
The difference lies in the style in which you may position yourself in these yoga practices. In Restorative Yoga, the intention is to experience full release and relaxation in the body and mind. Supporting the body with props in poses like Savasana allows for complete calm and ease in a meditative state. It is a wonderful way for someone seeking rest to sleep better, for example.
Yin Yoga also has a restorative component, but the supported postures add the element of targeted and gentle stretching in specific parts of your body: shoulders, hips, back, etc. The intention is to release fascial tissue, so the work in Yin Yoga goes physically deeper.
Five Benefits of Yin Yoga
With this knowledge of Yin Yoga, here are five yin yoga benefits and why you should give it a try.
#1. Improves Mobility & Flexibility
Generally, Yin Yoga is known for improving mobility and flexibility in your muscles and joints. Because the yoga postures are designed to encourage connective tissue release, the byproduct of the practice is better flexibility and mobility.
Since bound-up fascial tissue and tight muscles hinder movement, allowing your body to hold specific postures will loosen those tight ligaments and joints for better movement.
#2. Reduces Physical & Mental Stress
One is encouraged to practice Yin Yoga because it offers a needed balance in our lives. It is probably fair to say that our lives are full of busy schedules, solving problems, managing stress, and engaging in constant active movement.
Due to this consistent action in our lives, mental and bodily stress may result. This dilemma, if not managed appropriately, can lead to serious problems like physical injury or other health problems. We do not give ourselves enough time to fully relax after taxing our systems on a daily basis. We run the risk of causing more harm to ourselves than we intend.
In yogic terms, you are indulging in a “yang” (or “yan”) lifestyle. Yang refers to masculine energy in Chinese medicine. It is similar to the yogic traditions, too. Yang describes the more active yoga practices you may be accustomed to: Ashtanga Yoga, Power Vinyasa Yoga, or other Hatha Yoga styles. These involve movement, muscle engagement, and generating heat in the body. All, of course, are quite beneficial, yet may induce imbalance if these are the only styles of yoga you practice.
If you were to only practice yang styles of yoga, they may place strain on your body; this is not congruent with the yoga philosophy. Yoga is about self-awareness and healing. Practicing Yin Yoga can offer the balance your body and mind desire.
Yin is considered feminine energy. It involves slower or non-movement. It encourages little or no muscle engagement. It celebrates quiet and stillness to bring calm, ease, and healing to the bodily system. This can lead to a reduction in mental stress and physical fatigue.
#3. Helps You Practice Stillness & Quiet
As your body comes to complete stillness during a Yin Yoga practice, it becomes an exercise of holding for long periods. This is ideal for entering a meditative state. In meditation, you are able to relax your mind and body.
As mentioned, it is common to become overwhelmed by an active mind and body creating more undesired stress. Practicing stillness and silence in Yin Yoga is a good source for establishing and maintaining a sense of balance and well-being.
#4. Clear Negative Emotions & Thoughts
Yin Yoga also has a therapeutic quality to it. Not only will you be able to release connective tissue and improve mobility, but also deepen your awareness and connection to your emotions and thoughts.
One holds postures in Yin Yoga significantly longer than in most other yoga types. Because you are encouraged to hold them without fidgeting, it allows you to take notice of your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations.
These sensations can sometimes become intense. Your immediate response may be to shift and move out of the yoga posture to avoid the discomfort of holding the position for so long.
Further, negative thoughts and emotions may also arise while you hold your Yin Yoga postures. This is normal and part of the entire process. Moving your body would certainly distract those negative thoughts.
Instead, do your best to stay in stillness. The sensations may feel uncomfortable, but this is your body doing the actual work of releasing those tight muscles and fascia.
Observe the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings that arise. Just as your physical body is bound up, your emotional and mental bodies are also bound up. Use your breath to help move past the discomfort allowing your entire system (physical, mental, and emotional) to release these undesired obstacles.
Yin Yoga, therefore, assists with clearing your mind of negative emotions and mental distractions.
#5. Promote Relaxation & Improve Your Sleep
If you struggle with getting a good night’s sleep, Yin Yoga can assist with relaxing your body and relieving mental stress so that you can fall asleep more easily.
Yin Yoga encourages holding in stillness, focuses on breath, and helps clear your mind. These are certainly elements needed to help shift from the actions of the day to the intention of going to sleep.
When you do not sleep well, it is harder to focus during the day, you feel less motivated and energetic, and it can lead to health problems. Sleep, and getting high-quality sleep, is essential. Using tools like a Yin Yoga practice will foster the desired state of mind and body so that your restless nights can turn into a more restful and rejuvenating experience.
Hopefully, you now can see the benefits of the Yin Yoga practice and how it can help you. So, how do you get started? Here are a few tips.
- Contact your local yoga studio(s) to see if they offer Yin Yoga and take one of their classes.
If Yin Yoga is not offered at your neighborhood studio, there are plenty of classes and tutorials available for free or moderate cost online.
- When you practice for the first time, take it slowly. Move into the yoga postures carefully and mindfully. Pay attention to how these postures feel on your body, particularly in your joints.
- Use appropriate props to adequately support your body while holding the position.
- Refrain from pain. Some postures may feel uncomfortable, but you definitely want to avoid pain.
- Do your best to find a position that you can hold without too much fidgeting.
- If you are new to the practice, limit how long you hold the postures. Perhaps start with 1 to 3 minutes. Progress upward to 5 or more minutes as you get more accustomed to the practice.
Now that you have all the tools to begin your Yin Yoga practice, throw on some comfy clothes, roll out your yoga mat, and begin your journey to a healthier mind and body.
To explore more yoga styles, check out our resources: