Yin yoga is a slow, deep, meditative form of yoga practice. Postures are seated, kneeling or lying down, and held for two to five minutes. The emphasis is on deep stretch at the level of connective tissue (tendons, ligaments, fascia, even bones). In class, we typically focus on one area of the body to be stretched – for example, hips, legs, spine, or neck/shoulders/arms. Or we may focus on stimulating particular meridians (see below for explanation). Between the long-held yin postures, we will practice some strengthening yang postures. In general, postures will stretch the lower body and strengthen the upper body.
Beyond its physical benefits, yin yoga leads us towards a deep understanding of our own body. As yin postures are held for several minutes, we have the time to really tune in to the body: what is happening in the body, how the body is responding to the posture, and what the body is trying to tell us. We develop a deeper relationship with our body and breath, learning to listen and respond to its signals.
The roots of yin yoga are in 1/ traditional hatha yoga, 2/ Tao philosophy, and 3/ traditional Chinese medicine (meridian theory). The word “yin” is Chinese, meaning “sun blocked by clouds.” It relates to the Chinese concept of “yin and yang” – the idea that there are two sides to everything, and that these sides must be balanced to produce wellness. “Yin” refers to the aspect of life that is cool, soft, still, yielding, inward, downward. “Yang” refers to the aspect that is hot, hard, moving, pushing, outward, upward.
A simple example in yoga is that the body needs both strength (yang) and flexibility (yin). Too much strength makes the body rigid; too much flexibility makes the body unstable. Yin yoga, with its deep stretches, is a good balancing practice for people who are stiff, or who do a lot of strengthening activities (e.g. running, weight-lifting).
Meridian theory proposes that there are energy channels (“meridians”) in the body – lines along which our energy flows. A smooth flow of energy ( “chi”) through these meridians allows the body to function well. Our meridians can become blocked for various reasons, hindering our flow of energy and disrupting our natural state of health and wellness. Some researchers believe that the meridians run through the body’s internal network of connective tissues. By stretching and compressing the body in specific ways, yin yoga postures help to stimulate the flow of energy along the meridians, restoring balance and ease to the body.
You can find more information about yin yoga here.