All life embodies yin
And embraces the yang,
Through their union
Tao Te Ching
Our life’s are a dance of yin and yang, yet for most of us the scale is often tipped farther into yang, leaving us with strong bodies but stiff joint, continuous niggles, busy minds and in a state of perpetual motion.
Adding a couple of yin yoga practices to your week can help restore balance, allowing for quicker muscle recovery, increased range of motion and a more peaceful mind.
Yin yoga works with the more yin tissues of the body – the fascia and ligaments. Ligaments are the tough fibrous tissues that connect two bones or cartilage. Fascia is the matrix like web of connective tissue, made mostly of collagen, that weaves through the whole body, around cells and through organs, muscles, and bones. It’s denser in some areas, lighter in others and like everything in the body, the fascia is constantly changing and responding.
When we spend long hours in the same position (i.e. at a desk, or in a car) or when we move within the same movement patterns (i.e. long distance running, or even the repetition of our vinyasa practice) we are not moving a joint through its full range of motion and the fibers can stiffen and shorten. This can restrict our joint mobility and effect how it feels when we move often creating a denser, heavier feeling in the body. It can also contribute to muscle soreness as the blood and lymph cannot flow as easily.
These yin tissues benefit from the healthy stressing of longer static holds like in a yin yoga practice. During the extended holds we relax the muscles of the target area allowing the stress to land on the connective tissues creating a phase change in their fluid and rehydrating the area. The result is stronger and more flexible joints, and with a consistent practice can even allow for a greater range of motion. Most of us experience these results as a feeling of lightness and ease in the body, particularly noticeable when we step back into our yang vinyasa practice; think more ease in forward folds, freedom through the shoulders in down dog and further rotation in twists!
During a yin practice, many of us will experience a relaxing quality, feeling a sense of calm. As we rehydrate the tissues of the body, this also allows a greater flow of chi through that area. Chi as it’s referred to in the Chinese Taoist system, is the same as the Prana we speak of in the Indian Tantric system when we reference the chakras; it’s the essential energy of the body. Allowing the smoother flow of chi helps to naturally drop us into the restorative parasympathetic nervous system and creates an experience that is both healing and enjoyable.
Consistency is key in a yin practice; even a 10-15 minute practice used daily can result in lasting effects.
Here’s one of my go to sequences when I need to slow down:
Hold for 3-5 minutes.
Bring the soles of your feet together, adjust how close or far they are from your groin so that with relaxed muscles you feel a gentle pull through your inner thighs. If the muscles are holding on, place blocks or rolled towels underneath your thighs.
Then allow your spine to curve and round as you fold forward, try and relax the muscles on the back and let the hands just rest where they fall.
Hold for 3-5 minutes each side.
Lying on your back, wrap your right thigh over the left and shift your hips to the right while you allow the knees to fall to the left. You want to find a twist through the spine, so you might adjust how high or low the knees are, or let them land onto a block or rolled towel while keeping your shoulders resting on the ground.
Arms can fall wide into a T shape, rest overhead or on the body. Hold then switch sides, reversing the wrapping of the legs and letting them fall to the left. References
Grilley, Paul, Yin Yoga Principles and Practice, 2012, Ashland Oregon, White Cloud Press