I had my first Yin Yoga experience about 7 years ago at the Y-Plus Yoga Center when I lived in Shanghai. At the time I was really into Hot Yoga and had just started practicing Vinyasa Flow. I was struggling with my stiffness, trying really hard to become more flexible when one day a friend of mine asked me to join her for a Yin Yoga class. She told me that Yin Yoga is a quiet and simple practice, hanging out in passive floor poses which are held over a longer period of time. This might sound easy, but in reality is far from it. I felt tension and also little pain in some parts of my body while doing the poses. The teacher went on giving us sensible advice on how to find our edge, listen to our body, let go of the monkey mind. He also brought in some science, some psychology and spirituality keeping us entertained while we were ‘marinating’ in a hip-opener or a deep backbend. I struggled with being alone, sitting with feelings and intense sensations and found it challenging to face myself and the rawness of what I was doing and who I was in that moment. As I came out of the posture, I felt that even if I hadn’t ‘done anything’ or broken a sweat, some really deep work had been done. My hips had been stretched beyond their usual range and my mind felt nourished and clear at the same time. After surviving this 90 min Yin Yoga class and finally lying in savasana a deeper part of me felt really calm. I felt a rush of love towards myself and so happy to be right there. I experienced true freedom in my whole body that I‘ve never felt before. From that time onwards I integrated Yin Yoga in my Yoga practice. Years later in Germany I did my Yin Yoga Teacher Training with Paul Grilley and another one with Josh Summers.
Yin Yoga is a quieter and gentle practice, but not necessarily an easy yoga practice. Yin yoga works deeply into our body by placing an emphasis on holding each posture for a long duration with the muscles relaxed. As opposed to dynamic practices such as Ashtanga, Vinyasa, and Power Yoga, which work hard on the muscular level, Yin Yoga targets the deep fascia and connective tissues surrounding the joints rather than the muscles themselves. Through muscular relaxation, Yin Yoga stretches these tissues gently, helping to create more space between the joints and thereby improve joint mobility while cultivating flexibility in a safe and effective manner. Yin Yoga works the area from the navel to the knees, but the principles of Yin Yoga can be applied to all areas of the body. Energetically, yin yoga improves the energy flow, enhancing the flow of chi in the organs.
Yin Yoga is based upon Taoist Yoga as practiced in China. Yin Yoga as we know it today was founded in the 1970s by martial arts expert and Taoist yoga teacher Paulie Zink. Yin style yoga has become popular due in large part to the widespread teaching activities of Yin Yoga teachers and developers Paul Grilley, Sarah Powers and Bernie Clark.
Yin Yoga is based on the Taoist concept of yin and yang – the opposite and complementary principles in nature. Yin is the stable, unmoving, hidden aspect of things while yang is the changing, moving, revealing aspect. Other yin-yang polarities include cold-hot, down-up, and calm-excited. In the human body, the relatively stiff connective tissues like tendons, ligaments, and fascia are yin, while the more mobile and pliable muscles and blood are yang.
Yin Yoga postures are also designed to improve the flow of qi – the subtle energy said in Chinese medicine to run through the meridian pathways of the body – in ourselves. Improved flow of qi is hypothesized to improve organ health, immunity, and emotional well-being.
Yin yoga is not recommended within two months after giving birth. The focus should be on poses which help new mothers regain strength and stability in the core abdominal, pelvic floor and back muscles.
During pregnancy, especially in the third trimester, be mindful while stretching and listen to your body. The body produces a hormone during pregnancy that softens the connective tissues. This can lead to higher risk of strains and pulls.
Yin Yoga is a perfect complement to the dynamic and muscular yang styles of yoga that emphasize internal heat, and the lengthening and contraction of our muscles as Yin Yoga generally targets the connective tissues of the hips, pelvis and lower spine.