Sunday, March 17, 2013

Yin Yoga FAQ Part 1

In April, I will be leading my first Yin Yoga Immersion, so I thought I'd take some time to answer some of the questions I've received over the years about this subtle, yet powerful practice. So as not to overwhelm anyone, I'll post the many questions over 2 weeks.

What is Yin Yoga? 

Whenever someone asks me to explain what yin yoga is, I always begin by taking a deep breath. It's not that easily defined, and the words we use to define it - surrender, stillness, flexibility, mindfulness, connective tissue (CT) - aren't all that "sexy" and appealing. The issue is that the term yin is a relative one. What's yin to one person maybe not be to another.

The term comes from Taoism, and the concept that we need a balance of yin and yang in order to be healthy. The symbol at the right illustrates that ebb and flow of yin and yang energies, including each in the other. So, depending on how much yin or yang you already have in your life, the yin component may change.

The characteristics of a yin practice may have similar qualities, however, and that's what we tend to describe when discussing yin yoga. A basic format would look like this:

Step 1: Take a shape that creates a medium-level sensation somewhere that allows you to sustain the position over time and surrender as much muscular tension as possible.
Step 2: Stay.
Step 3: Remain attentive to your sensations, breath and thoughts throughout the pose.

The practice tends to be quiet, reflective and mellow, which has a side effect of shift the nervous system from a stress response to a more healing state of being.

Why Relax the Muscles?

Muscular tissues like to be exercised in a yang way, extending and contracting over and over again, in order to stress and then, eventually, build the tissues. The connective tissues (CT) - scar tissue, ligaments, joint capsules, regular fascia, etc., respond differently and are best exercised through mild traction held for a period of time. You will never have a pose that is completely yang or completely yin, there will always be a little of the other included in each, just like the yin-yang symbol depicts. To keep the muscles from taking the load of the stress and bypassing the majority of the CT, we typically practice yin postures on the floor, where the weight is held by the ground or by props. It is much more challenging to practice weight-bearing poses with minimal muscle engagement, but not impossible. Practitioners must hold these poses with more awareness and less time, in order to affect the CT and avoid injury.

Is Yin the Same as Restorative Yoga?

No. While they both have a similar effect on the nervous system, the intention behind both practices is very different. Yin targets the CT running through the body, and the joints, specifically. Because of this, the joints are typically left unsupported - in traction, so that gravity can slowly untangle the fibers of the CT. In restorative yoga, the intention is to subtly tease the tension out of the body, while coaxing the nervous system towards the parasympathetic, the state where relaxation, digestion, elimination and healing can occur. To that end, the body is typically supported with lots of props - especially near the joints. Sensation is mild, stimulus as minimal as possible (Judith Lasater advocates quiet, dark and warm for this practice) and duration is long. be continued...


Please see the Events page for more information about these upcoming special programs:

Sunday, March 31 (Easter): OM for Peace
Saturday, April 6 - Sunday April 7: Yin Yoga 14-Hour Immersion
Saturday, April 6 - Sunday April 7 AND Saturday, April 13 - Sunday April 14: Yin Yoga Teacher Training
Sunday, April 28: Yin Yoga 1-Day Workshop