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What is Yin Yoga?

What is Yin Yoga?

Many people think of yoga as a room full of people sweating, and bending and breathing their way into pretzel shaped postures. Well, that does happen! Nowadays there are so many styles of yoga it is easy to feel overwhelmed with what class you might choose to do; Iyengar, Ashtanga, Hatha, Bikram, Slow Flow, Vinyasa, Restorative, Yin Yoga, and probably a bunch more by now. It just keeps evolving and growing. 

If all of these styles were placed on a spectrum of most sweaty and intense, to most gentle and introverted, I might place them in this kind of order: Bikram, Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Iyengar, Slow Flow, Hatha, Yin Yoga and then finally Restorative. 

Yin Yoga is a type of yoga where we place the body in a floor-based posture, with intended “Target Areas” in mind, while being given lots of different ways that you could moderate the posture. This would include options for how to use props, or changing the arrangement of limbs, to help you find the place where the sensations and experience are most tolerable for you on that day. We then spend a few minutes in that shape; anywhere from 1 minute to 6 minutes, and then when come out of the shape and spend some time resting in a “rebound” shape. 

A Target Area is a region of the body that has the potential to feel a strong broad stretching sensation, pulling sensation, or compressive squeezing sensation while you are in that yin shape. It is important to stress the word “potential”, because not all bodies will feel it exactly in the same place, or at the same intensity, as we are all slightly different in our skeletal and muscular tissue. 

Using Target Areas as a guide in the practice is quite revolutionary, as we have mostly been used to the yoga teacher giving us very specific alignment cues in yoga. In Yin Yoga the Target Area as a focus means that we could even do a completely different posture to Target a particular area of the body if a certain posture is not a great fit on that day, or if we are recovering from an injury, as well as lots of other reasons why we might want another option. 

The Yin Yoga practice itself could be described as slow, internal, mindful, and deep. That does not mean it isn’t challenging! Often the biggest challenge is sitting with the thoughts that arise in the mind; thoughts that many not have had any time in the week to be noticed or processed, and up they come in a flood. Sometimes those thoughts can bring intense emotions up with them as well. So, it is really important in a Yin Yoga class to be reminded that you are in the drivers’ seat of your practice. If you need to moderate a posture, come out of a posture early, or even skip a posture all together, that is completely fine and it means you are listening to the messages that your body is giving you, rather than feeling like you have to tough it out until the teacher gives you permission to move. 

Another really important aspect of Yin Yoga, is the way in which the “yin tissues” of the body receive a healthy dose of the kind of exercise they prefer; long, static holds, followed by a rest period. The yin tissues include: tendons, ligaments, fascia and bones. All tissues of the body need exercise, it’s just that they prefer quite specific types of exercise, otherwise they could be vulnerable to injury. Small, healthy doses of this kind of “stress” are really important to include in our movement diet. If we only ever build strength in our muscular tissue, the yin tissues can become weakened or overlooked. It is all about balance. 

Perhaps the most amazing benefit of this kind of yoga, is the quiet time you get to spend with yourself. Not moving at a galloping pace through the sequence, and having time to really feel what is happening in your body, and be mindful of what is rising up in your thoughts. When else in our day/week do we get concentrated time to do that? 

But really, the only way to truly get a sense of something is to experience it. So, if you have never been to a yin yoga class, do yourself a favour, whether it is an online class or at a local yoga studio near you. And you can find out for yourself what this Yin Yoga craze is all about! 

By Dr Karina Smith.

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