There are a lot of different styles of Yoga and with more and more creative, fun (and sometimes slightly ridiculous… Yes I mean beer yoga) yoga classes popping up all over the world every year it is hard to keep up. Yin yoga is a simple and slow paced practice based on ancient Chinese philosophies and Taoist principles. In Yin Yoga we work into pathways of Qi (energy) that run through our bodies along our meridians (energy channels). By holding stretches for several minutes and deepening into poses, we’re opening up any blockages and releasing this Qi to flow freely throughout the body.
While a dynamic yoga practice such as a fast paced Vinyasa class or a strong Hatha practice is great, the slower pace of a Yin practice can also have huge benefits on our mind and body.
In most yoga practices we focus on stretching the muscles and mobilising the joints and limbs. In Yin Yoga, when we hold the stretches for several minutes at the time, we are working into not only the muscles but gently stretching the fascia tissue to improve flexibility and ease stiffness and aches.
The slow pace and deep breathing we practice in Yin classes helps us activate our parasympathetic nervous system, which is where we rest and recover. This state of relaxation can help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. Practicing Yin yoga regularly and learning to breathe deep and find rest in stretches, can help you become less susceptible to everyday stresses.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine it is believed that the subtle body has a network of meridians that all of our life force and energy must flow freely throughout. Feelings of sadness, fear or anger can be caused by blockages throughout our meridians. When we practice Yin Yoga we encourage the flow of Qi and help open up any blockages in the body. Therefore a regular Yin practice will improve your wellbeing and foster feelings of love, joy and contentment.
Because Yin Yoga is a gentle practice, where we hold poses for longer periods of time, it is great to have some cushions and blankets to support and encourage rest and release. You can use specific yoga bolsters and blankets, but regular cushions and warm blankets will be fine too. However an eye pillow can be a great tool to really encourage relaxation in poses can be great.
It is great to practice Yin yoga when your muscles are cool, so in the morning or before a more dynamic practice. This is because we want to work into the connective tissue, and if the muscles are warm that will take the tension out of the stretches. However I also really like practicing Yin Yoga before I go to sleep at night, because the slow pace and breathing exercises of Yin yoga, help us activate our parasympathetic nervous system, so that we can find rest and relaxation.
There is no right or wrong answer here. Physically you could practice Yin yoga every day, and doing a short session every day could have a really positive effect on your mind and body by keeping your muscles and tissue flexible and lowering your overall stress levels. However it is important to listen to yourself and learn to recognise when your mind or body is craving a different and faster paced energy. Some people will find that they are more drawn to a Yin practice, while others will need more yang energy such as a fast paced vinyasa flow or even a long run, but we all need both in some form or other.
The simplest thing you can do is focus on your breath. But just as we can train our muscles to become stronger, we can also train our mind and our brain to become better and more adapt to finding (and enjoying) stillness. Similar to working out for a physical gain, training our mind takes time and it can be difficult (and even painful or uncomfortable) at times. We are so used to constant mental stimuli from screens and the people around us, so slowing down and sitting in stillness with our thoughts can be difficult. My best advise is take your time and be gentle with yourself, don’t get frustrated if your mind wanders or you cannot keep still in a pose. Just keep coming back to focusing on your breath and take your practice day by day without any judgements or expectations.
You need to listen to your body to explore and find your own limits in the poses. Generally a stretch shouldn’t be overly painful, but it is normal that we can find soreness and stiffness in areas that are tight. When we hold the stretches for long periods of time in a Yin class, you will slowly feel this melt away as you soften into the pose and your muscles and fascia begins to stretch and release.
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