People are naturally drawn toward what they like and enjoy, so it’s no surprise that high-energy, hard-driving yogis tend to do strenuous, faster-paced Ashtanga-style yoga classes – often in a heated room, so they can warm up quicker, sweat more and get their heart pumping faster.
By applying the ancient Chinese principle of yin and yang to your practice, you can find more balance and harmony on and off your mat. If you’re used to doing only muscular, heat-building yang-style yoga, consider adding yin yoga to your practice. This slow-moving, introspective practice can rejuvenate your body and bring more calm to your hectic, harried lifestyle.
What Is Yin Yoga?
A simple, but powerful practice, in which you hold floor postures for extended periods – typically three to five minutes or more – targeting the hips, pelvis and spine.
Here are just a few of the many benefits that I’ve discovered with my students and in my personal yin practice:
1) Calm the “monkey” mind. Just like a monkey who constantly swings from branch to branch, your mind likes to jump from one thought to the next – up to 60,000 thoughts per day. When you slow down the breath and find stillness in your body, the mind quiets down as you relax the nervous system.
2) Increase flexibility by stressing the connective tissue. An active yang yoga practice focuses on stretching muscles. But yin yoga goes much deeper by placing slow, steady stress on the connective tissue. During the long posture holds, the tissue is squeezed and twisted, which has a hydrating effect on the ligaments, tendons and fascia. When performed regularly, the tissue will respond by lengthening and strengthening, resulting in greater flexibility.
3) Improve range of motion. Old injuries, poor posture and aging can create adhesions in the connective tissue, causing limited mobility and pain. Holding the poses helps strengthen the joints and break up scar tissue for greater range of movement.
4) Cultivate more awareness and reduce injuries. It’s easy to tweak your lower back or pull a hamstring when you’re hopping into handstand or flowing quickly through a tough vinyasa sequence. But in yin yoga, you move very slowly in and out of the poses and hold them for minutes at a time, so you can easily tune into the sensations and identify any imbalances or misalignments in your body.
5) Build mental toughness. Yoga teaches you to be less reactive and to find comfort in uncomfortable situations. When holding a deep hip opener like swan or shoelace pose, you may have an overwhelming urge to come out of the pose as the aching sensations in your hips intensify. Learning to breathe through those strong sensations will make you mentally tougher and can easily transfer to other parts of your life — like when you’re nearing the end of a grueling, long race and feel like quitting or when dealing with a demanding boss and pressing deadlines.
6) Release deeply held emotions. As you open up tight, constricted muscles and free up blocked energy, it’s natural for emotions to rise to the surface, often in the shape of tears or feelings of agitation, fear or sadness. When you release those emotions, you feel lighter and more open.
Yin yoga isn’t as sweaty, sexy or trendy as a yang power or hot yoga class, but adding this style of yoga to your practice can help you slow down and find more flexibility and balance in your body, mind and in all areas of your life.
This story first appeared in Yoga Digest’s online magazine.