Yin Yoga is a relatively new style of yoga that was designed to stretch the connective tissue around the joints. Mainly targeting the ankles, knees, hips and pelvis, Yin Yoga postures are practiced on the ground in seated, supine and prone positions. They are held for much longer periods of time than in other classes such as Slow Flow, anywhere from 2-5 minutes.
There is less focus on alignment and there is no need to try to create a perfect shape with your body. When practicing a pose in a yin class, we look for a very subtle sensation. You want to feel the stretch but it shouldn’t be so intense that we long to come out of it. Paul Grilley, a great Yin Yoga teacher, once said that the stretch should be so slight on the muscle that you feel as though you are gently tugging at a spider web enough to move it but not enough to break it apart. The practice is very introspective with the practitioner paying close attention to the breath and the sensation of the pose. Students learn to really give in to the pose and gradually let go of tension over the course of the longer hold.
Life today is filled with numerous distractions and we aren’t used to just being quiet or still. Holding passive stretches for long periods of time not only helps to increase joint flexibility but it teaches us how to be comfortable in a state of stillness. When students first try Yin Yoga they may have the urge to fidget or feel goal-oriented and want to push deeper into the poses. The idea is to release into the shape by softening the muscles. Forcing our body deeper into these stretches can cause injury and defeat the purpose of the class. The more relaxed you are in a Yin class, the more benefit you will experience. The muscles need to be completely passive in order to stretch the connective tissue and increase the range of motion in the joints.
Always come out of yin postures slowly and gradually. There is no rush to get into the next pose. The body may feel slightly vulnerable or shaky after a long hold but these sensations will change and you will feel great. People who have trouble sleeping often find that an evening yin practice helps them to sleep soundly through the night. Remember to be gentle and have a very relaxed approach with this passive style of yoga. Regularly practicing Yin Yoga has great benefits for both body and mind.