What is Yin Yoga?

Yin yoga is a quiet, slow-paced, mostly static & floor based form of yoga, where yoga poses (asanas) are held for a longer period of time. Yin yoga has been named and made ‘societal’ by Paul Grilley and Sarah Powers, long-time yoga teachers from the US. Yin Yoga is based on the Daoist principles of yin & yang and aims to work on the yin tissues of the body, the connective tissues, namely joints, tendons, ligaments, bones and fascia. As opposed to the yang tissues, blood and muscles.

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Yes, you’re right, one set of tissue cannot be moved without the other, and as a movement therapist and anatomy geek (I’m also a remedial massage therapist), this above statement used to make me cringe. It is however possible to relax a muscle around a joint by practicing longer holds of a pose, allowing our deeper yin tissues (ie fascia) to “feel the stretch” and deform and reform, thus becoming longer and stronger.

Let’s discuss this in more detail.

What are the key points/intentions of Yin Yoga?

  • Improving flexibility and range of motion.
  • Keeping an existing range of motion.
  • Longer holds of poses (1-5minutes or longer).
  • No strength work.
  • Using passive and static stretches.
  • Using gravity to achieve a stretch.
  • Using props (wall, bolster, block).
  •  Relaxed muscle.
  •  Fascia elongation.
  •  Stimulation of meridians.
  • Improved energy (chi) flow.

True, these intentions are not exclusive to Yin yoga. And in all our yoga classes we seek balance between strength and flexibility in all tissues. So how does a yin yoga class look and feel different?

What can I expect in a Yin Yoga class?

  • Expect to be mainly on the floor as poses are mostly floor-bound.
  •  Expect to use props such as bolsters, blocks, belts.
  • Expect to be holding a pose for a longer period of time (1-3 or even 5-7mins or longer).
  • Expect to be moving into a passive stretch using your body weight & gravity.
  • Expect your mental activity to increase during such long holds. So essentially you may find yin yoga practice to be more mentally rather than physically challenging.
  • Expect the teacher to draw your attention to your breath more often.
  • Expect to be eventually moving into a deeply relaxing state.
  • Expect to only practice a few poses during your Yin yoga class.
  • No sun salutations.

Again, this is not un-familiar to you as we use props and longer holds in our general classes too. Typical yin holds are even longer. Of course, you are always encouraged to find your own personal edge and practice freedom of choice. So if you need to come out of a pose earlier, or shift to a more physically sustainable position, you will do so.

All yoga is about internal transformation. It is about cultivating awareness and attention. Allowing you to connect the qualities of your heart, your mind and your body. So why would you consider a purely Yin yoga class?

Why will I consider practicing Yin Yoga?

  • You seek to improve your flexibility.
  •  You seek to practice a calmer, quieter, slower style of yoga.
  • You seek to stretch more and strengthen less.
  • You seek a balance to your running, cycling, boxing, weight lifting or other gym-type movement.
  • You are tired, over-stimulated and stressed.
  • You are a risk-taker.
  • You are simply curious about life in general and yoga in particular.
  • You want to widen your horizons.
  • You would like a shorter class time of only 60 or 75mins.
  • You like the idea of being floor-bound in your practice.
  • You like the idea of working more therapeutically with meridians (energy channels).

Ready to explore? We have our Saturday afternoon retreats, where I will offer Yin yoga again in the New Year, as well as regular Yin yoga in the schedule for 2016. So keep your eyes open for upcoming e-news.

What are the key benefits of a regular Yin Yoga practice?

  • Improved flexibility.
  •  Increased circulation.
  • Improved joint mobility.
  • Deeper relaxation.
  • Reduced stress and anxiety.
  • Improved energy flow.

Yes, this is not exclusive to Yin yoga.

Again, the 3 tangible key principles of Yin Yoga.

Firstly, come into a pose slowly & gently, finding your edge, where you are physically challenged, but not in pain or overstretched.

Secondly, find an appropriate stillness in the pose, release into the pose and allow yourself to become muscularly soft, no need to fidget and reposition too much.

Thirdly, stay in this pose and hold it for initially 1-3minutes, eventually 5-7minutes or even longer.

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When I first explored Yin yoga about eight years ago, I missed the physical challenge and thought the mental challenge too great. Back then, I was a different person with different life circumstances. Young children, sporadic yoga practice, movement evolved around family and the mind, well, the mind…

Now my circumstances are different, there is a lot of movement in my days and weeks, my mind is busy full of ideas, my thoughts are malleable and changeable. Life is full. In all I do, my yoga practice, ANY yoga practice, is my anker, my way of connecting back with myself and giving back to myself. My non-negotiable time with me. I know it is for you too.

Yin yoga simply takes the strength work out of the practice and allows for even more stillness, introspection, and quiet time. It can still be physically challenging. We have enjoyed a few yin stretches in class with good results and great feedback and will continue to incorporate it into our yoga classes as you and I feel it appropriate. Yin style classes will be happening in 2016 for you to explore.

As you know my teaching is very yin-like. I want you to feel the poses, to find your edge, explore your potential and lean into the discomfort, and then use your breath to soften and breathe through these uncomfortable positions, may they be physical or mental. And as such learn the life skill of staying calm, focussed and non-attached should challenging and even uncomfortable situations arise in your life off the mat.

Remember all yoga is there to serve YOU, the practitioner of yoga. There is no need for guru-ship, or for putting one ‘style of yoga’ above or below another. Yoga is your tool for better health & wellbeing, for helping you manage physical or/and mental day to day challenges, for allowing you to feel better within your skin. It will become a lifestyle. No loving yogi would want you to serve his or her style simply for the sake of doing so. This will only serve the ego. Let yoga be your friend, your companion on and off the mat.

Thank you for your curiosity. If you have any questions, please ask, I’m all ears.

Looking forward to your comments and to connecting with you on the mat.

With love

Bettina Pfannkuch