One of my favorite discoveries of the past six months has been the practice of Yin yoga.
The first time I ever heard of Yin Yoga was in January of 2016, when I participated in an advanced yoga teacher training on Energy and the Subtle Body. One of the other participants in that training was a woman who taught Yin Yoga in Pittsburgh.
Although I had been practicing yoga on-and-off for almost 20 years at that point, the majority of my yoga experience was with vinyasa, or flow classes. If you’ve done yoga, chances are high that this is the style you’ve experienced: a more fast-paced style of yoga that involves flowing from one pose to the next.
The other participants encouraged me to try yin yoga. They suggested that yin would be a good counterpoint to balance my driven, over-achieving, hard-core, striving lifestyle.
At the time, I had never seen Yin Yoga offered at any New York City studios.
I finally found my first Yin class in the fall.
What is a Yin Yoga Practice Like?
Yin Yoga is a more passive style of yoga.
Whereas Yang is about pushing through and striving, Yin is about surrender and receptivity.
Most of the postures are done on the ground, often supported by props.
This doesn’t mean that Yin yoga is all relaxation.
In a Yin class you get into a pose and find your edge — the point where you feel sensation. Unlike a vinyasa flow class, you don’t push through or move on quickly to the next pose.
In a Yin practice, we hold poses for longer amounts of time — typically 3–5 minutes, but sometimes as long as 10 or 20 minutes. This allows for a stretch at a deeper level. Instead of just stretching the muscles, in a Yin class you stretch the fascia, ligaments and the joints.
For most of us, our tendency is to want to push through and get past the discomfort, or to escape it altogether.
Yin is about meeting your edge and staying there. Imagine slowly stretching a rubber band.
As you hold the stretch, the sensation deepens and shifts.
This is what makes Yin a deceptively difficult practice. The long holds in a Yin practice allow for a deeper and more satisfying stretch than you get in a more fast-paced class.
But it takes some real strength to stay there.
As the minutes pass, a sensation that started as mild becomes more intense.
The Mind Workout
Those long holds reveal the inner workings of the mind, with all of its thoughts.
So. Many. Thoughts.
In this way, Yin is like a moving meditation. It offers the opportunity to see where your mind goes when things get uncomfortable.
Do you focus on the discomfort, or do you distract yourself with thoughts about other things in your life?
What are the stories you tell as you feel the sensation? At what point do you start cursing your teacher for keeping you in this pose?
The Benefits of Yin Practice
Beyond the list of proven benefits, here’s my experience with Yin.
The first time I tried Yin, I found it to be a perfect antidote to a life constantly in motion.
The slower pace of a Yin practice is grounding. It’s exactly what I’ve needed in a time where I have uprooted myself.
Yin also offers an easy pathway to feel the emotions we often resist feeling. Yin is a portal to deeper self-discovery and healing.
Everything comes up in a Yin practice.
In the same way a good workout or run can trigger a release of emotions, Yin practice does the same. The yoga mat is a safe space for releasing the emotion that gets built up inside us. As we release that emotion, the muscles, tendons, fascia, and ligaments also release.
Yin forces me to slow down my overactive and racing mind.
It has also offered me a way to connect with my body: a path out of my head and into my heart.
A Practice for Times of Chaos
In a culture driven by the Yang energy, and in a life filled with movement and busy, Yin provides a counterbalance.
Yin has become a central part of my yoga practice over the past six months, and a cornerstone of my fitness and wellness routine.
It’s not a replacement for my flow practice; we need both the Yin and the Yang.
I’ve been excited to see Yin offered at more studios.
If you find yourself constantly in motion — running around, always busy, always thinking and doing — I encourage you to try a Yin practice.
Remember that Yin can be deceptively difficult, so try it a few times before you pass judgment.
Have you tried Yin Yoga? Share your experience in the comments!