Today, yoga has become one of the most popular physical activities for women and men alike. But long gone are the days where the only type of yoga that was readily available was vinyasa. Today, variations like Iyengar, ashtanga, Jivamukti, and yin have come into popularity. Yin, today’s topic, is unlike any other yogic practice. Instead of focusing on sweating profusely while building lean muscle, yin yoga is all about loosening up connective tissue. Yin, as the most gentle of the yoga practices, can work wonders for even the most skeptical of yogis.
“Sounds easy, sign me up.” Before you get ahead of yourself, yin is not such an easy practice. Requiring at least beginner’s flexibility to begin, it’s best to start by mastering ordinary stretches, like toe-touching, in order to move forward into practicing yin. Once you can do that, you’re ready to embark on the journey that is yin yoga.
All yin practices have very few positions, however, they are all held for up to five minutes each. This can get very intense, but the idea is to avoid fidgeting at all costs and breathe through the discomfort. While some stronger positions, like sphinx, are generally held for about two minutes, others, like butterfly, tend to demand around four minutes.
Yin yoga is on many levels one of the healthiest of the yoga practices because it doesn’t really allow you that self-criticism that vinyasa can trigger, or that lack of focus curtesy of kundalini. Yin grows with you, both mentally and physically, so your practice develops in a very organic way. Breathing becomes easier, the postures come with comfort rather than with dread, and the process turns into a moving meditation rather than a counter to the active yang practices.
Because of its calm and slow nature, yin is a delightful way to melt the stress away. Since most of the time in class will be spent in position breathing, there is nowhere else for your mind to go, and so you are forced to focus on yourself and perhaps what is troubling you. Counterintuitive as it may sound, being able to focus on yourself and nothing but yourself is a great way of releasing some unnecessary stressors.
Emotions can run pretty high in a yin class as you slowly deepen into the poses as with your connective tissues do the powers of the mind stretch. Because of the way in which your body releases itself into the postures, practicing yin is something that you need to do regularly. Practicing it once a month for six months will lead to no results at all, but with short daily routines, your body and mind will become acclimated and changes will be noticed.
The risk of injury is surprisingly high with yin, so it is crucial to listen to your body. Sure, you may think that your head can touch the floor during butterfly pose, but it is safer to grab a bolster or a large pillow for your forehead. Keep the support under your body the first couple of times you hold this position, then remove the pillow once you’re comfortable to see how it feels. If you feel your bottom lifting up off the floor and your shoulders twinging uncomfortably, put that pillow back immediately. Otherwise, you should be good to go. Other positions that can cause injury are sphinx and upward dog. It’s essential to squeeze your butt as you are raising your shoulders up in completion of these poses to support your lower back as this poses can do a lot of damage.