What is Yin Yoga?
Yin Yoga is a fusion, or a coming together of two ancient principles; Traditional Chinese Medicine and Yogic Philosophy. Both these ancient healing systems focus on balancing universal life force energy, for the Yogis this is called ‘prana’ and for the Chinese this is called ‘Qi’. The origins of Yin Yoga can also be found in Taoist practice, which sees that there are two primordial forces at work within the universe, yin (passive) and yang (active). One cannot exist without the other and harmony occurs when balance is maintained.
This style of Yoga is transformational for the mind, body and spirit and is not exclusive as it can be practiced by anyone, regardless of skill. A lot of current styles of Yoga are more ‘yang’ in nature. They are heating for the body and require strength. Yin Yoga is more cooling for the body and is very restorative in nature — working the joints over the muscles.
Many Yin Yoga postures have a yang counter-pose and many people use yin postures to help them stretch and re-ground after a more yang style practice. It is always beneficial to adopt a cooling practice to accompany a heating practice, to maintain the balance of yin and yang.
I feel in many ways Yin Yoga helps take the edge off, or take the ‘ego’ out of modern day yoga. There is no one certain way to hold a yin posture; as long as there is no pain and the specific fascial and muscular region (for that pose) is stretched, stimulating the relevant meridians, then the posture is perfect. This style of Yoga does not project ideals of unreachable postures, flexibility, and strength. Yin Yoga is open to all and promotes each practitioner to find their own version of the posture and then, through paying attention and tuning into the body, find their own edge.
Most postures are floor based, as in you are suported by the floor and not relying on your muscles to hold you up. This means each posture can be held for a much longer amount of time. This space in time is where the healing begins and where tools such as mindfulness and meditation are useful. Stillness within in a posture targets unconscious trauma stored in the body and can stir up old energies and emotions. It is because of this that the process requires that you reach a level of meditation within the posture, where you can access yourself on a different level. Through the stillness experienced when maintaining a posture for some time, you begin to pay attention to the subtle insights your body provides. Listening to your body allows you to gain an insight into the state of your inner being, physically, mentally and emotionally. On many levels, Yoga is about healing your body from the inside out, cleaning your vessel and encouraging detoxification by ‘letting go’.
The time you allow yourself to just sit and ‘be’ in this meditative state, promotes well-being because it is a practice of self-love and self-care. More yang styles of yoga may promote these values, but also place a focus on conditioning the body to be a certain way, rather than accepting it how it is, in that exact moment. I have seen many times whilst teaching Vinyasa Yoga that people are looking around, comparing themselves to others and even forcing their bodies into shapes not meant for them. This involvement of the ego can not be healing for the body. If you are subconsciously telling yourself that you are ‘not good enough’ you are going to deplete your energy.
The mindfulness aspect of Yin Yoga encourages you to establish a deep and loving connection with the body. Some postures encourage you to revisit old wounds and past hurts, whilst other postures may provide a reminder of how it feels to be calm and safe. This respect for your body can also be felt in the freedom experienced by adapting any posture to suit your skeletal structure. Through practicing yin postures it becomes clear that there are some postures that your skeleton will not allow, and that’s okay, because all bodies are different. Bernie Clarke summarises this revolution in Yoga with the words; ‘“We do not use the body to get into a pose — we use the pose to get into our body.” These words are so refreshing as mainstream western yoga, in many ways, has become more focused on the outer body.
By removing the need or expectation to be anything at all, Yin Yoga offers a deep experience by allowing you to connect to the body. When its right its so so right! You can feel the subtle energy fields change as the meridians open and the energy can travel unrestricted. These meridians need to be open in order for health to be optimised. Maintaining homeostasis in the body and mind requires stress, trauma and stagnation be released from the bodily tissues. There’s a phrase in Yin Yoga that asks the question ‘are there issues in your tissues?’ and this illustrates that everything we experience leaves an imprint on our physical bodies, via the chemical or fascial reaction we have to all emotionally provocative events. We may find ourselves revisiting the same emotional memory, feeling burdened by its determination to return again and again. Yin Yoga offers a passive solution. To reduce this burden through the power of letting go and through ‘release’ of this stagnant energy or memory from the body, thus positively impacting the mind and spirit.
Chinese Medicine sees an interplay between the organ system and the emotions, with different organs giving rise to different emotions. During my practice I started to focus on which emotions came up regularly for me. I found that mild anger and frustration were the most prominent and by paying attention, I found that I could link these emotional patterns to physical patterns within my body. For example, around the time of menstruation (when the liver is very overworked) i would feel surging bursts of anger and frustration. I was also seeing a correlation between negative thinking and waking up in the night needing to go to the toilet.
I found through practicing a Yin posture to stimulate the liver meridian, for 5 minutes each day, that i became more emotionally balanced and through this i was able to release large amounts of stagnant energy and pent up stress which was creating an unnatural tightness in my body. In particular; I found that practicing Saddle and Reclined Butterfly brought up feelings of anxiety and self-doubt whilst in the posture, but then stopped me waking up between 4am — 6am needing to go to the toilet. The once depleted energy in my kidneys, from years of anxiety has begun to restore and the stagnation that resulted from past emotional trauma had been given an outlet to escape from my body, positively impacting the health of the associated organs.
Yin Yoga can not be explained it must be experienced — it is a journey of self discovery. Making time for this practice is a way of you saying that you are ready to listen to your body and you are ready to take responsibility for your own health and well-being. This practice breathes compassion into your consciousness. Each posture can be experienced not as a race to perfection, but as the authentic story of yourself unravelling.
Here is a link to one of my favourite Yin Yoga videos:
By Gina Brierley, Yoga Teacher & Blogger at The Tiger Boe Centre