Yin yoga is another branch of the ever-growing tree of yoga styles.
Performed at a leisurely pace, yin is a much slower practice compared to other yoga styles, which combines traditional Chinese medicine with postures. These postures are also known as asanas in yoga and the practice has specific purposes and techniques, we will delve a little deeper into how these are practiced and their history right away.
This article will let you in on everything you need to know; from the benefits of yin yoga, to where you can perform the practice across the UK.
The following contents will be explored in depth:
- What is Yin Yoga?
- The History Of Yin Yoga
- What is The Difference Between Yin Yoga & Other Traditional Yoga?
- What Are The Benefits Of Yin Yoga?
- How & Where Can You Practice?
- When Should I practice Yin Yoga?
- Who Is Yin Yoga Good For?
- What To Expect In A Yin Yoga Class
- 5 Basic Principles Of Yin Yoga
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What is What Is Yin Yoga?
Where ‘yang yoga’ focuses on your muscles, yin yoga’s definition lies in a practise that targets the connective tissues of the body, such as the facia, ligaments, joints and bones. Beyond its benefits for the connective tissues, this practise works to improve the connection between your mind and body as the interlinked nature provides a harmonious balance.
Yin yoga requires poses, also known as asanas, to be held for an extended period of time in comparison to other, more traditional styles of yoga. This helps stretch and lengthen the tissues in you body that are often neglected.
For beginners, asanas are held for periods ranging from 45 seconds to two minutes, whilst more advanced practitioners of yin yoga will stay in one asana for up to five minutes or more.
Yin postures are mainly done on the floor or sitting down, there are no dynamic movements and usually no standing poses either. Yin yoga is unique in that you are asked to relax into an asana; allowing the body to soften and release naturally, without any straining or pushing.
Whilst yang yoga enhances stamina and muscular strength, yin yoga is slow and progressive; this teaches poise in times of struggle by breathing through physical discomfort.
Not only that, but instructing you to sit with your thoughts longer and undisturbed helps deal with issues such as anxiety. So, as well as being a lot slower physically, yin yoga is a lot more meditative mentally too, with a goal of bringing an awareness to inner silence and being comfortable with it.
Yin yoga practice and principles are based on ancient Chinese philosophies which believe that there are pathways of Qi, a form of energy that runs through the human body. So consequently, by stretching and spending longer in the yin yoga poses, it is believed that we’re opening up any blockages that are preventing the Qi energy from flowing freely.
What parts of the body does Yin Yoga work?
While you may be interested in yin yoga purely for its mental benefits, it is still worth noting that the practise works much of the lower body. These areas include:
- The lower spine
- The pelvis
- The hips
- The inner thighs
All of which are areas that are especially rich in connective tissues. Yin yoga has a similar background to other styles and offers retreats and classes, you can find the best yoga retreats in the UK here.
So now you know what yin yoga is, allow us to explain to you where it came from.
The History Of Yin Yoga
The practice of yin yoga originated in ancient India, with the original practice performing long-held poses along with breathing techniques. This was taught to Kung-Fu practitioners as far back as 2,000 years ago to help them develop their martial arts skills, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that the yin style of yoga was introduced to the western world.
The practice of long-held poses gained prominence in North America in the late 1970s when Paulie Zink, a martial arts champion, began to teach. He taught a synthesis of hatha and taoist yoga, as well as movements and postures that he had developed himself. He later called this mixture of styles ‘yin and yang yoga’.
Paul Grilley, an American yoga teacher, saw one of Paulie Zink’s presentations on national TV. He then sought out Zink and attended some of his classes, however after he didn’t see any improvements in his flexibility following months of classes, he quit.
Grilley went back to teaching yoga, although he decided to fuse some of the poses he’d learned in Zink’s classes, with some more dynamic forms of yoga. Following this, he furthered the yin yoga style and elaborated on Zink’s work; he started teaching his new hybrid style to his students and quickly, he saw improvements in their range of movements.
Due to his personal practice of Buddhism, he called his classes yin yang yoga, as he didn’t want people to confuse his classes with Indian hatha yoga.
Sarah Powers, one of Grilley’s students, who was another yoga teacher, began teaching Grilley’s style; however she put more emphasis on enhancing the flow of Qi around the body. Thus, the current yin yoga principles and practice were created and flourished in the community.
Powers pointed out to Grilley that he was only teaching them slow and grounded poses, therefore he should change the name of the classes to yin Yoga. From that moment, yin yoga began to spread throughout the yoga community and as of today, yin is practiced all over North America and Europe.
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What is The Difference Between Yin Yoga & Other Traditional Yoga?
There are notable differences between yin and some of the more traditional styles of yoga out there, a good way of highlighting the differences is to compare to a universal practice of restorative yoga.
One key difference between yin and restorative yoga is that in a restorative class, the student is always encouraged to be comfortable in the poses. However in yin yoga, discomfort is welcomed, if not encouraged.
Here are some of the other differences between yin yoga and traditional restorative yoga:
- Stretch - In restorative yoga, the goal when it comes to stretching is to be passive and 100% supported with no active stretch. In yin yoga however, there is an active stretch. Active stretching not only stretches the muscles and tissues but prepares the muscle for action by warming them up.
- Props - Both styles of yoga may use props, though restorative yoga will use said props to completely support the body. Yin yoga on the other hand, will use props to either soften or deepen the stretch.
- Focus - In restorative yoga, the focus of the exercise is on the passive release of mind-body tension. Contrary to yin yoga where the focus is on stretching your connective tissue and muscles.
- Poses – Comparing restorative yoga, poses are held for a little less time that of what yin is performed. Restorative yoga poses can be held for between 5-10 minutes for an extremely experienced practitioner. However, yin yoga poses are designed to be a lot more uncomfortable, so being able to hold them for up to 7 minutes is quite a feat. For beginners of yin, a fraction of the time is expected, but the goal is to reach above one minute to reap the benefits of the practice.
Yin yoga is also different from yang yoga too, whilst yin yoga is more passive, cooling, internal, and downward. Yang yoga is more dynamic, warming, external, and upward.
Yang yoga in contrast, refers to practice working on the muscles and blood flow building:
It’s recommended to incorporate both yin and yang elements into your yoga sessions, this is to ensure that you experience a balanced yoga session; to do so with the best comfort, be sure to check out our list of the best yoga mats here.
What Are The Benefits Of Yin Yoga?
There are a plethora of benefits of practicing yin so, if you want to know what the benefits of yin yoga for weight loss are, or practicing yin yoga for the hips, you’ve come to the right place.
So what are the benefits of yin yoga?
#1 Reduces Stress & Relieves Tension
There is much emphasis on the reduction of stress after practicing a yin yoga session; with research supporting the decrease of anxious thoughts and even depression directly after a session.
Yin yoga promotes the circulation of gratitude and joyous feelings after practice and this kind of behaviour can certainly contribute to a happier mind.
Relieving tension is a benefit that comes from both the physical and mental elements of the practice. The physicality of stretching and working the muscles and tissues of the body can relieve built up tension that is brought on by stress.
However, psychological tension that can be caused from everyday life experiences can be released in a similar way, by focusing on the present, and using breathing techniques, it’s possible to exhale the physical and mental tension the body is holding.
#2 Helps Weight Loss
The benefits of yin yoga for weight loss have been highly lauded by both masters, teachers and students. Regularly practicing any kind of yoga poses, including yin-style asanas, will have been proven to encourage a natural weight-loss.
Much of the weight loss benefits of yin yoga come as a result of the role it plays in the function of the internal organs, as well as the strengthening of the lungs, kidneys, digestive system, and heart. Though, maintaining a regular routine of yin yoga and combining it with a calorie deficit is potentially a more holistic approach to weight-loss, and it has been proven to work time and time again.
Interestingly, it isn’t just the physical movements that burn calories in order to lose weight. Some research suggests yoga practice increases mind and body awareness; this leads to the recognition of brain signals. This encourages you to listen to your thoughts, particularly those that are telling you that you’re full.
So not only can exercise be an incorporating factor, but also the mental awareness that yoga raises alongside makes this one of the most powerful forms of exercise.
#3 Encourages Mindfulness
Mindfulness is one of the leading elements of yin yoga that isn’t to be overlooked. Practicing yin assists in the transformation from a busy mind to a state of meditative peace; this can help to take time from our busy schedules and get in touch with nature and or our inner-self.
Problems seem to be put on pause in a yin class as the practice of mindfulness takes over and promotes a sense of tranquility and well-being. Not only this, but yin shifts our body into the parasympathetic nervous system, which biologically can lower stress and blood pressure.
This kind of physical sensation can signal to our brain that our environment and safety is in good hands. You’re then able to shift into a euphoric state of peace, further encouraging this practice to take place in your everyday life.
#4 Assists Back Pain Relief
If your back is your target area to improve, you’ll be glad to know that the results for yin yoga for the spine are overwhelmingly positive.
In fact, yin yoga and the spine work together incredibly well due to the majority of yin poses requiring to be held by the lower body. What this means is that most of the poses target the spine in some way or another and therefore, practicing yin yoga allows for the opportunity to decompress and compress the spine.
Similarly, the benefits of yin yoga for the hips also come as a result of these lower body holds. As a matter of fact, yin yoga can be an excellent way of relieving tight hips and releasing any tension that may potentially affect the sciatic nerve, the largest nerve in the human body.
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Where Can You Practice Yin Yoga?
Thanks to yoga teachers Grilley, Zink, and Powers back in the 1970s and 80s, yin yoga classes are now available across the globe, therefore, you can reap all of the yin yoga benefits wherever you are in the world.
Yin yoga deliberately targets the deeper connective tissues, so for the practice to be most effective, you want the muscles to be relaxed. If the muscles are warm and active, they’ll absorb the tension of the stretches and poses, meaning that you’ll experience fewer physical benefits.
However, when practicing yin yoga in the morning, you’ll see and feel great physical benefits; this is because your muscles won’t have ‘woken up’ properly at that time, meaning yin will be what stretches and activates them for the day ahead.
However, that isn’t to say that doing yin yoga is not effective when your muscles are warm and active. In fact, the psychological benefits may be even greater at that time, as you’ll be concentrating more on your inner mindfulness and energy, rather than on stretching out your muscles.
A great way of learning yin yoga practice when you can’t get to the studio is to follow guides, so you know you’re doing your best to avoid injury and increase yoga flow. However, if you’re looking for classes with the best yoga studios in the uk, there are plenty to choose from.
There are also a great deal of YouTube videos about yin yoga that you can watch and follow as a sort of virtual online yoga class. These videos will definitely come in handy when reading the descriptive asanas gets a little overwhelming.
When Should I Practice Yin Yoga?
You can essentially practice yin yoga anytime at any place; but some good times to practice yin yoga include:
- Early morning, when the muscles are cool and stiff
- After a long trip
- Before an active Yang yoga session (before the muscles get warmed up)
- In the Spring or Summer, to balance a natural Yang time of the year
- Last thing at night, to help calm the mind before sleep
One of the best yin yoga benefits is that you don’t have to go to classes all the time to be able to practice it. As shown in the list above, yin yoga can be done on your own just before bed or straight after a long journey.
Who Is Yin Yoga Good For?
Following right behind the question ‘what is yin yoga’ is usually who is it good for; and to answer the question of who will benefit from yoga, it requires a very simple answer; anyone and everyone. And if you’re wondering more specifically if yin yoga is good for beginners? In short, yes, it is.
Due to its incredibly slow pace, the student, be they a beginner or a seasoned pro, is given the guidance and time needed to experience the effect that yin yoga has on their body.
There are many variables that play a part in deciding whether yin yoga is suitable for beginners, so let’s see what you should consider if you’re a yoga newbie.
Questioning if the student is mentally prepared to take part in such a grounded exercise is a good place to start; this is due to the fact that suppressing thoughts is a skill that needs to be worked on and not something that comes naturally for a lot of participants. Understandably, this automatically affects what ‘entry level’ is considered as.
Another factor to consider is flexibility. Those who are more flexible could potentially grasp poses faster than the others; again, projecting another entry level problem as to what is considered as beginner into yin.
However, whether you’re super flexible, a mindfulness expert, or neither; there is no definitive reason why you can’t start from the bottom and work your way to the top. Participants will soon come to learn what their limits are and what boundaries or discomforts they can push through.
This kind of practice can lead to development of their own self-awareness, giving the student the experience that they need to be well-equipped when going onto the faster paced ‘Yang’ forms of yoga in due course.
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There are even benefits of yin yoga for runners, as previously discussed one of the main benefits of yin yoga is that it helps relieve tension and tight areas in the connective tissue. It helps to create deeper openings as well as provide a greater range of motion for major muscle and joint areas.
Therefore, by practicing yin yoga, notoriously tight areas for runners such as their; quads, hamstrings, and hip flexors, are given the opportunity to slowly release as each posture and pose is held for up to five minutes at a time.
Not only will yin yoga strengthen the joints that are used whilst running, but it will also help increase your range of motion which will have a direct benefit on the quality of running technique. Having more flexibility in the hips, which yin yoga can help with, is also important as it helps decrease muscle spasms in the thighs and limit cramping whilst running.
Anyone who has suffered an injury
People who are injured can benefit from taking part in yin yoga depending on the severity of the injuries. This is because practicing yin can help recovery from overused hamstrings and quads, overstretched muscles, and even back pain.
Due to how slow yin yoga is, it gives you plenty of time to find a posture that is sustainable without the risk of accidentally hurting yourself. It is a useful practice for easing back into physical activity and having the liberty of no pressure as the relaxed nature can benefit the mental state, as well as the physical.
Sufferers of chronic illnesses
Yin yoga is good for those who are suffering from chronic conditions, such as osteoporosis and arthritis, as it is more recuperative than many other forms of exercise. This is a sure positive for those looking for a form of yoga to enhance muscular rehabilitation following an injury.
There is a level of awareness that comes with practicing yoga when you’re taking part for restorative purposes. If it hurts, don’t continue; this is because pain when you’re recovering is likely to be a sign of injury.
Due to the body working hard to restore back to the best condition that it can be in, it is vital to not push it too far. The best advice is to listen to your body and allow it to make your decisions for you, ensure you’re doing just enough to feel the benefits, but not so much that you feel the pain.
When referring to the benefits of yin yoga for arthritis in particular, holding the yin poses for a longer time can have a positive impact to those who want to stretch the soft tissues in their body, all the while avoiding putting too much pressure on the arthritic joints. Additionally, the tranquil environment in practice can reduce muscle tension and assist pain reduction.
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What To Expect In A Yin Yoga Class
When you take part in a yin yoga class, expect to be practicing patience and poise in a lot of potentially uncomfortable poses.
So, what is a yin yoga class like? It mainly consists of long-held, passive floor poses that work the lower parts of the body such as; the pelvis, hips, inner thighs, and lower spine or in other words, areas that are rich in connective tissues.
As it has already been established, one of the main aims of yin yoga is to ensure that you’re never fully comfortable in the poses that you’re in. This is not only to ensure that you stretch your muscles entirely, but to help you strengthen them too.
Pushing yourself and holding poses and postures for longer periods of time will not only strengthen you, but will also help improve your flexibility and range of movement too. However, if you’re not quite ready for the classroom just yet, why not start with some practice at home by choosing the best yoga apps from our list here at OriGym.
Don’t expect to only focus on your physical work in a yin class either, as an even amount of consideration goes into the psychological exercise. Holding these poses for long periods of time will also leave you isolated with your thoughts for a while; this will give you the opportunity to address and work on any negative mindsets or thoughts that you may be harbouring.
Ultimately, what you can expect from your yin yoga flow classes is an opportunity to push yourself physically and psychologically, which will hopefully lead you onto a healthier mind, body and soul once you finish your practice.
5 Basic Principles Of Yin Yoga
There are 5 basic known principles of yin that give an indication as to what the practice represents and what it hopes to influence during a practice.
- Find your edge
- Be still
- Prop your poses
These five principles give an explanation of each step of a pose. Finding your edge is all about finding what's known as a comfortable discomfort - this is a balance that takes practice in yin. It is a technique that requires finding the middle between pain and discomfort. Following this is the instruction of being still; this is in terms of physically and mentally to relax into the asana as much as possible.
Hold and breathe are the next steps and demonstrate the main goal of holding yin poses. The pose is to be held from a minimum of one minute, progressing to five if it's found possible. Breathing is the main principle to bring your focus, it gives an element of physicality to focus on, whilst the breath can ease discomfort and sustain the healthy tension needed.
Finally, propping your poses; props are used to demonstrate a more restorative portrayal of yin, it helps those who may find themselves struggling to begin with. However, it can be an assistance at any level to support poses and make them more bearable.
Before You Go!
Hopefully we have done a good job in answering your initial question of ‘what is yin yoga?’, and you can now begin to take advantage of the yin yoga benefits and opportunities.
We hope with this knowledge that you are now confident enough to explore deeper into the other areas of yoga and experiment with different types to find your style of choice.
Just one more thing! Here at OriGym we offer a range of fitness courses that can start you off on a fitness career with all the tools you need.
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