Fascial release, ligament care, & deep relaxation.
Yin yoga is a wonderful opportunity to become more familiar with and fine-tune our poses, experience deep and meditative relaxation, and progress on our individual yogic paths.
When we consider ourselves as a whole, and the environment surrounding us also as a whole, we are able to observe contrasting aspects within all things. These contrasts within a whole can be considered opposing halves, described as Yin and Yang. These attributes refer to our physical selves and environment, as well as our inner selves and lifestyles; ideally, each person finds a balance between the two to maintain health throughout life. Generally speaking, Yang describes conditions of heat, light, and quick activity, whereas Yin describes coolness, darkness, slowness, and rest. A Yang lifestyle is one of busyness, full of activity. Typically in our society, we lead lives out of balance, weighing more heavily on the Yang side; yet in a busy, mentally strenuous life, many of us are physically sedentary, spending far too much time sitting still - at desks and computers, in cars, on the couch. A Yang yoga practice, active and full of vigorous movement, and indeed vigorous exercise of any kind, certainly helps to counteract the effects of too much stillness, to move circulation that has become sluggish, and use our bodies as they are meant to be used. But what about the more deeply-set restrictions in our body that develop over time spent in a consistent, sedentary posture? And what about countering the effects of too much inner Yang? A slow, restful Yin yoga practice aims to meet these needs.
Yin yoga is a longer practice, consisting of fewer poses with longer holds than what is typical of an active Vinyasa practice, or even a Hatha practice. This affects us in several ways. We can consider the Yin and Yang aspects within our bodies: our contracting muscles are active, Yang tissues, whereas our non-contractile tissues, specifically fascia and ligaments, are Yin. Yin yoga practice targets Yin tissues by stressing them in an appropriate way, and causing them to respond by creating strengthening collagen fibres within themselves. The long holds of Yin yoga allow our body the needed time to release adhesions and muscle contraction, which rehydrates and restores blood flow, naturally beginning with our superficial layers and, as these release, progressing through to our deep layers. Long holds also allow adequate time to overcome muscle guarding, shallow breathing patterns, and our sympathetic nervous system's "fight or flight" response. This allows our nervous system to sedate, our breathing to become slow and regular, and softening and lengthening our tissues, helping us to physically as well as mentally and emotionally recover from Yang-dominant lifestyles.
To benefit optimally from a Yin yoga practice, it is ideal to dress comfortably and warmly for class, as we move quite little, but want to keep our tissues warm and yielding, rather than becoming cold and stiffening up. Hydration is also key - we can help ourselves have a successful practice by keeping hydrated before and during class, as well as throughout our daily lives. It is also useful to keep in mind that we store emotions and memories throughout our bodies, and to remember that throughout class and afterwards, we may experience resurfacing of strong feelings. This is normal, and welcomed in class as part of each person's healing journey. It is important to be very kind towards ourselves when experiencing emotional release, whatever form it takes.