Yin yoga has become increasingly popular on the yoga scene over the past several years; studios are adding classes to their schedule and even athletes and non-hardcore yogis are curious as to what this deep stretch is all about. Well, we have some answers if you’re wondering the same.
Yin yoga is the calmer side to our yang (asana) practice. It encourages deep stimulation of the joints and connective tissues, rather than the muscles worked during a flowing practice. The connective tissues targeted during a yin practice are ligaments, bones and joints that aren’t worked very much during a yang (asana) practice,according to Bernie Clark, one of the leading teachers on yin yoga in North America. To get into these tissues, yin poses are held for longer periods of time (anywhere from two to 20 minutes) and focus on major joints, like the hips, shoulders and spine. It’s a great complementary practice to your regular flow or hatha class, but can take some time to get used to: the poses can get uncomfortable–physically and mentally–if you’re not used to the long holds (and even when you are used to them!). There is a strong emphasis on the breath, and attention to the breath during a yin practice to help keep you focused and calm, even if your mind is spinning stories about how much you’d like to move.
There’s a deep and intellectual philosophy behind yin yoga that draws from ancient Asian medicine and energetic philosophies. One of these is the meridian system, which are energetic pathways that run along the body. There can be blockages in the pathways and they need to be released. Yin yoga is one way to release these blockages, which is one of the reasons why the practice can be emotionally challenging.
If you’re looking for an emotional release, some mental clarity, a bit of balance, or to let some stuff go, a yin practice is just what you need. Try out the poses below, either on their own, or as a sequence. Hold each posture for 2-4 minutes if you’re just starting out, or 2-7 minutes if you’re familiar with the practice. You may also add a child’s pose between any postures if you need a break.
Come into a low lunge with your right leg forward and left leg behind. Walk your right foot out to the edge of your mat. Plant your hands on the inside of the right foot, so that they’re right underneath your shoulders. You can always come down onto forearms here if that space is available. Option to roll onto the blade of your right foot to increase the stretch in the right hip and inner thigh. Repeat on the other side.
From seated, pull your right leg forward and left leg back so that they are at (or aiming towards) ninety-degrees. Fold forward over your shin or over your knee–you can play around with which variation feels better/gets a better stretch in your outer right hip. You can always pull your legs closer towards your centre if you’re experiencing cramping in the hips or legs. Repeat on the other side.
From a seated position, draw the soles of your feet together so that your legs make a sort-of diamond shape. You can place blocks or other props under your knees if you need to support them. Lightly hold onto your ankles or feet and fold forward, rounding your spine and dropping your head towards your feet.
Lie on your back with your legs stretched long. Hug your right knee into your chest and extend your right arm out to the side. Keep your left hip on the floor and draw your right knee across your body towards the left. Pull your right shoulder down to the floor. You can place a block or other prop under your right knee to support it if it doesn’t touch the ground. Repeat on the other side.