The last seven days have been both a challenge and a pleasure. I have spent 60 hours training to teach yin yoga. The intense training included many hours of yin yoga practice and classes in anatomy, philosophy and teaching techniques. Our teacher, Austin Ince, laughed as we introduced ourselves and most of us said we preferred vinyasa and were slightly dreading the daily three hour yin practices ahead. “If you don’t like yin, you need to do yin” he said. And so we began.
What I learnt (some of it).
What is yin yoga?
Yin yoga is based on the Taoist philosophy of Yin & Yang being opposite and complementary principles in nature. Yin is stables, cool, quiet. Yang is mobile, warm, flowing. Yang forms of yoga (for example vinyasa) work yang tissues; muscles. Muscles like to move in a rhythmical way, to get warm, to switch on and off.
Yin yoga works yin tissues in the body, the connective tissues; ligaments, tendons, bones, in fact the whole Interconnected fascial web which surrounds everything inside the body. Yin tissues respond to long held poses which apply gentle stress, stimulating cells to regenerate and tissues to become more mobile.
5 Reasons every vinyasa yogi needs some yin in their life:
1. Space and time for stuff to reveal itself… on an emotional level.
Life is fast paced and overstimulating. Our brain has not evolved fast enough to catch up with the development of 24/7 access to everything and it is frazzled. We practise yoga to find space but sometimes the moving meditation that is flow yoga doesn’t give us time to really find that space. The quieter practice of yin teaches us to tune in and notice, to be patient and not to judge. It is mentally challenging but ultimately calming.
2. An opportunity to rest overworked muscles and focus on fascial health.
Working to build strong muscles is important. We work our muscles regularly to reach peak performance. However, if we continue to work them every day without a break, we pass the point of peak performance and risk injury. Yin is an opportunity to let muscles rest while working fascia; joints, tendons, ligaments, increasing range of movement, relieving tension. When we next work our muscles, everything moves more freely and with renewed energy.
3. Because forgetting the ‘rules’ is liberating!
In yang forms of yoga, there are many alignment cues given throughout the class, most (not all!) to keep us safe while we work our muscles. We must pay attention to our feet, our knees, lengthen our spine, hollow the belly, engage shoulder blades, and so on………… In yin, there are NO alignment rules! It is strange but liberating. We can round our back, hang out in our joints, let our toes or knees roll out, it’s all fine. Function is foremost, form is irrelevant. The only ‘rules’ are that we feel a stretch, we resolve to be still and we wait. Simple!
4. If you suffer from back pain, all that ‘engage your core’ might be making it worse (maybe….. )
Working core muscles (yang) in isolation is not the back pain solution. This is what many fascial researchers are saying these days. The spine is evolved to move and not to be held rigid by pulling in the belly all the time. As long as we stay mobile, keep our fascia healthy by using it, we have a good chance of having a healthy spine. (Give me a shout if you want to know more about this, I will send you some articles). Yin yoga focuses on mobilising spine, hips and legs.
(In case you’re thinking “what??”, of course we should strengthen core muscles but in a functional way, by moving the whole body.)
5. Yin can be a fast rout to progress in vinyasa practice.
The guys who pioneered the practice of yin yoga were ashtanga yoga practitioners, looking to progress their dynamic practice. They found that by taking these long held, gentle stretches, they quickly developed greater mobility, something they had not achieved through ashtanga.
Am I a convert? Yes, I am! The yin complements the yang.