Why Practice Yin Yoga?
What Is Yin Yoga?
Stillness, in our body, and especially our mind, seems to becoming more of a lost art these days. Even when our body is still, such as when we are driving, or sitting at a restaurant, our minds are busy on our smart phones and tablets or watching the television screens that seem to be everywhere these days. A great way to balance all of this busyness is with a yin yoga class. Unlike a power or vinyasa flow class, which is more “yang” in nature, in a yin class, the lights are dimmed, the music plays softly, cell phones are put away, and we hold each yoga pose for three to seven minutes. We quiet our minds and direct our breath into the stretch. Although can be challenging, holding each pose for such an extended time benefits our body physically, emotionally and energetically.
Unlike a yang focused class, which focuses primarily on stretching the muscles, yin yoga stretches (or “stresses”) the connective tissues and the joints, focusing primarily on opening our hips, thighs and the low back. By gently and passively holding the yin stretches for an extended period of time, we stress our tissues, increasing the strength and flexibility of our joints. This process of twisting and lengthening rejuvenates and reducing toxins, which promotes healing throughout our entire body.
The process of slowing our minds and our bodies helps us feel calm, centered and peaceful. When we quiet our body and direct our attention to our breath, we lower our heart rate, improve our blood pressure and reduce “fight or flight” stress hormones such as cortisol. When we feel centered and peaceful, we are operating from the prefrontal cortex of our brain, the “wise decision making” part of our brain and we are better able to react appropriately to stressful situations. Although our class won’t be stressful (we hope!), when we face a stressful situation out in the world, such as an argument with a family member, a rude driver, or a difficult coworker, we can draw on the calm energy we gained in yin and respond mindfully and appropriately.
From a Chinese or Indian perspective, yin yoga poses benefit us by unblocking stuck energy, creating healing in our organs. In the Chinese Taoist system, life energy is called qi and it flows in certain pathways called meridians. According to Chinese philosophy, If qi gets blocked it can prevent organs from being healthy and functioning properly. Acupuncture is another modality that unblocks qi. In the Indian tradition, chakras, located along our spine, represent places where energy is concentrated. Chakras are connected through pathways called nadis, and we have thousands of these pathways. We have about seven chakras located from about our tailbone to the just above the crown of our head. (Different experts agree on exactly how many chakras we have.) These chakras affect and are affected by nearby organs, nerves and glands. Like the Chinese philosophy, blocked chakras can negatively affect our emotional and physical health. Holding yin yoga poses help our body to unblock energy, promoting healing throughout every part of our body.
Of course, with yoga meaning to unite, or “make whole” we know that our energetic, emotional and physical systems are all interconnected. A yin practice is a holistic practice, benefiting us in endless ways. To practice yin yoga, just come to class with an open heart and a willingness to relax and settle your mind and body. As the teacher instructs, there’s no need to go too deep into the pose at the beginning. Allow your breath and the time you’re holding the stretch to move you deeper into the pose. Be mindful and present. Once you’ve reached your edge, that place where your body says you can’t move any deeper, resolve to remain still and direct your breath into where you feel the stretch the most. Sometimes as we’re holding the pose, and energy is unblocked, feelings such as joy, sadness and frustration can arise. Try not to judge or push those feelings away. Allow them to just be, and continue to be still and breathe. Know that your mind and body are healing. As Beth Culler, owner of Tru Culler Yoga shares, “After a yin class my body feels so relaxed, and my mind very quiet. Being still helps me to focus on my breathing and, which gets me out of my head and into the present moment.”
Namaste – Jessica Cunningham