Yin yoga is a lesser-known practice that helps to release muscle tension at a deep level.
Much deeper than regular yoga practices can.
It comes from the concept of yin and yang—yin is a receptive and soft form of expression and yang is active and direct.
Yin-Yang yoga combines both the active and receptive qualities of our human nature. Ancient philosophies believe that developing both yin and yang gives us a sense of balance.
But Yin yoga on its own can be an enjoyable and relaxing practice. Because our modern culture is quite yang in nature, a Yin-only practice makes perfect sense. It can balance the active, productive, and often anxiety-provoking habits we’ve developed to survive.
I started practicing and exploring different types of yoga over a decade ago. I eventually came to rest on Yin yoga as my main practice because it resonated the most. It helped me to de-stress like nothing else.
My body felt incredible after each session, so I started doing it more regularly. A few years later I couldn’t go very long without it and I continued to practice even while traveling or working 10-hour days.
I’ve known many people who have tried it and felt the same way.
I’d like to share some of the benefits of Yin yoga and why it might be a great practice for you if you have a stress-filled life:
1. Releasing tension and contraction
The poses in a Yin yoga practice are simple and easy to learn. There aren’t many of them because they’re held for much longer than regular yoga poses. A Yin pose is held comfortably for about three to five minutes or even longer if you want to.
If that sounds boring, you’ll forget the boredom when you start feeling the relaxing effects it has on your body.
Yin yoga works with crucial parts of the body where tension is often stored—the spine and the hips. Long poses help release contraction in the spine and hips. They stretch and massage tension in the shoulder area. And often, they can immediately relax the nervous system.
2. Nervous system regulation
The spine is closely linked to the nervous system. The brain sends messages back and forth to the rest of our body via the spinal cord. When we’re stressed and anxious we contract this area and our breathing becomes shallow and strained.
Many of us sit at a desk for hours at a time, curving the spine and shoulders downward. This area of the body accumulates tension and discomfort easily. So when this area is opened up with yin poses, people feel a deep release and relaxation. Their breathing becomes fuller and easier. You can even hear the cracks and creaks as the body releases through the spine and shoulders.
3. Emotional release
The hips are known as a hot spot for emotions in traditional Chinese and ayurvedic medicine. They store unexpressed or suppressed emotions. When I started doing hip openers, I started releasing a lot of repressed emotions like hurt. It would come into my awareness as sadness and sometimes tears.
This may not enjoyable but we all experience it. No one is free of repressed pain, and getting it out is necessary for long term wellbeing. In fact, I think this is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves.
4. It’s easy to learn and easy to do
The poses are simple. You don’t need a yoga teacher but it can be supportive to find one if you have specific physical needs or injuries.
All you really need is a mat or a blanket and a half hour.
5. A basic routine that I recommend for beginners
Spinal twist: this pose is a favorite with many practitioners. It releases stress held in the spine and relaxes the entire nervous system.
Baby pose: this pose opens up the hips. In traditional Chinese medicine, it opens the meridians connecting the upper and lower halves of the body.
Seal pose: this pose realigns the lower back. Since we spend so much time bent forward this counterpose helps straighten the back.
Butterfly pose: this pose opens the chest and shoulder area and improves your breathing.
6. It becomes an automatic routine
The next time you feel anxious or a little overwhelmed, sit down, and do just one of these poses. I guarantee you that you’ll feel so relieved you won’t want to stop.
My favorite one to start with is the spinal twist because it has such an immediate effect on my racing mind, constricted body, and feelings of anxiety. Anxiety is a complex topic with multiple layers but these simples poses are a great step towards better health.