Most types of yoga asana are yang in nature meaning they require that we use the muscles, build heat and dynamically “do”. Yin yoga is a quiet, still practice that relaxes the muscles to stretch the deep tissue and release energy to the joints.
Yin/Yang principles explain why even graceful aging includes morning stiffness. We begin our life being more yang like – having lots of mobility with limited stability. As we age, muscles strengthen and stability increases. Our bodies find balance between stability (yin) and mobility (yang) in our 20’s or 30’s. Eventually, our aging bodies are more yin in nature and that stability leads to rigidity in the ligaments, bones and joints. Most types of exercise and yoga keep the elastic-like muscles healthy with heat and movement. Conversely, the yin tissues are more plastic like and need long held postures to be stimulated. Yang and yin health is a balance between stretching and stressing. Muscles can be safely stretched to elongate them and shortened to strengthen them. Part of their job is to protect the joints. But when the muscles are purposely relaxed, the connective tissue and joints can experience heathy stress. Over time, the strategically placed stress can make tissues stronger.
Because yin yoga requires the muscles to relax, not all yoga poses can be done safely as yin poses. A limited number of poses are held for 2-4 minutes or longer and each pose is designed to apply mindful stress to the connective tissues to prevent the natural deterioration of aging. Specifically, yin yoga targets the spine, hips, pelvis and legs. Equally important, it opens the meridians (energy channels of the body that carry prana). Yin differs from Restorative Yoga in that you are encouraged to find deep sensations without strain. Props can be used to to help support the pose, making it suitable for all body types.
A yin practice is a fantastic compliment to dynamic yoga, enhances athletic performance or can simply help you to keep doing the things you like to do. If stress release is a motivator, consider yin yoga as an entryway to meditation. In fact, sometimes the most challenging part of a yin practice is staying present for whatever arises. But being present just makes it that much sweeter when the pose is released.