Archive for July, 2013

July 18, 2013

Why Yin Yoga Works

Yin is a distinct style of yoga that uses a different asana (posture) progression and alignment from most  other classes. The long holds leave you feeling physically, emotionally and mentally released. Yin is deceptively challenging, with the closer to the floor postures being held for longer periods of time you are encouraged to explore how you experience every aspect of each pose both physically and mentally. The lengthening that results from a yin practice impacts not just on the muscles but also on the fascia or connective tissue that holds us together.


When we think of connective tissue we tend to think of ligaments (bone to bone) and tendons (muscle to bone) however while this kind of connective tissue is strengthened from the gentle stress of yin poses it is the connective tissue found throughout the tissues in our body that receive the greatest benefit from yin yoga. Fasica organizes everything in our bodies. It wraps every muscle, every muscle bundle within the muscle, as well as blood vessels, and nerves. It essentially holds us together. See the image below depicting the many fascial compartments of a muscle for an idea of just how important and present this tissue is in our bodies.

We mainly think of lengthening our muscles when we work towards increasing our range of motion, but muscle tissue is at the mercy of the fascia that is holding the muscle fibres together. It is important to have a regular practice that addresses both tissue types because muscle fibres lengthen very quickly whereas fascia takes much longer to respond. This is why yin holds are longer than in other classes. Poses are held long enough to allow the muscle fibres to relax and allow the fascia to lengthen. Depending on the pose you may be holding a position for anywhere from 3 to 10 minutes.

The Taoist philosophy of Yin and Yang is the basis for this beautiful yoga form. Yin and yang qualities define and balance each other. All things are thought to include both of these energies. Yang is all that is perceived by the senses, the  bright, warm, soft and moving (blood and muscles included) and Yin is all that is dark, cold, hard, solid, and unchanging (like bones, joints, fascia). Most styles of yoga are yang by this definition and the rhythmic and repetitive movements of flowing styles of yoga work very well on the yang aspects of our body and mind. Yin tissue, in contrast, is best exercised and lengthened with still and sustained holds.

Yin cannot exist without yang and vice versa and in a similar way, our yoga practice and our bodies require a balance between these two energies. We also need it in our social, work and home lives as much as we need it in our tissues. During the Summer months we can overdo it on the Yang types of activity so a regular yin practice can be an important part of allowing the body to heal and balance after intense physical and mental activity. 

Check out a Yin class at Shakti Yoga Studio this Summer on Mondays at 8:30pm, Wednesday mornings at 10am, or Thursday evenings at 5:30pm and discover the magic!

In the photo above Stephanie Guitar, BA, RMT, E-RYT 500, is performing a Yin Yoga posture. Stephanie is a Fredericton based Yin Yoga instructor and teacher trainer who has studied and worked with Paul Grilley. Shakti Yoga Studio is hosting Stephanie this month as she teaches a 100 hour Yoga Alliance Registered Advanced Teacher Training here in St. John’s.