What is Yin Yoga?

Yin yoga: you’ve seen it on your studio’s schedule, heard your fellow yoga practitioners rave about how relaxing it is, and maybe even seen these same yogis leave Yin class with a deliciously blissed-out look on their faces. But what is it?

When I first started exploring Yin Yoga in 2004, hardly anybody knew. I attended one of Paul Grilley’s Yin workshops at the Toronto Yoga Show that year, and although it was well-attended, my proposal to include it on the schedule at one of my local teaching venues earned me a look of bewilderment rather than the enthusiasm I’d been hoping for.

Well, now things are different. Most more experienced yoga practitioners have at least heard of Yin Yoga, even if they haven’t actually tried it. And I’ve encountered more than a few first-timers who specifically request it!

And for good reason. Yin is a slow, deep, quiet practice that slowly and gently stretches and nourishes dense connective tissue such as tendons and ligaments, joints, and even bones. Its focus on these deep tissues means that it helps prevent injuries (because it encourages circulation of blood and nutrients) and has an anti-aging effect (since it is our connective tissue that tends to shorten and tighten as we age, even more than our muscles). And more to the point, it just feels good.

Rooted in the ancient tradition of Taoist Yoga, a Yin practice is specifically designed to release the connective tissues of the hips, thighs and pelvis, rather than “just” stretching the muscles. Postures are held for much longer than typical yoga postures: at least 3-5 minutes at a time. You can use props such as yoga blocks and blankets to assist you if needed.

Yin Yoga is traditionally used to prepare the body and mind for meditation. This is because Yin poses develop the mental and physical flexibility and openness needed to sit comfortably during meditation. But it can also be a panacea for anyone who needs to sit for long periods of time for other reasons (work, driving, etc.). Because of its ability to access the deep tissues of the body — the fascia, ligaments, tendons, joints and bones — a steady Yin practice will allow you to avoid common chronic and injuries. Those who run, bike or plays sport will also find Yin indispensable, as these activities often compromise flexibility in the hips, thighs and pelvis.

Looking for more information about Yin Yoga? A simple Google search will give you plenty of hits, but I’ll provide some reliable resources in future blog posts.

Looking for a place to practice Yin? Many Toronto studios now have regular Yin classes  – check your local studio’s schedule for details. Also see my Yin teaching schedule. I’d love to see you in class!

-Elizabeth

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