Maybe you've been hearing about it, but you're still not exactly sure you get it. Just what is yin yoga, and why should you care? If you use your muscles at all (and, really, who doesn't?), it's important to balance that out with a different kind of movement.
But first, definitions: Yin and yang represent interconnected duality, specifically in Taoist philosophy. Chances are we've all used the terms to describe opposites ... dark and light, sun and moon, hot and cold, etc. But just take a look at the taijitu symbol to go a little deeper and see that there is always one within the other--notice the little dot within the "head" of each paisley shape--and that you can't have one (side) without the other. Interesting, no?
So, I think the easiest way to explain yin yoga is by comparing it with yang yoga--the familiar vinyasa classes most likely offered at your neighborhood studio.
Yang yoga focuses on muscles, while yin yoga addresses connective tissues
Bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, fascia ... all of these things move in your "standard" (if there is such a thing) yoga class, but they aren't targeted with traditional yang classes. If joints aren't safely stressed regularly, as they can be with yin postures, degeneration and other problems can occur as we age. But perhaps you've noticed that there are yang asana that very closely mirror yin postures. So aren't they the same thing? And how do you focus on these yin tissues without engaging the muscles, anyway? Read on ...
Yang yoga is more active, while yin yoga is more passive
The most effective way to move our muscles is with a variety of short, repetitive (sometimes complex) movements, warming them in the process. But yin tissues appreciate long static holds, and simple postures that keep them relatively cool. So instead of a flowing class with many different shapes, a yin class is mostly floor-based, offers props for support, and often includes just a handful of different asana, each held for a certain length of time.
A yang yoga class targets the physical body, while a yin class addresses the energetic body
Of course, both styles of yoga deal with the body's form as well as the energy it contains, but yin classes are often designed around the body's meridians, through which vital energy (qi or "chi") continuously circulates. For example, postures that create deep flexion in the spine (Caterpillar, similar to the yang Pachimottanasana or Seated Forward Fold) stimulate the Urinary Bladder meridian in Traditional Chinese Medicine, which runs along the body's back line. In very simple terms, it's believed that targeting this meridian affects bladder and kidney qi, in part, as well as the reproductive organs and the emotion of fear.
But yin yoga is so much more than tissues, asana, and energy lines. It's a practice that can teach you about discernment, acceptance, and freedom. So instead of trying to grasp everything yin has to offer by reading a short blog post, I encourage you to try a class. Check the schedule for your local studio (Open Doors in Weymouth and Chakra Power Yoga in Braintree both offer a few weekly classes by some wonderful instructors), or find some online at Audible Yoga or your favorite home for yoga videos. Adding a little yin yoga spice to your yang yoga diet will balance it out, bringing you toward harmony in body and soul.
My pop-up class at Sama Yoga in Chester, Vt., this month features a yin sequence focused on the gall bladder and liver meridians in preparation for spring. (Maybe we can generate enough detoxifying energy to melt all this late-season snow!) Drop me a line now to reserve your spot--we meet at 295 Main Street at 1 p.m. Saturday, March 10--for an accessible 90-minute practice. I hope you can join us!