Vinyasa flows and sweaty hot yoga classes have their place. But when times are stressful, there’s benefit in slowing down. After the difficulties of the last couple of years, it is no wonder that Yin Yoga has become such a popular practice.
About Yin Yoga
A slow, mindful form of yoga, Yin Yoga focuses on deep stretches. Poses are held for a long time, targeting the fascia – the connective tissues that surround our organs, bones, blood vessels, and nerves.
It is also an extremely calming form of yoga that aims to restore and rejuvenate your body and mind.
In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at Yin, its benefits, and how you can get started if Yin is not yet a part of your practice.
What Is Yin Yoga?
A way to define what Yin Yoga is about is to contrast it with the yang forms of yoga, such as Vinyasa or Ashtanga, which you may be more familiar with. These dynamic practices are usually relatively fast-paced, moving from pose to pose with the breath. Yin Yoga is the opposite, requiring you to slow down and hold poses for significant periods of time.
Yin combines the principles of yoga with traditional Chinese medicine to create a therapeutic practice that focuses on the deep connective tissues, including the fascia, the ligaments, and the joints.
It is based on the Chinese philosophy of ‘Qi’ or life-force, which yogis call prana. Like other traditional Chinese medicine techniques, such as acupuncture, Qi Gong, or gua sha, Yin Yoga aims to release blockages in our Qi and allow our lifeforce to flow freely.
By holding poses for longer, you take the stretch deeper into those connective tissues. You also take the time to focus your attention inwards. The slow nature of Yin makes it a meditative practice.
Breathing through the discomfort of the poses can be a challenge. But Yin Yoga is deeply calming and restorative. Most poses are done on the floor, and you might hold them for 2-3 minutes, or even longer.
What Are the Benefits of Yin Yoga?
Sometimes you simply don’t want a fast-paced practice. If you are feeling tired, under the weather, or simply burnt out, you might have trouble dragging yourself onto your yoga mat for a dynamic Vinyasa flow.
Yin is the perfect option when you are struggling with low energy. It invites you to slow down, release tension, and rest. Because it is a gentle practice, it is often suitable when other types of yoga wouldn’t be – if you are pregnant, are dealing with chronic illness, or are recovering from an injury, for example. However, always talk to your doctor first if you have any health conditions.
Proponents say Yin poses have a similar effect on the body to an acupuncture session. They release blocked energy and restore the healthy flow of Qi.
Yin has other benefits too, including:
1. Increases Flexibility
All types of yoga are excellent for increasing your flexibility. But many forms only keep you in the same pose for a few seconds, which isn’t long enough to affect the elasticity of the fascia.
Yin Yoga takes the stretch further into these deep connective tissues, helping to ease stiffness, release tension, and relieve joint pain.
2. Boosts Mood
Yin’s slow, mindful nature makes it an effective way to de-stress. Stepping away from your busy day, you can use a Yin Yoga session to release stress, combat burnout, and prioritise rest.
Studies show that Yin Yoga is effective in improving the symptoms of mental health issues, including anxiety, stress, and depression.
3. Activates the Parasympathetic Nervous System
The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for our body’s basic functions, including digestion, circulation, and breath.
Practices like Yin Yoga, which focus on deep breathing, are known to activate this part of our nervous systems, helping us to relax and heal.
How to Get Started with Yin Yoga
You can easily practise Yin Yoga at home with online classes and videos. If you prefer, there are also plenty of in-person classes you can join. This might be the best option if you are new to yoga or working with any injuries. A skilled teacher can help you adapt the poses to avoid overdoing things.
There are a few pieces of equipment you’ll need. The most essential is a good yoga mat. Yin Yoga requires you to hold poses for a long time, so you want one that is well-padded. This ensures you don’t stress your joints. We've put together this guide on how to choose your yoga mat and we're also discussing how to choose one of the right thickness in our blog.
You may also want to have a couple of yoga blocks, which will help you modify poses to suit your current level of flexibility. If you are going to classes at a studio, they’ll often have blocks on hand for students to use.
A bolster or blanket is also useful for Yin Yoga. They’ll help support your body, allowing you to relax and deepen into poses. The blanket will also come in handy if you get cold.
Because Yin Yoga is slow-paced, you won’t be generating any extra body heat and need to make sure you stay warm during your session. Choose clothes that allow you to move freely, while still keeping you at a comfortable temperature. You’ll want to wear more than you would for a more dynamic yoga class.
Finally, a strap can be useful, especially for beginners. You can use this in poses where you can’t yet reach with your hands. At home, a belt can work well as a substitute. Check here for a full guide on the essential yoga equipment you need for a good practice, as well as ideas on how to substitute some of the gear if you don't own it (sometimes less is more!).