In the last few years, yin yoga has increased exponentially in popularity. What was once delegated to a single sunday night session, has infiltrated multiple weekday time slots on yoga studio timetables everywhere. You can even find yin yoga classes popping up in crossfit gyms and fitness centres. Yin yoga is definitely on the rise, so what is it about holding simple shapes for a few minutes that is drawing so many of us over to the yinside?
1. Yin Yoga is an expression of feminine energy
Yin and Yang, Dark and Light, soft & hard. Everything in the world is made up of varying degrees of these two energies. Yang represents the masculine – or active, solar energy. The energy we need to make ‘stuff’ happen in the world – to get where we’re going, to achieve and to move forward. Yin represents the feminine – receptive, lunar energy. The type of energy we need to rest, restore, nourish and receive. You don’t need to be a yogi to see that our current world has an overly masculine energy, or yang energy. We value progress, growth, expansion and productivity. This imbalance has led to the masculine being seen as valuable, and the feminine to be seen as unnecessary. This has resulted in many far reaching negative consequences – on a personal level – stress, striving, burnout and a lack of contentment – and on a larger scale the devastation of our natural world in favour of the economy.
Yin Yoga is an expression of the feminine ( not to be confused with female ) energy – which consciously, or unconsciously we all crave because we’re so out of balance. In my opinion, this is really the overall reason that so many people are being drawn to yin yoga, the reasons that follow are just little subsidiary branches of this one main theme.
2. Yin Yoga provides the perfect counterbalance to strength and cardio based fitness
With the rise in popularity of strength and conditioning programs like crossfit, F45 and HIIT, staying fit has taken on a decidedly more yang approach. Even many more ‘traditional’ forms of exercise like running, power yoga and working out at the gym are still yang in nature. However, just as I noted before – yang is only one 1/2 of the whole. Yin Yoga offers an expertly paired counterbalance to other Yang forms of exercise. Yang exercise works the yang parts of the body, namely the muscles. Yin Yoga, on the other hand romances the yin tissues – fascia, ligaments, bones, joints and organs. In the initial stages, say – the first 1 – 2 minutes in a posture, Yin Yoga also offers a deep release for muscular tension held / created in the body from other forms of exercise, postural misalignments or even trauma.
Adding Yin Yoga to an otherwise Yang exercise program will help to maintain range of motion, supple connective tissue and a balanced nervous system.
3. Yin Yoga is an ideal gateway into meditation
Meditation: we all know how much benefit we would receive from doing it, but why do so many of us put it off, or tuck it neatly into the ‘ too hard ‘ basket. My theory is that it’s too much of a stretch, too different, too foreign. Imagine you are standing firmly on one side of a cliff – grounded in the reality of day-to-day living, waking up, going to work, making shit happen, coming home, cooking dinner and going to sleep, only to repeat the following day. On the other side of the cliff, meditation is floating etherically – in between… a huge gap. It’s just too big of a leap. For many of us, Yin Yoga can be a bridge from one side to the other.
Yin Yoga feels familiar enough for most people to try without hesitation. You practice on a yoga mat, it doesn’t require any special skill or ability level. The physical sensations we create in yin yoga poses help to keep your mind grounded in the present moment. It feels like the most wonderful way to release deeply held tension. But while you go about the business of holding poses for 2, 5 or even 10 minutes you have this golden opportunity to sample little bite sized chunks of meditation.
During the practice your teacher may guided you to work with an inner method, such as mindfulness, visualisation, or concentration – perhaps switching with each change in posture, or exploring the same method throughout the whole practice. This initial taste of meditation can show students how amazing it can feel to have a temporary break from your own mental dialogue. This embodied experience is often enough to give an individual the confidence and desire to sign up for a meditation course, go on a retreat or start a home practice. I’ve seen it time and time again, and I grin with a knowing smile, each time I hear a new account of someone ‘finally getting into meditation‘ after a few months of practicing yin yoga.
Not to mention, on a very practical level, the physical practice of yin yoga makes a seated meditation practice much more comfortable and sustainable by releasing tension in the hips, knees and low back.
4. Yin Yoga offers people a practical way to slow down
Those little idle moments, where we are neither coming or going, but are simply exactly where we are, are necessary to living a creative and fulfilling life. However, in modern life moments like these are quickly sacrificed to the cult of busy. I grew up in the country, where life moves at what can be, for a 16 year old, an excruciatingly slow pace. I can recall one of the more interesting ways that I would pass the time – staring out the window, watching the leaves of birch and apple trees dance in the wind. My mind was unoccupied with to-do lists, or even the awareness that I should be somewhere other than where I was. These days, I have to search, protect and defend the right to have even a few moments like this every week.
Yin Yoga offers you many moments like these all within a single class. In a yin practice there are bound to be periods of space and silence in each pose. Once in the pose, the goal is often to ‘do‘ less, and sometimes even to ‘do‘ nothing. Through these enforced moments of slowing down we can learn how to reconnect with what life was like before social media notifications, overflowing schedules and the constant need to be productive.
5. Yin Yoga gives us specific tools to manage our emotions.
All yoga works on the level of mind-body-spirit, weather we are conscious of it or not. The body-mind are not separate entities, or islands in themselves, but they are intimately connected to a degree that we are just only beginning to understand scientifically. Therefore, even if you show up to a yoga class that is ‘ just a workout ‘ you are no doubt, causing some sort of effect in your mind. The practice of Yin Yoga takes this a step further by creating specific, targeted effects in the mind through stimulation of the meridian channels and organs, as based on Traditional Chinese Medicine. According to TCM, each organ is related to a particular emotional state when balanced, and a different emotional state when unbalanced. This of course is a vast oversimplification of an expansive technology for understanding the human being developed over many thousands of years. However, even a basic understanding of which poses can balance which emotional states can be a useful tool to have in the On Being Human, manual.
6. Yin Yoga is incredibly accessible, but not easy
The poses of Yin yoga are very un-glamorous, in fact, one of my first Yin teachers, Bernie Clark called yin yoga ‘ unglamorous yoga’. Most of the time yin poses are created lying down or seated, and make use of various props, depending on an individual’s skeletal structure and individual history. There is very little concern about the aesthetic appearance of the pose, and there is absolutely no cajoling the body into an idealised form. This lack of focus on the way the poses look can allow beginners to practice alongside yogis of all experience levels without comparison. This naturally weeds out any sense of competition as their is no ideal pose we strive towards. The result is a practice that is very accessible, even to those who have never stepped foot in a yoga room before.
On the other hand, yin yoga is not a walk in the park. There is often a considerable challenge involved; sometimes strong sensation in the body other times mental resistance, or emotions rise to the surface. It is a practice that teaches you how to become comfortable with discomfort, which in my mind, is one of the more valuable skills a human can possess. What all this boils down to, is a practice that is inclusive yet challenging, to people all ages, fitness levels and yoga experience backgrounds.
7. Yin Yoga is acceptance based – allowing people to temporarily suspend their need to achieve
There’s nowhere to go, no where to get to – other than here. Yin yoga sequencing typically doesn’t work up to a ‘peak pose’ the way a hatha or vinyasa class might. There are no primary, intermediate or advanced sequences lurking on the horizon. Progress is not measured in how much you can deepen an asana over time. While these things are not problematic in and of themselves, I believe we’re suffering from ‘need to achieve‘ fatigue. In our relationships, we get worried if there isn’t external progress ( the engagement, the house, the kids etc. ). In our work life we constantly strive to move forward, to progress. As a society as a whole – we want to keep growing, advancing…becoming better than we are now.
Yin yoga offers us a rare time and place where we are actively encouraged to surrender our need to achieve.
8. Yin Yoga engages the PSN – Parasympathetic Nervous System ( i.e The Rest & Digest System )
This isn’t breaking news, if you’re interested in health and wellbeing you will be aware that many of us are walking around with an overactive / chronically engaged Sympathetic Nervous System ( SNS ). The SNS is the part of the nervous system that is responsible for the fight / flight / freeze response. While all yoga can have a positive impact on rebalancing an individual’s nervous system, yin yoga is especially suited to this task because the entire class is focused on slowing down, becoming still, releasing tension and cultivating mindful presence. This can have a dramatic impact on the practitioner, even after a single class. Many of my students have reported to me that the only time during their week they feel truly, and deeply relaxed is after a yin class. The health benefits of supporting the PNS are incredible, especially for those who struggle with anxiety, overwhelm, digestive issues, chronic illness – the list goes on. Of course there are many ways that you could encourage PNS activation, but for many people, yin yoga offers an affordable, regular and accessible way to explore these benefits.
For me, this list is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to yin yoga – however, I value your time, and acknowledge your attention span.
If you want to share your own reason that you love yin yoga, or what type of impact it’s had on your life, please share in the comments below.
Lots of love,