While most of us have heard of or even done some form of yoga, very few of us are familiar with Yin yoga. With western culture typically favouring a fast-paced, dynamic fix, albeit in a zen state, Yin yoga has long been pipped to the post by its more popular, fiery cousins, Vinyasa and Bikram.
Keen to learn more about this emerging style, we spoke to yogi Ali O’Neill from popular Sydney studio, Humming Puppy, for a little Yin 101:
What exactly is Yin yoga?
Yin is the more restorative, cooling yoga practice which targets the deep connective tissue of the body. It targets that which connects our muscle to bone and bone to bone, the tissue that surrounds our organs (fascia) and the tissue that lubricates our joints. In contrast, Vinyasa, ‘power’ or ‘flow’ yoga, is the ‘yang’ or muscular heating practice.
What’s the philosophy behind the ‘Yin’ part of Yin yoga?
Yin comes from the Daoist or Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang, the black and white symbol representing the belief that everything in the universe consists of two equal yet opposite forces, like: masculine and feminine, light and dark, cold and hot, summer and winter. At first, these opposites seem seperate in nature, however upon closer reflection, the contrary forces may actually be complementary, as they interrelate to one another because of their harmony to balance each other and coexist. What would summer be if we did not experience winter!
The same is said in yoga, or any kind of physical practice for that matter. We need to learn to balance the body, relax and activate our parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) so the functions of our body work with us, not against us.
What are the key health benefits of Yin yoga versus other forms of yoga?
The health benefits will be different for every body as we are all individuals who come to any practice with a lifetime of differences; physical, mental and emotional. Yin will encourage your mind to rest, it will slow your system down so all your organs start to work to cohesively. It will leave you feeling lighter emotionally, rested and hopefully with more mobility. I affectionally call it the ‘magic adult sleep’ as it can provide you with deep rest.
Yin in also a very introspective practice, offering an opportunity to meditate and release any stored aliments through conscious connection with your Self through your breath. Depending on your teacher, the philosophy will lend itself to restore the body in different ways. Traditional yin will work with the seasons, elements, and to balance the Yin Yang organs of the body, or any imbalances physically.
How are the asanas different to the poses in other, more well-known forms of yoga i.e. Hatha yoga and Vinyasa yoga?
Some poses may look quite familiar to those you may have done in regular classes, however I encourage the use of props, blocks, blankets and straps to make you extremely comfortable as the pose will be held anywhere between three to seven minutes. Once you enter the pose in a comfortable, relaxed way, you switch off muscular engagement so the fascia, ligaments or tendons can be ‘tensioned’ (we can’t stretch connective tissue as it has no bloody supply like our muscles).
It is quite normal to only do six to eight poses in a class but this is where you will be encouraged to enjoy less movement, release the ideas and expectations and enjoy the process.
Who can practice Yin yoga?
Anyone with a pulse! In our very Yang-oriented society, the people who benefit the most are those who never give themselves the time and space to slow down! It’s great for busy, over-worked, stressed or anxious minds.
Not only great for regular yogis, Yin is also very beneficial for people who enjoy a regular weights-based regime such as functional training and CrossFit. It’s also good for those with injuries (yes, a lot of positions in Yin will relieve tension in muscles and joints when guided safely), pregnant women, cyclists, runners and more.
What are some good Yin poses we can keep in our back pocket for whenever we need a moment to peace out?
All poses can be held for up to five minutes. Ensure you relax completely into the pose, release all muscular tension engagement on every exhale breath.
Reclined butterfly, goddess or queen pose
Wide legged forward fold
This is a a very deep backbend so if you have any sacroiliac joint dysfunctions this is not for you, however it can be a relieving pose for people with disc injuries. It can all be done one leg at a time by extending one leg out straight, while the opposite is tucked under. Use as many pillows or bolsters under the back as needed.
Want to try Yin yoga?
Ali balances her love of yoga with a career in events and communications and reflects this natural flow between worlds in her teaching styles of Vinyasa yoga and Yin yoga. She teaches at Humming Puppy in Redfern and This is Yoga in Clovelly and Randwick.
200 YTT Power Living (2015)
100 YTT Yin Yoga with The Yin Space, Melanie Malaughlin (2016)
30 YTT Prenatal Yoga with Baby Bloss Yoga (2017)
20 YTT Power Living assisting module