Yin Yoga works differently than more vigorous forms of yoga and targets different tissues in the body - the fascia. You've seen fascia before if you've prepared meat for eating; it's the white-ish, tougher layer surrounding the chicken breast or other portion of animal muscle. You have it, too.
Yin poses are longer and focus on releasing effort, working with intense sensation and a cooling breath, generally through the mouth. It's a very meditative practice and is great for getting ready for seated meditation as well as a good night's sleep.
from a recent email responding to someone interested in fascia:
Fascia are the layers of connective tissue covering and connecting muscles. In normal function there is fluid that lubricates the muscles moving within these sheaths. The fascia is a different kind of tissue than muscle - more like cartilage than like muscle - so it responds to a different kind of treatment and movement. Fascia is effected by long, slow forces of stretch and compression in a cool environment - think braces on teeth, while muscle responds to fast, hot, repetitive motion. My favorite analogy is that fascia respond like teeth do: when you want to the change the alignment of teeth, you don't wiggle them back and forth every day (like lifting a weight). You apply braces and make small changes over time.
In addition, the liquid that lubricates the muscles' glide within the fascia can become stagnant with sedentary lifestyles, rest after surgery or even after a night's sleep. A morning routine and proper hydration are enough to address the night's sleep, but more dedication and patience are required after weeks, months or years instead of hours.
Yin Yoga specifically targets the fascia. I use yin poses at the beginning of each of my classes and teach a whole hour of it on Friday evenings. Want to feel how your body's connected, effect transformation on another level, slow down, work on your meditation seat or break through a plateau? Yin may be just what you're looking for. Here are a few poses below.
Want more? Sign up for Inspire Newsletter at the right and email me back when you receive your first missive. I'll send you a 5 page .pdf I used in an Intro to Yoga Class. Plus, here's Bernie Clark's youtube channel, where he posts great videos. He's the founder of this non-trademarked style and teacher of and with Paul Grilley (from whom I first heard the orthodontic analogy) and Sarah Powers (from whose Yin Yoga Workshop at the 2011 SF YJ Conference I benefitted greatly).
"Do not think of yourself as a small, compressed, suffering thing. Think of yourself as graceful and expanding, no matter how unlikely it may seem at the time." ~B.K.S. Iyengar
I've become quite enamored by alternating Dangling and Squat a couple of times and then moving to the foot poses in Yin practice. Not only do the meridians and many fascial lines get efficiently targeted this way, it feels amazing and I'm noticing pretty remarkable results. I've never known how much of my inability to squat flat footed was due to bone structure and how much due to soft tissue - because of birth defects, the bone structure in my legs is rather idiosyncratic - but I'm experiencing more opening than I though possible.
Try it for yourself and tell me in the comments below what you notice and how you feel!
Yin class this week starts with the feet: Ankle Stretch and Toe Squat. Yin yoga targets the fascia and connective tissue, so is done "cold" without a warm up and without ujjayi breath. We stay with postures for 2-5 minutes, making the sensation the object of meditation, much like you might make the breath the focal point of seated meditation.
Starting with the feet can be intense because they receive so little attention in everyday life - negative attention, even, in heels and constricting shoes! But this is also where many fascial lines are anchored and similarly many of the meridians these poses also impact. Beginning with the feet is both very focusing and a way to knock on the body's doors and request admittance to release more deeply. By applying intelligent pressure and stress to the fascia in the feet, we're opening up the entire system by which we interact with the ground, balance and move through the world. this will create effects, particularly over weeks of practice, in the joints and balance in the rest of the body.
No pose impacts a single meridian or fascial line, and even one meridian or line has knock on effects on the others. These poses will create systemic changes, though the focus of many poses in this class are the Stomach and Urinary Bladder meridians. The Stomach meridian has to do, not surprisingly, with nourishment and balancing the differing substances we take into our bodies and lives. the Urinary Bladder meridian impacts balance of the fight-or-flight and rest-and-relax systems known as the autonomic nervous system, making it's balance crucial in healthy handling of everyday as well as extraordinary stress.
Add a Yin Yoga practice to your week and see the transformative effects in your active asana practice as well as your ability to settle in seated meditation as well as move through your world with ease and grace. Leave a comment below about your Yin practice this week and be entered into a drawing for a recording of this practice!
You'll find class plans and themes here every week. I share these for many reasons and there are several ways you can best use them.
Long holds in intense positions: it's either a first date, performance art or yin yoga. Lucky for you, these poses "Feel sooooooo good!" according to one recent student and you can mix and match, alter the time in pose and total practice time.
Just the first 4 poses are a great preparation for sitting meditation and are great for letting go before bed.
Do you practice yin yoga? What are your favorite poses and sequences? Tell me in a comment below!
Yin yoga works with sometimes intense sensations over longer periods of time (2-5, even 10 minutes), and relies on the difference between pain and intensity. We'll discuss 3 different ways to work with intensity and turn anything into meditation.
Yin yoga is a style of yoga that focuses on "yin" tissues of the body: the fascia, connective tissues and bones which are yin relative to the yang muscles, yin with respect to having less blood, less water than the muscles on which regular hatha yoga practices focus. If you've come to a place in your practice where you feel stuck, it's likely the fascia surrounding the muscles that's the culprit and yin yoga is the way to work with fascia.
These tissues are, however, less pliable. The forces we exert on the yin tissue require relaxation of the muscles, a relatively "cold" practice (without warm up or heat that activates the muscles) and longer time in pose. These poses can be quite intense, but that is all within your control: go slowly and explore closer to the minimum edge of these poses until you are comfortable with the sensations and how to work with them.
Four ways of working with intensity in yoga and life
Why would we want to work with these tissues? Aren't these the exact places you tell us not to stress during regular classes? Yes. In regular yoga classes we are focused on muscular engagement, strength and flexibility. We specifically warm up and engage muscles, which compress and put their own strain on joints. In a regular yoga class, we don't want to add stress and can't access the fascia.
In Yin yoga class, we release patterns of holding and habitual engagement in the muscles so we can intelligently work with the connective tissues. The joints have more space so shearing forces aren't directed into them. This is less forceful, more patient work. The reason to work with these tissues is that the fascia and other connective tissues are exactly where we hold our patterns - our "stash" of habit, filter, assumption and experience. If you're stuck working with a certain area of your body or class of poses and haven't been able to "stretch" your way into the experience you want, Yin yoga is most likely exactly the secret key you've been looking for.
You've probably heard that bones are strengthened through stress; this is one reason some form of resistance training is recommended for graceful aging. Without stress, the processes that rebuild bones are circumvented. In zero gravity, astronauts actually loose bone density. But this happens with physical inactivity of any kind: a casted limb, bed rest or simply a sedentary period of time. Yin yoga intelligently applies stress to the bones and the connective tissue in ways that strengthen rather than strain and which can lead to increase mobility and vitality.
Additionally, because postures are engaged for minutes rather than seconds and target fascial lines, they interact with what Eastern Medicine refers to as meridians in the body. This week's practice focuses on forward bends and therefore interacts with the liver meridian, though kidney, gall bladder, urinary bladder, spleen and stomach also run through the legs. This is a gentle stimulation and leads to greater balance.
The most important thing about Yin Yoga is to discern the difference between pain and intensity. In no instance do I recommend you remain or move toward poses that create sharp or electric sensations: these are "pain" and signal danger to tissue (soft, connective or nerve) in the body. However other sensations often avoided are actually signals of need in the body.
Erich Schiffman popularized the distinction between minimum and maximum edges in his book, Moving Into Stillness. Your minimum edge in a pose is the first inkling of sensation created by a direction of movement. In Yang Yoga practices, this isn't a very useful place to stay, though it's vital to understand. In Yin practices, this can be a fruitful place to explore sensations and make decisions about how much intensity to generate by moving toward a pose.
If you're looking for the next horizon in your practice, Yin may open up a whole new world. You can come to class, request a consult or book a private lesson by Skype or in person in the 505 to get you started. Already have a Yin practice? Tell us about it! What has it opened up for you?