I'm going to be totally honest. When I first started teaching, I was all about combining traditional Yoga with a feeling that you're getting a real, physical workout - I was a Fitness Instructor and a Personal Trainer! I loved to sweat (as did my students) and people practised with me because my classes were more like a 'fitness class' than a traditional yoga class.
Over the years, I've realised that we don't need to push ourselves so hard in order to feel the amazing benefits of this spiritual practice. I call it a spiritual practice as it helps combat all sorts of mental, physical and emotional issues.
I've gained qualifications allowing me to teach classes focused more on strength, mobility and stability - and I love teaching like this - working with the body to build more resilience, and supporting people to move well at any age, but there has been something niggling away at me for a couple of years. I couldn't work out what it was. Until now.
I started Yoga to combat my mental health issues. Without my practise, there is no denying, I honestly have no clue where I'd be right now. I love teaching what I teach already, but I wanted to go deeper into sharing the mental and emotional benefits that Yoga has brought my way. My week studying Yin has done just that. I don't know if it's my age or a time in my life, but I absolutely love teaching Yin.
With day to day life already being active, often stressful and always on-the-go, Yin Yoga offers the opportunity to enjoy a more relaxed, rejuvenating, grounding practice that has tremendous benefits for body, mind and soul.
The concept of Yin Yoga has been around for thousands of years and some of the oldest yogic texts note only sixteen postures, which is far less than the millions of postures practiced in a yoga class today. In addition, these original postures were quite yin-like in style, designed to help promote meditation and long periods of pranayama (breathing) and sitting.
Yin yoga is a simple, quiet practice, but make no mistake, it is not always an easy or comfortable one! It has the power to take you beyond your regular comfort zone - however, this is where much of the benefit and magic lies.
So What is it?
It's a slow-paced, therapeutic style of yoga. Yin postures are more passive postures, mainly done on the floor either seated or lying down. There are no sun salutations, no planks, no warriors, no jump throughs! There is in fact no dynamic movement and usually no standing poses at all. Yin Yoga is unique in that you are asked to relax into the posture, allowing the body to soften and release naturally without pushing or straining. It is not uncommon for postures to be held for three to six minutes, even up to 20 minutes at a time! The time spent in these postures is much like time spent in meditation, as the mind shifts, we work on bringing our attention or awareness back to the present moment. Just imagine - you're doing amazing things for your body, AND ticking off your meditation practice - all in one go! ;)
The key to practicing Yin Yoga is finding stillness in each position. The goal is to access the deeper tissues of the body, such as connective tissue and fascia, and many of the postures focus on areas that encompass a joint such as the hips, shoulders and spine.
How Does Yin Yoga Work on a Physical Level?
On the surface, the yin practice might appear rather uneventful. But if you are able to tune in, you will encounter some pretty fascinating events occurring in the layers beneath the skin. Fascia is key to understanding the benefits of Yin Yoga. The muscles in our bodies are encased in fascia, which is a continuous web of tissue (think a 'wet spider's web') that weaves in and around our muscles, organs, nerves and lymph. To keep fascia healthy and springy, we need to keep it hydrated as well as subject it to gentle pressure or tension.
Fascia is the framework of our form - imagine it as the mast of a ship - as well as holding our body up, it’s a structure that organises us into shapes that function and move us through life. Ageing and lifestyle choices can cause the fascia to become dehydrated, stiff and weak. Do you know the 'knots' you feel in your body? They are bundles of fascia that have become so stuck together, a 'knot' has been created. These knots can be created through physical and emotional stresses. Yin Yoga has the ability to change this connective tissue, promote relaxation and restore fascial fluidity. Yin boosts your range of motion and flexibility, whilst also helping to strengthen your muscles and maintain their length. It also promotes hydration, re-establishes elasticity, facilitates regeneration of collagen and hyaluronic acid (the main chemicals that combat ageing), creates space in our joints, reducing friction and in turn - pain, and expands our capacity for non-reactivity (builds patience and tolerance.)
How Does Yin Yoga Work on an Emotional and Mental Level?
While Yin Yoga is amazing for the physical body, many of its greatest benefits stem from its remarkable effects on the mind and emotions. The practice allows the body to drop down into the parasympathetic nervous system, offering a grounding, calming and revitalising practice, with profound energetic and emotional effects.
While holding the Yin poses, you are asked to observe the breath and use this as a way to focus on the present moment, allowing thoughts and feelings to arise but to let them go rather than attach to them. Here, the consistent chatter of the mind can fade away, opening a space to simply be. To practice Yin is to relinquish control, which is a novel and therapeutic concept in our modern-day lives. This is one of the hardest parts of Yin Yoga for most people, and is a big reason people try it and then 'believe' it's not for them.... 😉
Imagine what might be different in your life if you could actually stop, slow down and simply be with yourself without distraction?
The long periods of time in (mildly) uncomfortable positions asks you to learn to accept what is in that given moment. The lessons of Yin are gentle, and yet, profound all at once.
The Benefits of Yin Yoga:
Yin energy is yang energy’s counterpart (yin is known as energy that's slow and calm, whilst yang is dynamic and fast.) Disrupted sleep often occurs when the body and mind are experiencing an imbalance of these two forces. Yin invites the body to let go of held stress and tension in both the physical body and the mind. When you spend most of your day in a more yang, or active state, a Yin practice can help to ground your energy and promote more rejuvenating rest.
As mentioned above, Yin Yoga targets the thick connective tissue known as the fascia. Fascia connects the body’s muscles and when fascia stiffens, it limits healthy blood flow. A regular Yin practice can help release stiffness in this important tissue which improves circulation in the body.
Reduced stress and anxiety
I so wish I'd discovered Yin Yoga during the worst times of my mental health illness! In our modern, fast-paced world it seems that we all struggle with some form of stress or anxiety. Yin Yoga is a particularly calming practice and helps soothe the nervous energy that so many of us battle with daily. A Yin class is the perfect way to find space, to slow your mind down, and to be guided deeper into your practice. I also believe this style of practise helps to increase your 'window of tolerance,' thus enabling you to deal with stress better.
Increases flexibility and range of motion
My usual way of teaching, increases flexibility and mobility by working your muscles and joints through their full range of motion. Yin stretches and targets both the deep connective tissues between the muscles, and the fascia throughout the body - so the combination of both is pretty much the perfect antidote to moving well - now and in 30 years time!
Injury, habitual posture in daily life, and aging - among other factors - can bind our connective tissues together, restricting that movement. This blocks the flow of nutrients and energy through the body, causing pain and limiting mobility. Holding poses that gently lengthen the muscles and fascia helps shift these blockages, and applying mild stress to joints and connective tissues can increase their range of motion.
Yin Yoga is amazing for opening our heart, calming our nervous system, and providing a space for the body to deeply relax. It also offers a deeply nourishing and nurturing environment where we can cultivate compassion and love for ourselves on a deeper level. The practice is a beautiful way to reconnect to the body in a gentle, compassionate way. Yin asks you to get intimate with your feelings, sensations, and emotions—something that can perhaps be ignored during a faster paced class, and life in general! While this can be confronting at first, it is also deeply healing, and is a beautiful way to foster self-care, intuition and loving kindness.
Builds strength and perseverance
Yin may not build the strength associated with a Power Yoga class, but instead, it builds a deeper inner strength, resilience and perseverance. Yin teaches you that staying still and dealing with whatever comes up one breath at a time will truly help you grow. Rather than running away, distracting ourselves, or trying to get out of the discomfort, Yin shows us that there is strength in surrender and how to overcome the negative chatter of the mind to find a place of stillness and acceptance. Yin teaches us how to be gentle, patient, and non-reactive. It is a practice that offers great assistance both on and off the mat. THIS is why I teach - to provide you with the tools to lead a happy, fulfilled life!
Releasing stored emotions
When held at length, what seems like an easy, inoffensive pose can change into something incredibly challenging! The poses and the way they are held can release incredibly strong sensations. We store our emotions in various parts of our bodies. Memories, anxiety and tension linger in cells stored deep in our tissues. When we go into a yoga pose that opens a part of the body left untouched for a while, these deeply stored memories and emotions resurface. Doing so can be challenging in the moment, and can lead to a wide array of reactions, yet essentially, it helps us to let go of things that don’t serve us that we have been holding onto for too long. It can be truly cathartic to release these stored emotions and Yin Yoga offers a safe and accessible space in which to do so.
Encourages slowing down
The slow and tranquil nature of a Yin class cannot help but inspire you to slow down. Even if you rush to the class from a day at work in rush hour traffic, your first five minutes into the class alone are enough to help you shift gears. Deadlines, commitments, pressing matters, and to-do lists fade to the background, leaving tremendous space for rest and renewal. Yin Yoga offers a perfect counterbalance to more Yang styles of yoga and many students come to find they enjoy practicing both. Finding ways to slow down and unwind in our fast paced modern lifestyle is becoming increasingly important. After a Yin class, it is much easier to step back into the circus of life with clarity and perspective, ready and able to approach whatever lay beyond the classroom.
Shifting into the Parasympathetic Nervous System
Diaphragmatic breathing, or belly breathing, is a powerful way to trigger the parasympathetic nervous system. Activating the parasympathetic nervous system is beneficial to lower stress and tension, lower blood pressure, regulate sleep, assist digestion, boost immune function, balance hormones and more. More often than not, we spend our days locked in sympathetic nervous system overdrive, constantly being pulled from one overly important deadline to another. Belly breathing can be a quick and easy way to change this. In Yin Yoga the breath slows down significantly, drawing you deeper and deeper into this parasympathetic, or relaxation, mode. This is where the internal organs get a chance to catch up on their own to-do list such as digest, eliminate toxins, heal and repair.
A meditative mind
A Yin practice helps us to tap into a state of mind very similar to that of meditation. When we create opportunities for physical stillness in a yin practice, we also create the perfect conditions for the brain to become clear and still. A Yin practice can quite literally help us to wipe the slate of our mind clean and take some much needed time out from the mental to-do list that occupies most of our day. The poses and the focus on the breath allows the mind something gentle to focus on, which makes the meditative state easier to tap into. If meditation is challenging for you, Yin yoga is a great way to enjoy many of the great benefits that meditation offers.
Cultivates gratitude and joy
The ‘yoga high’ that you get from a Yin yoga class is a little different to the one you may get from a sweaty vinyasa flow class. Nevertheless, it is equally as delicious. The unique and remarkable physical, mental and emotional benefits that come from a Yin Yoga practice leave you feeling thoroughly refreshed, rejuvenated and renewed. Yin Yoga leaves a lot of the ego associated with modern yoga at the door and the gentle and nurturing nature of the practice is like giving your body a giant big hug. With newfound balance, space and perspective, it is easier to feel grateful for the things you have in life (that may have been causing you stress just 60 minutes ago!) It also helps you to feel contentment and simple joy for things just as they are.
And if you made your way to the very bottom of this ridiculously long blog post - firstly - thank you! It took me a while to brain dump all of this..... but second, are you ready to give it a go? I can't wait to teach these classes and I'm starting with a longer workshop to share more of the benefits, the background to Yin and to further educate you on how this practice can really make a positive difference to your life....email me and let me know if you fancy it - and keep your eyes peeled for dates!