What is Yin Yoga?
Yin Yoga is a quiet, meditative practice where you hold certain postures for longer periods of time (from 2 to 5 minutes usually). The intention is to put stress (the good kind) on a targeted area (often joints) to hydrate and organise the fascia in a specific way.
Further reading for geeks :)
What is fascia?
It is a connective tissue (a quantum entanglement – meaning it is a juxtaposition of multiple systems).
It is made of:
Cells – mostly fibroblasts
Fibres – collagen, elastin and reticulin.
Ground substance – viscous fluid that surrounds fibres and cells
The collagen fibres in fascia have a wave to them and this wave gets organised according to our daily habits and exercise.
When we don't use our full range of joint flexibility, the connective tissue slowly shortens to the minimum length required to allow the range of movement you are using. When there has been injury, repetitive strain, or disuse, the fascia can become disordered in places and can tangle, bend or shorten.
In yin, we are stretching it from end to end so that we encourage the waves to form in a particular way – when there is stress and damage, it can become disordered.
We want to stress the connective tissues by making tiny micro tears in a relaxed way so that there is a cycle of inflammation, repair and remodelling.
This restores the fascias ability to slide and glide, it hydrates the fascia, and encourages a better pattern in the crimp.
Why do we hold the poses for so long?
Connective tissue (fascia) responds best to a slow, steady load. If we gently stretch the connective tissue by holding a yin posture for a long time, the body will respond by making them a little longer and stronger.
How long will it take to work?
There will be temporary elastic deformation – so you will probably feel more open afterwards.
For permanent change, postures need to be repeated consistently over many months – 6-24 months.
Is it purely physical then?
Not at all. It's a quiet, introspective style of yoga where we learn to sit with tension and explore the sensations we feel in the body when we are stretching.
The fascia is also a sense organ - there are 6 times more sensory neurons in the fascia than in muscles. Fascia is secondary only to our skin as a sense organ.
Connecting to it and developing awareness of it helps us to cultivate the sense of what is happening with the whole body system inside (interoception), where it is in space (proprioception), the pressure and temperature on the skin, muscles and bones (mechanoreceptors).
When we take the time to connect to it, and heighten these senses, it improves our ability to react to the body's communication systems. This keeps us more aware of what we're doing, where we feel muscles working and stretching so that we can find our appropriate edge and work with it safely to maintain a strong, flexible and mobile body.
Because it's a sense organ, the fascia is deeply connected to the nervous system (the relationship between the brain and the body). Yin can therefore help you to develop trust in your own instinctive ability to feel what is right for your body.
When we take the time to practice slower, more meditative yoga, we are helping to balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. They should be like a scale - neither one is right or wrong, but we need to be able to go between the two when needed and have a balance of both in our lives to have a healthy mind-body and a good heart rate variability (the ability for the heart rate to go up and come back down).
Is it the same as Restorative?
It is very different to Restorative. Although the emphasis in Yin is also on staying in postures for long periods of time, Restorative Yoga is about releasing all effort, and Yin is about maintaining a gentle, consistent pressure over a period of time. Yin is about being very aware of your body and finding an appropriate depth where you can stay in a stretch for a longer period of time. It’s still not about pushing or forcing your body to stretch, but there is consistent effort – in restorative, there should be no effort.
So is it painful?
It should not be painful. If we take a pain scale of 1-10, 1 being no pain at all and 10 being the extreme amount of pain you could experience (passing out pain), Yin should be no higher than 4 (can be ignored but still distracting). Pain and sensation is complex and in some ways, subjective. Part of what we're doing in yin is exploring our relationship to sensations - trying to recognise the difference between pressure, stress, compression, discomfort and pain. For some interesting articles that discuss it in depth, read Bernie Clark and Jenni Rawlings.
Do I need any yoga experience to practice?
You need no former yoga practice to do Yin Yoga. As long as you are comfortable lying on the floor and getting back up.
For yoga classes in Ayrshire and online - go to www.vhairislavenyoga.com/book.