The room is hushed and darkened. A single candle flickers and soothing music plays as Yin yoga practitioners sprawl out on strategically-place mats. Rolled up blankets, small supporting blocks, pull-straps and water bottles are everywhere.
When viewed by outsiders, the practice of Yin Yoga may appear to be effortless. After all, people are just posing and not moving very often. Those of us who practice it, however, know better.
The challenge of Yin yoga is precisely what you don’t see, since the most challenging aspects of this ancient practice are often hidden within the time spent in each pose. Yin Yoga is a unique style of yoga that emphasizes relaxation while also providing a beneficial stimulus to the bones and connective tissues of the body to promote optimal functioning. So the emphasis is on holding the poses for long periods of time while relaxing the muscles of the body.
To some, Yin yoga may appear challenging, but unless your doctor has told you to stay away from exercise and stretching, even the least limber yoga novice can benefit. The bones and connective tissue are no different from other components of the body and will respond favorably to appropriate stretching and stressing. Just as the health of the muscles is improved when we exercise them, similarly we can improve the health of the bones and connective tissues.
Yin Yoga’s gentle stress to these tissues has far reaching positive effects. It can help to prevent degeneration of tissues by providing a counter stretch against the continual tension present in the muscles and ligaments. The mild stimulation of the bones can also promote optimal bone density, improving bone strength as well.
Do you sit a lot? When you really think about it, we learn to sit for long periods of time when we are in elementary school and it gets reinforced our entire lives as long as we don’t work in environments where sitting is inappropriate. The dangers of a distorted posture may become real when you take into account that sitting places four times as much pressure on your spine as standing.
Yin yoga helps to protect your body from the fixation and immobilization of the joints. Sitting makes normal curving of the spine distorted. In some people the loss of the lumbar curve can be so severe that the vertebrae may actually fuse together, creating a major impediment to mobility. Yin yoga involves specific poses, such as pyramid, seal and saddle poses, that help to maintain the normal lumbar curve and can even reverse this tendency. Similarly, other poses in Yin Yoga have effects on the various joints of the body that promote their greatest range of motion.
Another benefit of Yin yoga is its ability to promote the flow of energy through energy pathways, called meridians. Recent research explores the prospect that the connective tissue may act as a conduit for the flow of energy through the body’s meridians. By activating the connective tissues, it may be possible to directly stimulate these meridians, profoundly affecting health in a positive way.
Because Yin is not a strenuous form of yoga, improving the flow of energy through the meridians can also be of particular benefit for individuals with chronic health problems resistant to standard treatments or for people who are recovering from illness. I also offer advanced forms of it within my practice sessions to those who are looking for more challenging variations on each pose. Even difficult poses can be adjusted to a relative degree of comfort during the practice of Yin Yoga.
Yin yoga also can help to promote general relaxation, the importance of which should never be underestimated. It is generally believed that stress-related health conditions can have far reaching effects on the your general health. When you are calmer, however, you are more likely to engage with your family, friends and others in a more positive way.
This form of yoga is not all physical, however. While the discomfort cause by Yin yoga poses may begin as a physical sensation, it can develop into type of beneficial psychological unease, helping to increase an awareness of personal issues and fears as they rise to the surface. The quiet nature of Yin allows you to draw your attention inward, awakening you to the way you store tensions within your body as you release physical pressure and gain access to an enhanced sense of clarity.
Want to learn more about Yin yoga and begin to implement its benefits in your daily life? Yin is one of a number of ancient yoga practices we will be including in our exciting Costa Rica yoga retreat, to be held in June 2013. For more information about the retreat, click [intlink id=”156″ type=”page”]here[/intlink]. And to find out when and where our Yin yoga classes are being held locally, click [intlink id=”66″ type=”page”]here[/intlink].