All right, I feel you sister (or brother); you don’t want to slow down. I, too, have heard that sweet little voice that can transform into a booming drill seargant, “Run faster, bitch.” You immediately build walls at the suggestion of taking a rest day or offer that your mind cannot focus in even momentary meditation. Moving slowly for an hour? Pshhhh, not a chance. Filling your precious workout time with a Yin yoga class is the road less traveled… that you would rather leave untraveled.
While the benefits of a sweat crunching, power-style yoga classes are endless, all exercise and no recovery is a recipe for injury and breakdown. Moving through a class where there is no goal of sweating or strengthening allows your body and mind to practice releasing, or in yogi speak, letting go.
So what exactly is Yin yoga? In Chinese cosmology, the yin-yang theory describes how everything has a dual aspect. While yin and yang seem to be opposing forces, they complement and interact with each other to form continuous balance. One can see the polarities by simply looking into his or her life and surroundings, such as hot and cold, day and night, and feminine and masculine.
While our yang practice stimulates and encourages our dynamic vinyasa practice or even activities like running, Yin yoga is a practice that focuses more so on the connective tissues of the body, such as the ligaments, tendons, fascia and bones. These systems in our body respond best to slow, steady load, and in return, they will begin to relax and release when given the time to do so.
While connective tissue can be found in each bone, muscle and organ, it is most concentrated at the joints. By not utilizing the full range of joint flexibility, the connective tissues will, over time, shorten to the minimal need required of the body’s activities. Gently moving into a pose and holding it for what may seem as an eternity, a yin practice can help to rebuild and restore a normal range of movement.
Yin yoga is often accompanied with props, such as blocks, blankets and bolsters. By practicing at a slower pace and only moving through a handful of postures, the class will often be a sequence of poses that open the chest for breath work and dive deeply into the hips.
Now that we have discussed the benefits of Yin yoga to your super-hot, yoga body, how else can practicing slowly quickly help your yoga practice? Let’s roll out your head and heart. Through reading this article, perhaps you have either uploaded a picture to instagram (and labeled it #yogaeverydamnday), asked the dog to be quiet, checked your facebook notications, glanced at a text message, felt stressed in determining how to respond to said text message, thought that you should do the dishes, realized you left the dish soap in the car with other groceries, wondered if a yoga studio near you offers Yin yoga and started to plan your next meal.
Hopefully you didn’t engage in all of them.
It isn’t surprising that most people are resistant to incorporating rest. The culture that we live in rewards those who hold workaholic, stressed-out, type-A behaviors. Scant value is placed upon recovery until tendonitis creeps in, joints uncontrollably pop, debilitating pain radiates from one’s lower back and we are so frazzled and bombarded by our own lives, that we have catastrophic freak-outs.
If you are consistently choosing recreation that mimics a jam-packed life, the body will break itself down.
Being softer, slower and more mindful, a Yin yoga practice will encourage an opening within the energetic pathways of the body and mind. Through moving stagnant energy, vitality within the body will blossom: organ function improves, immunity levels rise and emotional well-being is renewed. It is about turning inward and growing a peaceful awareness within oneself. This intimate practice requires preparation for a heart-to-heart with sensations and emotions, a discussion usually avoided by most.
From an outside perspective, Yin yoga may appear to be seen as lounging in comfy poses on one’s mat. Being still breeds ground for a straying mind, and it takes practice to deliberately stay with the rough or unsettling emotions and thoughts that may surface. Mindfulness is like a muscle; it must be exercised, and it needs practice.
Yin yoga offers the space to develop the skills needed to stay with and process those dark areas within. As I have been working through a physical imbalance within my body, embracing Yin yoga has started to grow greater attention towards my body’s abilities and signals.
For you to-do list makers and task-oriented folk, here are ten benefits of Yin yoga:
* Restores balance in the nervous system
* Regulates and improves energy vitality within the body
* By lubricating the joints and increasing synovial fluid, greater flexibility and mobility is inspired
* Opens up the fascia within the body
* Helps to balance hormones
* Encourages good posture by stimulating the entire spine
* Releases tension in the lumbar spine (low back)
* Massages and tones the bowels, aiding in improved digestion
* Offers a deepened state of relaxation
* Complements and enhances a yang practice (vinyasa, bikram, etc.)
This mini-list is only a taste of what a delicious Yin yoga practice can begin to produce. Take time to settle in stillness, reach your mental edge and listen to what your body, heart and mind are trying to tell you. Just as the day bleeds into the night, and the moon lingers in the morning sky, Yin yoga will shine light onto those dark, untraveled pathways.
Patty Blake is cycling, mountain climbing, animal loving and plant crunching VEGAN! She is registered Yoga Instructor, licensed Massage Therapist, certified Reiki Practitioner who loves to laugh and smash goals. www.thepattymelt.com