Yin Yoga was founded at the end of the 1970s, by Paulie Zink Taoist yoga (Tao Yin) a yoga instructor, and expert on martial arts. Yin Yoga is a combination of the principles of Chinese medicine, yoga exercise, and asanas (that should be held for longer periods compared to other styles of yoga).
It was based on Taoist principles and ancient Chinese philosophies that believe paths of Qi (energy) run through our bodies. We open any occlusion and let the energy flow by stretching and enhancing the poses (1, 2).
Taoist Yoga, a practice that is based on Momoyama’s research, conjoins thousands of years of acupuncture practice with the insights of yoga. If we want to have a better understanding of this fusion, we should learn and understand first the concepts of yin and yang. Yin represents the steady, quiet, concealed aspects of things. Yang on the other hand represents the moving, changing, divulging side of everything. Taoists believe that yin and yang describe any event, other examples of yin and yang are happy-sad, hot-cold, black-white, etc.(3).
Yin Yoga is more meditative and relaxed. It targets your deep connective tissues, like bones, ligaments, fascia, and joints, while yang yoga focuses more on your muscles. While practicing Yin Yoga you have more space to meditate, look inwards, and concentrate on both your mental and physical sensations. With Yin Yoga, you concentrate on those rarely used tissues, because you hold the poses for longer while learning how to sit with your thoughts and breathe through discomfort (4).
It is recommended to practice Yin Yoga before you start meditating. It teaches you how to sit still for long periods and in a more comfortable way, by stretching connective tissues around joints like the pelvis, sacrum, knees, and spine. Yin Yoga has a variation of lying, and seated poses typically held for 3 to 5 min (5).
What are the benefits of Yin Yoga?
Here are some of the general benefits that you get by constantly practicing Yin Yoga (6):
- Enhances flexibility
- Reduces stress and anxiety
- Soothes the mind and body
- Improves circulation
- Releases fascia and increase joint mobility
- Improves the flow of chi or prana and balances the internal organs
This practice comes with many physical and mental health benefits, here we will explain in detail some of them (7):
Reduces stress levels:
Studies have found that practicing Yin Yoga has a significant impact on reducing the stress and anxiety levels, as well as lowering the risk of having depression. Because it activates your parasympathetic system, that controls your heart rate and soothes your body. After practicing Yin Yoga, you can really feel and live the calm in your mind and body.
Increases and improve flexibility:
Several Yogis have said that Yin yoga is one of the most effective and efficient ways to enhance your flexibility due to its long holds. Mobile joints and elastic fascia, are in charge of better flexibility, elastic fascia needs at least 120 seconds of sustained stretching to affect its flexibility, and thanks to the way that Yin Yoga is practiced it is the best way of increasing it.
Boosts and enhance your circulation:
When you breathe while you perform each posture and focus on your deeper tissues and ligaments, you receive more oxygen into your body, this boosts your blood flow and circulation.
Enlarges connective tissue:
Let’s think of your fascia as a shrink wrap around your muscles and bones when this tissue is rarely used it loses its elasticity and causes stiffness and pain. By practicing Yin Yoga, you stretch in a gentle manner your connective tissue when you hold the poses for a long time, this will cause them to become a little longer and stronger.
6 poses in Yin Yoga for anxiety and stress relief
Whenever we feel stressed or anxious our body manifests it as tension mainly in the shoulders, lower back, and hips. So, we highly recommend that you practice these poses when going through stressful situations. Practicing them right before going to bed is also helpful for a good night’s sleep.
You will need a mat or a yoga pillow, or bolster (8).
This soothing pose will help us release the tension on the hips and lower back.
- Start seated with your knees folded. Put together the soles of your feet, and open your knees in a “butterfly” way.
- When you sit up, stretch your spine and take a deep breath, then exhale as you stretch your hands as much as you can, without hunching your back.
- Relax your arms, shoulders, and head, close your eyes, and deeply breathe. Hold this pose for 3 minutes.
2. Melting Heart
This pose will help us open up our chest and shoulders, which become stiff and rounded when we feel stressed or anxious.
- You should start with a tabletop position using your hands and knees.
- Sustain your hips over your knees, and then move your hands forward, taking your torso down to your mat.
- Place your forehead on the floor and move your hands forward and stretch them completely.
- Hold the pose for 3 minutes while you breathe with your eyes closed.
3. Viparita Karani
Also called legs up the wall, this pose reverses the blood flow towards our brain by bringing the body into an inversion, this soothes the nervous system.
- Seat facing the wall with your pillow off to one side.
- Now you need to lie on savasana and fold your knees, and then place your feet on the wall.
- Push into your feet and elevate your hips to slide the pillow underneath you, then bring your hips down to it.
- Bring your legs straight up to the wall and lengthen your arms straight out to your sides.
- Hold this pose for 3 minutes with your eyes closed and focusing on slow breathing.
4. Square pose
This pose helps the lower back, and outer hips by releasing the anxious tension.
- Sit and cross your legs with the right one in front of the left one. If you feel that your hips are stiff, put a bolster or a pillow underneath them.
- If this position feels tense stay like this and keep your chest vertical, or slowly bring it forward.
- Bring your right foot up and place the ankle on top of your right thigh. Bolt your left foot a little forward so that your shins are stacked. Keep both feet flexed.
- If your shins are almost touching fold forward over your shins, or stay upright.
- No matter which position you choose, hold it for 3 minutes, and then change sides.
This pose will help you release the tension in your back, shoulders, and hips, it will soothe the nervous system.
- Sit with your legs extended in front of you. Sit up tall and bring your arms forward, making a small bend into your knees.
- Take a deep breath to straight up your spine, then exhale and try to reach your feet, placing your belly on your thighs.
- Put your palms on the floor, framing your calves, and relax your head and shoulders. If you feel like you need more support put a pillow under your forehead.
- Hold this pose for 3 minutes, close your eyes, and concentrate on your breath.
Anxiety can cause us to subconsciously try to protect ourselves by physically rounding forward. This pose helps us release the tension from our shoulders, chest, intercostal muscles, and lats.
- Lie down on your mat facing up, with your legs extended in front of you.
- Gather your right foot to the right end of the mat and cross your left ankle to your right.
- Grab your left wrist with your right hand and pull it up and over to the top-right end of your mat. Your body should end up being in the form of a banana.
- Hold this pose for 3 minutes with your eyes closed and concentrate on your breathing. Then switch sides.
6 poses in Yin yoga for your hip opening
Every feeling and emotional reaction that we have is stored by our body, it always reacts to your emotions no matter if they are negative or positive, these reactions are lived and shown in a physical way.
Every emotion is stored in a different place of our body, and we have to work through the layers of the body to get through the layers of those emotions. The poses practiced in Yin Yoga stimulate the meridian lines which travel through the most important organs of our body. If you have already practiced Yin yoga for a while, you probably know the feeling of rush that you get sometimes by doing a deep pose. Here are some of those poses (9):
1. Recycling Bound Angle Pose
- Lay down on your back, lean your knees, and bring your feet near your hips.
- Drop open your knees, and put the soles of your feet together, while you let your hands rest on your stomach or on your sides, let gravity create space on your hips.
- Hold this pose for 3 minutes before Savasana.
- To come back, put your legs back together, with your hands, and lengthen your leg to come to Savasana.
- Lay down straight and feel how your body sinks into your mat.
- Breath and feel new energy.
3. Child’s Pose
This pose is a great moment to practice your peace and ease, to remind yourself of your intentions, or to set them.
- Begin in a child’s pose with your knees apart.
- Let your body rest while you breathe deeply.
4. Shoelace Pose
This pose will help you give a great opening to the outside areas of your hips.
- Let’s begin on all fours, then slowly bring your right foot over the left one, spread the feet, and sit between them.
- Your right knee should be on top of your left one if you present any pain in the knees you can sit on a pillow to elevate your hips.
- Sit straight or if you want a deeper stretch, bend forward as much as you need to feel the edge.
- Hold this pose for 4 minutes taking deep breaths, and switch sides.
- To come back straighten your torso, and softly lean back and extend forward your legs.
If you feel like this pose is too uncomfortable, lay on your back, place your right ankle above the left knee, and hold your left shin, you will feel a stretch on the outside of your right hip and thigh.
5. Frog Pose
This pose is a very deep hip opening, especially for the adductors. We recommend that you put towels or pillows under your knees for protection.
- Begin in a child’s pose opening your knees, maintaining your toes together, elevate your hips and align them with your knees.
- Stay in this half frog pose for 2 minutes.
- If you feel comfortable, separate your heels and come into the full Frog, your heels should be as wide as your knees, and hold this position for 2 more minutes.
- If you cannot handle the pressure on your hips, bend your arms and let your forehead rest on your hands, for relief in your shoulders.
- To come back from this pose, you can bring yourself back to Child’s Pose, or slide forward to lay on your stomach.
6. Dragon Pose, or Sleeping Swan
- Begin in the form of all fours and place your right foot between your hands so that the knee comes above the heel.
- You can place your hands on your mat on your right thigh. If you want a deeper stretch put your hands inside the right foot and bring down your elbows.
- Hold this pose for 3 minutes, and then carefully move to the next pose that is the Yin Yoga version of the Pigeon, the Sleeping Swan.
- Keeping the left leg behind, put your right knee on the floor close to the right end of the mat.
- Bring your right ankle close to your hips and make sure there is no pain in the knees.
- Center your body so that your weight is even. Support the upper part of the body with your elbows or lower your upper body completely onto the mat.
- Hold this pose for 3 to 4 minutes.
- To come back from this pose, lead your body up first, tuck the toes under, and come up to Downward Dog and take deep breaths. When you feel ready, come back to all fours and bring the left foot between your hands.
- Switch sides.
These poses help your mind and body to open up while staying still and being calm. It’s important to concentrate and notice everything that comes up while you practice. Yoga will always help you notice the good and the bad, and it will teach you to accept it and love it.
Regularly practicing Yin Yoga will help you experience all the physical and mental benefits that this amazing practice has to offer to you, but first, you need to understand and internalize the practice. It will become a part of your day to day routine, it will bring you the calm and balance that you need in your life.