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To Yin or to Yang? Uncovering the Benefits of Yin Yoga

Everything contains both yin and yang energy. We have all seen the popular swirling black & white “yin-yang” icon, which symbolizes the importance of balance and harmony between light and dark, hot and cold, masculine and feminine etc. We are constantly in a state of both yin and yang, however, we can place ourselves in states where one or the other is dominant. Often times in our hectic daily lives, Yang energy dominates our bodies and minds. In order to remain balanced, increasing Yin in our lives can be highly beneficial.

Yang energy is masculine, fiery, dominating, aggressive, hard, and hot. It represents fast and loud, movement and light, aggression and strength. This is the energy that takes over when we are in an intense hot yoga class, slipping in sweat with a strong focused mind. We feel the internal fire building with heart racing and muscles contracted, burning up all of our impurities. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Yin energy. This energy is feminine and soft. It represents the moon, and dark stillness. It is passive, submissive, relaxed, cold, small, and quiet. This energy is present during deep relaxation and during sleep, and is what we harness when we go to a restorative yin yoga class. 

When you step into a Yin yoga class, you will probably be asked to grab some props including two or three blankets, a bolster, two blocks, and a strap. The reason we use props in Yin yoga is so that we can give our bodies maximum support while holding postures. In Yin, poses are held for extended amounts of time, anywhere from 5-10-15 minutes with guided breath and meditation. The more the body is supported by the ground or a prop, the more the nervous system can relax, and the more the deep connective tissues of the body can release. Yin yoga offers us a unique opportunity to move deeply into the joints and muscles without exerting any yang energy. You may be thinking that Yin yoga sounds lazy and like you aren’t doing anything. Sitting in a pose for 15 minutes sounds like a waste of time when you could be in your favorite sweaty flow class instead. However, the benefits of Yin yoga move far beyond relaxing and calming the body and mind.

You will be instructed to remain still once you arrive in your posture and avoid fidgeting as much as possible, while breathing in through the nose and softy out through the mouth. Your body will begin to melt deeper into the pose without any effort, besides the conscious effort of letting go. All of our energy in Yin yoga is guided towards the breath and meditation. The more we can breathe through any discomfort and blockages in the muscles and joints, the more the body will open up and heal itself. Yin allows the nervous system to relax and move deeply into the connective fibers in the body called fascia. Fascia weaves all over, in, and around the muscles and bones. Over time, if the fascia is not released, it will thicken and harden around the muscles and bones causing stiffness and discomfort in the body. Releasing fascia in certain areas such as the hips, back, and thighs is not always a pleasant process. Another principle in Yin yoga is learning how to play to your edge, and stay there. This involves learning how to find the tipping point within your discomfort before it turns into pain. Learning to control the mind when the body is experiencing this kind of sensation is a challenge in itself. Learning how to observe the thoughts when all the mind is telling the body to do it get out of the pose takes mental stamina and strong willpower. In a Yin yoga class, you are increasing muscle and bone stamina by increasing the circulation to joints that otherwise remain constricted by fascial tissues. This is how transformation happens.

Next time you are choosing which class you’d like to take, you might want to consider dipping your toes in the Yin pool. Giving your body and mind a break from our Yang-dominant lifestyles can do wonders for us. Allowing ourselves to heal and nurture our bodies without really “doing” anything takes some getting used to, but is a physically and mentally rewarding process.

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