(Want to practice a YIN class right now? Jump down to the end of the article)
Did you even know there was a yang type and yin type of yoga? What even do the terms yin and yang mean? There are many different definitions but for the purposes of this blog let’s call yang an active type of yoga practice and yin a quiet/contemplative yoga practice. One creates heat and focuses on muscles and joint movement and one is more cooling and focuses on connective tissue (fascia, tendons, even bone) and “pulling” around the joints. Both are great practices and you’d be remiss to only practice one type.
Yin yoga is inspired by ancient Chinese Taoist practices in which stretches were held for long periods of time. Sometimes referred to as Taoist Yoga, or Tao Yin, these practices have been incorporated into Kung Fu training for thousands of years.
But, I get ahead of myself. So what is YIN yoga? To me? Deep, meditative dropping in, sometimes. Other times, deep, meditative watching sensation. Yin is a practice that allows me to pay attention, be present and inquire. It is very quiet, almost like meditation until it isn’t. When it’s not, it’s because my mind is busy and then it’s a very different practice. Just like a yang class or meditation, it’s the same and different every time I show up.
In Yin Yoga, poses are held for long (3-15) minutes of time with no or few props (when you use a prop you don’t allow for the full length of the tissue because there is a stopping point – the prop). This is different from Restorative Yoga where it’s prop heaven. Yin works with two movements on the tissue – compression and tension. Compression is when the connective tissue is “smooshed” or pressed – to the floor, against another body part or a prop. Tension is when the connective tissue is lengthened or stretched. For example, when you come into a backbend, you are compressing the soft tissue and vertebrae. When you fold forward you are stretching/lengthening the back.
In either case, your body is adjusting the production of collagen, elastin and ground substance to work with the stress placed on them (Benjamin et al., 2005). The change takes time – months and years (Schleip 2012).
Connective tissues change under a load. We know that slow, sustained tensile loads change tissue length more effectively than a quick stretch (Myers 2012). The term for our tissues’ ability to stretch is called creep. Creep is measured by the amount of force applied, rate, and length of time. Of interest to Yin yogis: our tissues creep even if you don’t increase the loads (Mitchell 2014). Think of creep as what you do when trying to get the last bit of conditioner out of your bottle. You turn it upside down and eventually it “creeps” toward the opening. The relationship of time to creep seems to indicate that even mild Yin Yoga poses could lengthen our tissues.
What I find interesting about YIN is that it can help us tap into how we unconsciously contract in our body. It is probably no surprise that we contract our tissues in response to any type of stress. Overtime, we might even forget how to relax and our connective tissue will adjust to being in this position (Myers 2012). In addition, this can lead to a thickening of the fascia (Langevin et al. 2009). Yin yoga can help us become aware of these patterns or habits and help the process of releasing them through awareness, lengthening and compressing.
When you hold a pose for five plus minutes, you have lots of time to pay attention. When the pose is done, you can also explore before and after sensations. This can also lead to greater awareness off the mat when you might be clenching or tightening a body part you became more aware of in practice. (Read my blog about awareness here)
Try this YIN practice to get an idea of what it feels like to do YIN YOGA.
Benjamin, M., Putz, R., “Molecular parameters indicating adaption to mechanical stress in fibrous connective tissue.” Advances in Anatomy, Embryology and Cell Biology (2005).
Langevin, M., Bouffard, N., Fox, J., Palmer, B., Wu, J., Latridis, J., Barnes, W., Badger, G., Howe, A., “Fibroblast cytoskeletal remodeling contributes to connective tissue tension.” Journal of Cellular Physiology (2011).
Mitchell, J. “Creep and Recovery.” (http://www.julesmitchell.com/creep-and-recovery/) Jules Mitchell Biomechanics (2014).
Myers, T. Frederick, C., “Stretching and Fascia.” Fascia: The Tensional Network of the Human Body (2012).
Schleip, R. Jager H., Klingler, W. “Fascia is Alive: How cells modulate the tonicity and architecture of fascia cells.” Fascia: The Tensional Network of the Human Body (2012).
Schleip, R., Muller, D.G., “Training principles for fascial connective tissues: Scientific foundation and suggested practical applications.” Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies (2012).
Schleip, R. Jager H., “Interoception: A new correlate for intricate connections between fascial receptors, emotion and self recognition.” Fascia: The Tensional Network of the Human Body (2012).
van der Waal, J., “Proprioception.” Fascia: The Tensional Network of the Human Body (2012).