During my first steps on the yoga path, the class had to be active and dynamic, I preferred to get out of breath and have sore muscles everywhere the next day. At that time, ashtanga yoga suited me best. Now, more than 20 years later, I am increasingly falling in love with the quiet and more inward-looking form of yoga, yin yoga.
In this blog, I explain what it is and its benefits. The concepts of yin and yang are also discussed. And if you want to start with yin yoga yourself, I will explain a few poses and give a tip for a good beginner's online class via YouTube.
Why yin yoga?
It lets me sink deeper into myself. Each time I encounter a new layer. It's about surrender. It feels deepening to give my body time to get used to a pose.
And I practise cultivating patience and acceptance. To not act immediately. Or to get out of the pose immediately if it is unpleasant. Just like in my life off the mat. There, I experience enough emotions or situations where my first inclination may be 'get out', but by practising to be with an uncomfortable yoga pose, it also becomes easier to also accept other situations or feelings.
What is Yin Yoga?
Yin yoga is a slow and soft yoga form, where you stay in each pose for a longer time (at least three to five minutes, but it can be longer). Instead of actively tensing your muscles, in yin yoga you aim to relax your muscles. As you stretch and relax your muscles for longer periods, the energy can move from the more superficial layers of your body (the yang tissues) to the deeper layers (the yin tissues).
What are the benefits of Yin Yoga?
Yin yoga keeps the yin tissues (joints, ligaments and connective tissues) in the body healthy. Yin tissues, such as connective tissues, need more time in a pose because they are much more rigid than, say, muscle tissue. By gently coming into the pose and holding the poses for at least three to five minutes, the connective tissue is slowly stretched and hydrated.
At the same time, you stimulate the energy lines running through the connective tissue, allowing energy to flow freely again. Yin yoga also has a great effect on your mind; it gives space, helps release tension and is meditative.
So does Yang yoga exist?
Yes, it does. Yang yoga styles are the more dynamic and active forms of yoga, such as ashtanga and vinyasa. But bikram, iyengar and power yoga are also considered yang yoga. In yang yoga, you move in a rhythmic way and hold poses for a relatively short time. This trains your muscles and makes your body stronger. You develop stamina and it warms up your body. Moving to the rhythm of the breath creates meditation in motion.
Meaning Yin Yang
You have probably heard of the concepts of yin and yang before, or you know the yin yang symbol. You also have a vague notion of what the concepts mean but don't know exactly. Here is some explanation of both opposites, which contain each other at the same time!
Yin yang glasses
Everything around you can be viewed through yin yang glasses. Without light no darkness. Without day no night. The yin yang sign represents the contrasts in your life. See the two contrast lists below to get a feel for both terms.
The black drop in the yin yang sign represents the yin energy and all that is dark and more hidden. The white drop represents the yang energy and the lighter, more visible side of life. One flows smoothly into the other. Together, they form a unity. One cannot exist without the other.
When yin and yang are in balance in your life and in your body, there is harmony. You need both.
Yin poses for beginners
In yin yoga, all asanas are done sitting or lying down. It also makes more frequent use of props, so you can stay in a pose more comfortably and relax more easily (a bit more about props later in this blog).
The yin exercises below are easy to perform at home. If necessary, set a timer for three, four or five minutes if you find it hard to feel the time. While staying in the pose, move to surrender, surrender to gravity, let go. It's an experience and you don't have to perform or achieve a goal.
Sitting Butterfly (Baddha Konāsana)
Start by sitting up straight and placing the soles of your feet together. Drop your knees down on either side.
Inhale deeply through your nose, and as you exhale, round your spine and let your head go to your feet as you walk forward with your hands.
As soon as you feel the first sensation of tension - in your hips, groin, lower back or anywhere else - pause. Breathe in the sensation and invite your body to relax into it. Resist the urge to pull yourself into a deeper variation of the pose and trust that when your body is ready to move forward, it will do so naturally. Relax and observe for about five minutes. Leave the pose slowly and mindfully.
Melting Heart (Anahatasana)
This gentle, feel-good backbend gently opens the joints of the chest, shoulders, middle and upper spine; the same joints that, when tight, keep our hearts bound, rigid and closed. Spending time in this pose melts you into a softer heart.
Start in tabletop position, on all fours. Walk with your hands forward and out, slightly wider than shoulder width. Keep your arms extended and lower your chest to the mat, keeping your hips above your knees. Rest your forehead on the floor and inhale slowly and gently here for three to five minutes.
For less intensity, spread your arms further apart. If you want more intensity, rest one ear on the mat to isolate the stretch in one shoulder. Change after a few minutes.
The Dragon, or Dragon pose, is a deep hip and groin opener. This allows space to emotions stored in this area. Move in and out of the pose thoughtfully and slowly.
From downward facing dog, step your right foot between your hands with your toes pointing forward. Lower your left knee to the ground and extend your left foot, with the top of your left foot resting on the mat. As you put your hands on either side of your right foot, bend your right knee deeply as your left hip sinks to the ground. Stay aware of your breathing and keep it soft and flowing.
Leave the pose by returning to the downward dog and then repeat on the other side.
Online yin yoga class for beginners
If you would like to be taken by the hand in a class by a teacher, fine at home in your living room, then you could try this class from The Bare Female. I have done the class myself and it gave me deep relaxation and I could let go of the outside world for a while. The video is accompanied by music with a frequency of 432 Hz, which relaxes you even more.
Props for yin yoga
If you want to practise yin yoga at home, an extra-thick mat is very nice. Such a thick mat is very suitable for quiet yoga styles where you mainly perform seated and lying poses. It insulates (so no suffering from a cold ground) and is pleasant for your joints. Especially if you hold a pose for minutes on end, not a superfluous luxury!
At Yogashop, they have many beautiful extra-thick mats from the Love Generation brand. You can also find high-quality yoga props there, such as bolsters, blocks and blankets. These help you sink deeper into a yin yoga pose.
Letting go of control
When practising yin yoga, the aim is not to find a deeper variation of each pose. Instead, the aim is to let go of control. When you do this, something beautiful happens. As you let go of control, your body softens and the depth you were looking for emerges naturally and comfortably.