3 Ways Yin Yoga Is Unlike Other YogaJun 12, 2022
For anyone new to Yin Yoga but familiar with other types of yoga, it can be helpful to understand how and why Yin Yoga is so different. You may already know that Yin uses different postures, creates different energetic effects, and affects different tissues of the body. In this article we'll take a deeper look at these differences and the reasons they're so integral to Yin.
The basic form of Yin Yoga is to perform a series of gentle, easy stretching positions that are held for three to five minutes at a time. For most practitioners, the practice brings deep relaxation to the nervous system. A primary intention of Yin Yoga is to heal and refresh the body’s tissues for comfortable mobility, particularly in the joints.
Yin Yoga poses are chosen so that gravity does most of the work and the muscles remain as relaxed as possible. This stillness takes practitioners deep into the postures, calming the mind, lengthening the connective tissues, and increasing energy flow. This practice is very beneficial for the hips, lower back and sacroiliac joints, areas which are heavily laden with connective tissue and are therefore increasingly prone to problems as the body ages.
When practicing in this unique format, there are three things every Yin Yoga beginner should know:
1. The postures of Yin Yoga are different
Why posture names are different in Yin
Most of the postures in Yin Yoga are similar to familiar yoga asanas, but they're often referred to by different names. For instance, the Yin version of Cobra is called Seal, Pigeon is called Sleeping Swan, and Savasana is called Pentacle. (For a full gallery of postures, see the Yin Yoga Guidebook).
Yin Yogis use different names because conventional posture names can imply the use of alignment rules that shouldn't be followed during a Yin Yoga practice. Yin's organic approach to alignment is different than Hatha, Vinyasa, Iyengar and any other popular style of Yoga. The goal is not to make the body look a certain way, but instead to feel the stretch in the hips, lower back or spine. Since Yin Yogis are encouraged to develop their own intuitive sense of where to put their hands, legs, or feet, it's not uncommon for every person in a room of Yin Yoga practitioners to look like they're in a different pose.
There's also a bit of rebelliousness in the alternative names. Many Yin Yogis feel that modern yoga is overly concerned with the appearance of postures, and that modern yoga's alignment rules are motivated by form rather than function. Using a new set of names is a way of reclaiming the right to align our bodies intuitively and functionally.
Why alignment is different in Yin
In Yin Yoga, the practitioner adjusts her position not for aesthetics, but for the purpose of being able to stay in the pose for minutes at a time while remaining relaxed and comfortable. The longer time period naturally causes us to make adjustments that are based on a deeper awareness of the body's sensations.
Sometimes, a particular posture will simply not be possible for someone's body, and this experience is an important insight into her/his unique anatomical makeup. What is learned about anatomy in Yin Yoga can bring fascinating new insights into all kinds of movements, and can help us to better understand our individual strengths and weaknesses.
2. Yin Yoga affects different physical tissues
Where does the name “Yin Yoga” come from? The term Yin comes from Taoism, which considers Yin and Yang to be the opposing life qualities that we ideally want to keep in balance.
In Taoism, optimal physical health includes a balance of relaxing (Yin) exercises and energizing (Yang) exercises. If someone does a lot of very relaxing yoga, such as Yin Yoga, it might cause her to come out of balance unless she counteracts it with Yang activity. Her Yang activity could be a vigorous form of yoga, but it could also be something else, like running, dancing or working out.
Yin and Yang can also be used to describe the body’s tissues. Our ligaments, tendons and fascia are collectively known as connective tissues, and these are considered to be “Yin” in relation to muscles, which are considered “Yang.” Yin tissues are more plastic, less moist, and allow less range of motion than Yang tissues.
The reason for holding postures for several minutes at a time is that Yin tissues respond best to gentle stretches held for longer periods. Picture trying to stretch a piece of clay, and you'll get a sense of how connective tissue lengthens - if you pull too fast, it will break, and if you pull slowly but aren't patient enough, you won't make much progress.
3. Yin Yoga affects energy in different ways
Yin Yoga also affects the body's energy field. Anyone who has a regular yoga, qigong, or other movement practice will agree: Whether you call it Prana, Chi, or just Energy, there's no question that our bodies are intertwined with an energetic field which we are able to directly manipulate through movement. Research led by Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama has illuminated the possibility that the connective tissues are the physical medium that the meridians of Chinese Medicine travel through. This has become known as "Meridian Theory."
Some of the most potent energetic effects of Yin Yoga happen in the rebound – a one-minute period of rest during which powerful energetic sensations can occur.
When I started practicing Yin almost 20 years ago, I quickly learned how addictive all this energetic relaxation can be. It sends a wonderful sensation of stimulation and warmth through the body, and it creates a long-lasting feeling of physical space and comfort.
After experiencing this much freedom and ease, I wanted more of it – and I wanted it regularly.
Experience it for yourself
To experience these different postures and energetic effects in your own body, try this yin yoga video. It's a guided 45-minute sequence of beginner-friendly postures.
Yin Yoga is sometimes misunderstood as an aggressive practice that tries to make the body more flexible. It’s actually quite the opposite. It was a big surprise for me as a beginner to find out how very gentle and healing Yin Yoga can actually be.
Devi Daly, E-RYT-500, is an online yoga teacher specializing in Yin Yoga. Her online yoga programs and 50-hour Yin Yoga teacher training course can be found at devidaly.com.
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A Yin Yoga posture gallery for personalizing your practice