Yin Yoga: Warm Yin, Cool Yin, Muscles & Fascia

yin yoga Sep 11, 2021

Should Yin Yoga be done in a warm or cool room? Is it truth or myth that the body must be cool in order to effectively stimulate fascia? Is it safe to do yin when you're warmed up? Is it dangerous to do yin after yang or vinyasa yoga?

These are a common question from yin students and teachers, so I wanted to address them all here in the same place.

There is a lot of information circulating in the Yin world, that yin yoga shouldn't be done with a warmed body, and/or that it shouldn't be done in a warm room.

In truth, you can practice yin either warm or cool, and there are a number of factors to consider when choosing. 

Yin is wonderful way to target fascia, which weaves through both joints and muscles. When you practice yin with a cooler body that's not warmed up, you may feel a stretch over a broader area through the fascia that weaves through the muscles (muscle-fascia). When you practice with a warmer body, you're more likely to feel a stimulation in the joint itself. This is considered beneficial in yin as a therapeutic stimulation of the the bones, ligaments and bursa in the joint capsule - but, like anything, it can be overdone.

For yogis who are more flexible, it can be preferable to practice when the muscles are not warmed up, because if a flexible yoga warms up first, she might feel the stretch primarily in the joint without ever enjoying the muscle-fascia stretch, which many yogis find more satisfying. The joint stretch is not a problem per se, but can be a riskier place for an inexperienced, flexible yogi to be, if they don't know their limits. And even for seasoned yin yogis who know their limits quite well, many tend to crave the broader muscle-fascia sensation which is only available to them when their muscles are relatively cool.

For stiffer people, no matter how much they warm up, since they have more myofascial tension to work through they are actually in less danger of injuring their joints. For these people, warm and cool are both fine, but warming up the body first can help their yin practice to be more comfortable, adding a few degrees of R.O.M to a forward bend, for example, enabling gravity to help more. 

In a vinyasa class, and especially in hot yoga environment, the main concern is not likely the heat itself, nor is there anything fundamentally wrong with doing yin after a vigorous warmup - however the culture of hot/vinyasa yoga classes may be cause for concern. It takes a special teacher to hold space for a room full of sweaty go-getters and to carry them collectively from a handstand into a mindful, patient, attuned yin pose with the appropriate level on safety. It can be done, but the teacher should be skilled.

To hold a safe space for yin, I highly recommend teachers study skeletal variation as I teach in my Yin Yoga Teacher Training.

About room temperature - warm or cool, it's yogi's choice. Warm helps some people relax, but if it's too hot it can cause anxiety. On the other hand, too much cold creates tension in the body. Neither state is conducive to the relaxed mindset we strive for in yin yoga. In my group yin classes over the years I've settled on 73 F (23 C) which, in a class of 30 people, makes most people happy, but there's almost always someone who thinks it's too hot and someone else who's too cold. 

In summary, there is no rule or scientific reason that warming the muscles should be avoided in yin yoga. As a yogi scientist, I always encourage students to take the scientific approach: practice yin before vinyasa one day, then try it in reverse the next day. Then try them mixed together. Then try in a cold room one day, a warm room the next day. Feel the difference for yourself. Test and repeat, and see what you prefer.


 

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