Is it safe to do Yin Yoga when you're warm?

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.

The answer may depend on how flexible you are

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. 

If you think you may fall into the latter category, you might want to just try it out for yourself. This video is a guided experience that begins with Vinyasa Flow and ends with Yin Yoga:

 

 
If you're not sure whether Yang-before-Yin is good for you, consider testing it out in small doses. You could try doing 5 minutes of sun salutations followed by one or two yin postures. See how your body feels immediately after you practice. Check later that day, and also the next day. 

What about the temperature of the room?

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. 


Hot Yoga, Vinyasa & Yin: proceed with caution

In an in-person vinyasa class, and especially in a 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.

If you find yourself being guided through Yin postures in a vigorous yoga setting, do your best to stay connected to yourself. There may be excitement and a strong desire to succeed by doing a posture that looks good in someone else's body but is not appropriate for your body. As long as you don't lose touch with what feels intuitively correct in your physical body. But in this type of situation it can help to intentionally stay grounded in your own awareness and not compare yourself to others, especially if you're new to yin. To make matters worse, some teachers who were not properly trained in yin may try to change your alignment against your better instincts. Stay attuned to what feels right, and don't hesitate to say "that doesn't feel right, I liked the way I was doing it before." You are the boss of you. 

It's a very special teacher who can hold space for a room full of sweaty go-getters and then switch gears to take them into a mindful, patient, attuned yin sequence with the appropriate emphasis on safety. It can be done, but the teacher should be skilled at this. 

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


As usual in Yin, there are no rules

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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