Welcome to the Dark Side of Yoga
The subheading above sounds ominous but it may not mean what you think. The hatha yoga that we practice in the Western world is largely a Yang practice that primarily works on the superficial half of our bodies, the muscular half. Some of the most common Yang yoga practices include Bikram Yoga, Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Iyengar, any kind of “power” yoga, most “flow” yoga classes, etc. Yang yoga is practiced on the sunny side of a hill. It’s focus is external and embodies these familiar characteristics:
- the obvious
Yin, on the other hand, is practiced on the shady side of the hill. It’s focus is internal and embodies:
- the mysterious
Before I say more about what Yin yoga is I’d like to get out of the way what it isn’t: Yin yoga isn’t ancient; it doesn’t come from a lineage; it’s not a style of yoga like Ashtanga, Vinyasa or Bikram; it’s not even a series of specific postures. Although there are many postures common to a Yin practice, any style of yoga and any yoga asana may be practiced with a Yin approach. The word ‘approach’ is key. Yin yoga is defined more by how one practices than what one practices.
Yin yoga is not recommended for anyone with any kind of significant muscular or joint injury.
Yang yoga, with it’s emphasis on alignment, movement and muscle engagement, is designed to protect the joints by not stressing them, while simultaneously stressing the fibers and cells of muscles. Because of their elasticity, muscles respond well to this approach. Yin yoga, however is designed to exercise connective tissue such as ligaments, tendons and, especially, fascia. Yin focuses on creating space within the joints. In other words, Yin is meant to create openness—as in flexibility—in the joints. While Yin yoga may superficially appear to have much in common with Restorative Yoga it’s intention and focus is quite different. For this reason, Yin yoga is not recommended for anyone with any kind of significant muscular or joint injury.
Yin is a perfect complementary practice for anyone who regularly practices any Yang style of yoga.
While not exclusively so, many Yin postures are done on the floor. Postures are held longer than in a typical Yang class, anywhere from 2 to 5 minutes. Yin Yoga targets the connective tissue of the body, lengthening the muscles of the hips, pelvis and lower spine. Many of the poses are seated, supine, or prone, and are often held with the muscles relaxed. With less emphasis on alignment Yin also encourages experimentation of form and even gentle movement while in postures. This deep practice can be soft yet intense, helping to release tension and practice staying present. Yin is a perfect complementary practice for anyone who regularly practices any Yang style of yoga.