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Embracing stillness - the subtle yet powerful practice of yin yoga

For those of you who practice regularly with me, you might have noticed I've been incorporating more stillness and longer holds in poses, particularly in our evening practices.

Over the past year, I've been studying the amazing practices of both yin yoga and restorative yoga and sharing some of their wisdoms with you on the mat. You can find out more about restorative yoga here, or read on to learn more about the quiet and contemplative yet powerful practice of yin yoga...

What is yin yoga?

Yin Yoga is a meditative approach to yoga, with the intention of cultivating an inner calm through the holding mostly floor-based poses for longer periods of time, typically 2-5 minutes, and inviting more stillness and introspection to body, mind and spirit.

You're probably familiar with the terms yin and yang, that have their origin in Taoism and represent the opposing and complementary principles in nature (and all of existence).

In the context of yoga, a "yang" practice is more active, dynamic practice, that lengthens and contracts the muscles. A yin yoga practice targets the deep connective tissues of the body such as tendons, ligaments, joints, bones and fascia with the aim of increasing circulation in the joints and improving flexibility.

Why practice yin yoga?

Through targeting these deep connective tissues, creating compression in the joints and holding poses for longer than usual, a regular yin yoga practice can :

  • improve joint mobility through increasing production of synovial fluid, lubricating the joints and reducing friction, allowing joints to feel more supple

  • hydrating joints and fascia through boosting circulation to joints, delivering oxygen and essential nutrients

  • encourage deeper relaxation, create more calm and reduce stress and anxiety through activating the parasympathetic nervous system (the rest-and-digest response of the nervous system - you can read more here)

  • increase physical, mental and emotional awareness

  • improve organ health by nourishing the meridian system

Who can practice yin yoga?

A yin yoga practice can be beneficial to absolutely everybody, whether you've practiced yoga for years or you're a total beginner, and no previous yoga experience is required to try yin.

These slower, more contemplative practices such as yin and restorative yoga allow us an opportunity to turn inward and offer some respite from external stimuli and the fast pace of our day-to-day. And while you might think these more internally focused styles of yoga are "easier" than more dynamic classes - this isn't always the case! Yin yoga can sometimes feel uncomfortable - one of the key principles of yin yoga is finding your edge, the point where you feel resistance in the body, and allowing yourself to be here - physically and mentally - resisting the urge to withdraw if it becomes a little uncomfortable.

This challenge of simply "be-ing" with sensation is something we are unaccustomed to in our world of constant distraction, yet offers us an opportunity to boost our resilience, tolerance and emotional, mental and physical awareness.

This mindfulness often transcends into compassion towards ourselves, physically, mentally and emotionally, and in turn towards others.

Yin yoga philosophy

Yin yoga has its origins in ancient Chinese Taoism, and in similarity to the traditional Hatha yoga theory, the goal of the practice is to use the movement of the body as a tool for mindfulness, ultimately creating a harmony between body and mind, a deeper connection to ourselves and to the world around us, cultivating greater kindness, compassion and wisdom, and translating to more headspace, calm and ease and a greater feeling of harmony and balance internally and externally.

According to Taoism, every living thing emits and absorbs life-force energy, known as Chi. In Hatha yoga, the Sanskrit term you might have already heard of is Prana. Essentially, these 2 terms describe the same thing, a vital life-force energy - like a golden thread running through every living being.

"It is only by Qi that the planets move, the sun shines, the wind blows, the elements exist, and human beings live and breathe. It is the cohesion of the body-mind-spirit and the integration of the myriad aspects of each individual human being. It is spoken of with reverence because it is the basis of life and when gone awry, the basis of disease."

- Dianne M. Connelly, Traditional Acupuncture

According to traditional Chinese medicine, Chi flows through the body through the meridians (energetic pathways - known as nadis in Sanskrit) that interconnect organs, tissues, bones and joints, and connect the interior and exterior of the body. The strength and flow of the meridian system is essential in creating a balanced and harmonious flow of chi through the body, and ultimately maintaining balance and harmony in physical, emotional and mental well-being.

A yin yoga practice can assist this flow of Chi through the meridians by engaging in conscious, slow, deep breathing to regulate the nervous system and find clarity and focus in the mind, activating and amplifying the quality of Chi, then placing the body in particular shapes to both pull on and pressurize tissues activates the body’s natural repair response and coaxing chi and blood to flood into these areas.

Are you curious to try yin yoga and feel the benefits for yourself?

I've filmed a 45 minute Springtime Yin Yoga class, exclusively for my newsletter subscribers, that you can try here :

I'd love to know how if you enjoy this practice, please do let me know! I really hope you enjoy discovering yin yoga as much as I have.

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