Yin yoga celebrates the Daoist concept of cool, quiet and open qualities; it's the flip side of active, vigorous, heat-producing yang. Yin is a contemporary interpretation of classic yoga that moves at a slow pace and encourages you to focus meditatively on relaxing your muscles. Holding poses for up to five minutes works on the connective tissue around your joints, relieving stiffness and restoring full range of movement to ligaments, tendons and overlooked muscles like your hip flexors.
Yin yoga focuses on seated and lying down poses. You hold them for as long as five minutes, relaxing gently into each pose. Many of the poses target the hips, pelvis and lower back, areas that tend toward stiffness and that lose elasticity as you age. Yin yoga will ease that tightness, although working your body this way requires a mental adjustment that can be more challenging than the poses. You slow way down. You turn strongly arched, extended and stretched Cobra pose into Seal pose, with relaxed legs, turned-out hands, softening of the spinal tissues and a lot less vigor and flash. The names of the poses are in English, not Sanskrit, to reflect their more yin form. Baddha Konasana -- Bound Angle -- becomes yin Butterfly pose, and Supta Virasana -- Reclining Hero -- unwinds into yin Saddle pose.
Conditioning Connective Tissue
Yin rather than yang as a yoga style is more than a reaction to the high-intensity, sometimes competitive nature of modern yoga classes. The yin concept merges ancient Chinese Daoist tradition, Qigong and Hatha yoga to emphasize awareness of the body and its sensations and release muscle tension. This permits slow and steady stress on connective tissue around joints, resulting in longer and stronger ligaments and stronger and more supple joints. The Daoist influence turns the practice into a balancing of the body's energy fields, called meridians in acupuncture and nadis in traditional yoga. Unblocking the flow of qi or prana energy along these meridians encourages vibrant good health, more fluid movement and inner calm. Stretch and strengthen your connective tissue, loosen tight muscles, and learn to sit with stillness for more grace, less stress and greater ease in performing daily activities.
Yin Yoga Poses
Poses in a yin yoga sequence look like but are different from typical Hatha yoga moves because you hold them without muscle tension. Start by holding a pose for one minute and gradually work up to four or five minutes. Include Butterfly, a relaxed forward bend that loosens tight groin muscles and hip flexors and lengthens your lower back. Saddle pose is a supported back bend that protects your lower spine and knees as it lengthens your quads. Reclining Twist stretches and rotates a tense spine. Dragonfly, a supported forward bend with extended legs, opens your hips and groin muscles and stretches hamstrings and lower back. Savasana is the classic Corpse pose, a total letting go for five to 10 minutes as you lie on your back, focus on quieting your mind and release any remaining tension.
Protect yourself from injury by working with a certified instructor to master yin yoga poses. You need to relax muscles completely for the correct level of stress around joints -- both to realize the benefit of the practice and to avoid injuring connective tissue. You will do poses you may be familiar with in unfamiliar ways that change the appearance of the pose, easing rather than contracting muscles. And it's important to flex and extend gently and knowledgeably -- no feats of contortion or pushing past pain into strain. Use yin yoga to deepen your awareness, to become more open and flexible, and to balance a more yang approach, like Vinyasa or Power yoga.
Benna Crawford has been a journalist and New York-based writer since 1997. Her work has appeared in USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and in professional journals and trade publications. Crawford has a degree in theater, is a certified Prana Yoga instructor, and writes about fitness, performing and decorative arts, culture, sports, business and education .