Are you looking to increase suppleness in the body, improve flexibility and a more focused mind?
Athlete or not, Yin yoga is worth trying. For those of you who may not be familiar with Yin yoga, it is a slower-paced style where poses are held for longer periods of time, anywhere from 30 seconds up to 5 minutes. It is the opposite of a “Yang” style of yoga- the more common power vinyasa classes you often see at fitness studios and gyms. Yin elements involve darkness, cool, intuition, reflection, the moon. Yang elements are light, fiery, active, strength, the sun. Both are different, yet necessary for solid balance. Yin yoga is perfect for athletes since it provides just that. Athletes usually train hard and focus on agility, speed and strength. Yin yoga is a complementary opposite. It’s also ideal for elderly folk for flexibility or just about anybody who needs to slow down (and let’s be real, that includes all of us).
When practicing Yin yoga, the focus lies more on the tendons, connective tissues and joints, areas closer to the bone, rather than the musculature system of the body. Most of the time, athletes are focused on muscle strength, but Yin style allows a deeper penetration of work towards neglected but important areas. Its benefits include increasing flexibility, loosening tight areas, and since it is a more meditative practice, helps with focus and relaxation. Along with massage and other techniques, it is an excellent method of recovery from strenuous workouts and assists with injury prevention. As much as you need to build strength, it is also necessary to release, let go and linger in a calm state which is difficult to do unless you practice it.
What happens in Yin Yoga?
A typical hour-long Yin yoga class may sometimes only have 10 to 20 poses. When you hold the body in these poses for a minute or well up to five, the body’s connective tissue and fasciae are targeted. It may sound simple but remaining still in an asana (pose) is just as challenging of a practice compared to a power yoga class which requires a lot of dynamic movement. Many times, it is your mind and your nervous system which will not allow you to hold a posture for a long period of time. With practice, and more practice, stillness will ensue. This gives the athlete a break from their normal routine of active physical training. The Yin practice is still very much active and intense but in a different sense.
Yin Yoga is also sometimes compared to acupuncture without needles. When you hold the pose, usually focused on the low back, hips, and pelvis for a long stretch and then release, this action of compressing and releasing allows a widespread of changes within energy flow- similar to when an acupuncturist taps a needle into a specific point of the body and leaves it there for 30 minutes. Penetrating deeper in the body down to the tissues, tightness is released, meridians open and in turn organs can perform more efficiently. More chi, prana, energy flow for an athlete means optimal performance levels.
Principles of Yin Yoga
Bernie Clark is a teacher of yoga specializing in Yin. According to Bernie, there are three principles of Yin yoga which follows:
- Play your edges. This means to go only as deeply as you feel in your body, not forcing or rushing into it. The first minute in a pose will feel different from the third or fifth minute in a pose. Allow yourself to settle into it and let the body release to a greater depth naturally.
- Find stillness. After finding your edge, try to remain still. This is of course unless you begin to feel pain, tingling, or are struggling to stay in the pose. Another exception is when the body invites you to go deeper, opening and allowing you to sink in. Otherwise, stillness is key.
- Hold for time. In order to stimulate the tissues in the way we desire, the length of time we hold the poses allows the changes in our body to occur. After you play with your edges and find stillness, the final thing to do is to remain in the pose and notice the breath and mind.
Following these principles will allow for a substantial Yin practice. These principles also benefit an athlete because it takes a different type of endurance and focus to achieve the objective in a Yin class. This easily translates to better coordination, resilience and persistence in your everyday training and during competition.
Find a Yin Yoga Class at a Studio Near You
Most poses in this style of yoga involves being closer to the ground. Some common poses which you may experience in a class include Balasana (Child’s Pose), Baddha Konasana (Butterfly Pose), Salamba Bhujangasana (Sphinx Pose), Kapotasana (Pigeon Pose), Supta Matsyendrasana (Supine Twist) and the list goes on. The room may be dim to encourage going within and not focusing on your neighbor or yourself in the mirror. Props such as blankets, bolsters and blocks may assist you getting into a pose in a way so that you are able to stay still in it for a few minutes. Yin yoga is not the same as Restorative yoga because the props used in Restorative yoga prop the body up completely. The two styles are similar but there are different focuses. Sometimes the two seem interchangeable, but this is not necessarily the case. Restorative uses many props and restores the body (hence the name) while being a deeply relaxing practice. Yin yoga is relaxing as well, but more intensity may arise while trying to stay in a pose for a long period of time.
I have found at studios that the class name for Yin yoga varies and may be called such names as ‘Surrender’ or ‘Deep Healing’. To find a Yin class near you, look at a studio website’s class descriptions or simply call and ask! Many studios include this offering in their schedule and Yin yoga is becoming more popular since the need to slow down is relevant for many people. No matter what drives you to your mat, it will surely benefit you. Furthermore, if you are an athlete wanting to improve your flexibility and maintain suppleness, look no further and give this practice a shot. Happy training!