Sep 15

What is Yin Yoga

Yin Yoga is a modern yoga style which is increasing tremendously in popularity since last decade. If you practice any kind of yoga, you must have heard about it by now. Some people call it lazy style of yoga because in yin yoga hold the pose for 3 to 5 minutes on average. So, this is a static form of yoga. Which actually makes it a perfect supplement to dynamic yoga & other dynamic exercise forms.

What is Yin Yoga

History of Yin Yoga

Yin Yoga is not a new practice, it is based on ancient Hatha yoga. In 1982 Paul Grilley, an anatomy and fascia expert from California realized that our bones and connective tissue is majorly responsible for our flexibility and range of motion. He also realized the importance of stretching the fascia, ligaments and tendons. He discovered that for proper health of musculoskeletal system we need to have a balance of muscle exercise and connective tissue stretching. So, he began to teach long held poses in his yoga classes. Soon his way of practicing asanas began to grow. He named the style as Yin Yoga.

Why the name ‘Yin Yoga’?

According to Paul, the poses he selected for his classes were surrender poses, practiced with gentle energy. Which are lunar poses in Hatha yoga. Yin in reference to ying yang reflect lunar energy, so he chose the name ‘Yin yoga’ a yoga to gently surrender to the ground & let the gravity help the body to stretch.

Concept of Yin & Yang

Yin and yang is a universal concept, mostly referred in Chinese ancient philosophies. Yin is the passive energy and Yang is the dynamic energy. Yin and yang create the dynamic balance in the universe. Both are equally important. Now they are concepts which can only be understood in comparison to each other. Nothing is absolutely yin and nothing is absolutely yang.

In human body, the muscles are yang tissue and the connective tissue like tendons, ligaments and tendons are yin tissue. Yang tissue can be stimulated with dynamic movements and the yin tissue with gentle and passive stretch. Any other way leads to injury.

Purpose of Yin Yoga

The purpose of yin yoga is to activate the flow of energy in the body. It stimulates the joints, muscle groups to increase the range of motion of the body. Our health and our fitness condition are defined by our range of motion, not our age. A child has a much greater range of motion than an old person. And that is one of the main reasons why yoga has become so popular in last decades. Because it helps to increase the range of motion and helps to keep the practitioner younger.

Benefits of Yin Yoga

Some of the key benefits of yin yoga are:

  • It can help to increase your range of motion: Our range of motion is limited by tight joints, tight muscles, tight ligaments and tendons. By holding the poses gently and for longer duration you gently stretch the muscles, tendons and ligaments. This overtime results in increase of range of motion.
  • It can help to reduce your physical and mental stress: Our muscles and joints contract under stress. This contraction creates a circle of physical stress. When we experience physical stress, it stimulates the sympathetic nervous system and results in increase psychological stress. When you stretch the connective tissue, it releases the contraction in muscles and connective tissue. That is why you feel so light and pleasant after a yoga class.
  • It improves concentration & awareness: In yin yoga we hold the poses from three to five minutes. Wen you hold the pose for that much duration you start to become aware of the breath, stress and your range of motion. With practice you began to become more aware of your body and breath.
  • It releases fascia and increase the flow of nutrients to the organs: Because we hold the poses gently and for longer duration, the poses release and stretch the fascia in the targeted area. Fascia is the sheet of connective tissue and carries extra cellular material which plays an important role in transfer of fluid and information in between the organs. By regular practice of yin yoga we release and improve the condition of the fascia.
  • Yin Yoga increases the Para sympathetic nervous system (PNS) response:

Yin Yoga Sutras of Paul Grilley

  1. The purpose of yoga asanas is to harmonize the flow of the chi (prana) in our bodies. This is accomplished by stressing the 14 skeletal segments and the 10 myofascial groups.
  2. The 14 skeletal segments are: toes, talus, tibia, femur, pelvis, lumbar, thoracic, cervical, fingers, wrist, radius, ulna, humerus and scavicle.
  3. The 10 myofascial groups are: Groin, quads, hip flexors, glutes, hamstrings, thoracolumbar, cervical, rectus abdominnus, obliques & scapular.
  4. When you learn to see the body as 14 skeletal segments being moved by 10 Myofascial groups you will be able to skillfully adapt the 7 archetypal asanas to suit every student.
  1. The 5 archetypes are: Shoelace, Saddle, Caterpillar, Dragonfly, Twists.
  2. In a functional approach to yin yoga there is no perfect pose. Every hand and foot position either helps or inhibits our ability to stress the target areas. The most effective way to do this varies from person to person.
  3. Every bone in everybody is different. What is easy for one skeleton may be impossible for another.

Alignment vs. Target areas

According to Paul Grilley, there is no fixed alignment possible for a pose because each body is unique and different in terms of bone structure and range of motion. The main course of injuries in yoga classes is the misinformed obsession with alignments.  Paul suggests focusing on target areas rather than alignments.

Paul created several poses based on the five archetypes. Each archetype targets specific muscle groups and skeletal segments. Then there are many variations of each archetype to suit different people. So that if one is less flexible, they can practice another variation of the same archetype.

The Five Yin Archetypes Poses

  1. Shoelace

shoelace pose

2. Saddle

saddle pose

3. Caterpillar

4. Dragonfly

5. Twists

Common Props for Yin Yoga

The props can help you in many ways. The common props are:

  1. Bolsters
  2. Straps
  3. Cushions
  4. Blankets
  5. Blocks

Is Yin yoga about Meridians?

Yin yoga is not meridian specific. They work on the musculo-tendinous meridians as any other exercise form. But it does not directly affect the deep meridians in the body.

Yin yoga, as per Paul Grilley is the meat and bones yoga. Focusing on tendons, ligaments and the bones. All the extras have been added by other teachers who also practice TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) or Buddhism.


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About the Author

Yogi-RamRam Jain is Founding Director of the Arhanta Yoga Ashrams India and The Netherlands. He is an registered ERYT 500 with over 40,000 hours of teaching experience. Since 2009 he has trained more than 4000 yoga teachers. Ram has studied Yin yoga directly from Paul Grilley. Based on Paul’s teaching he now teaches yin yoga teacher training courses at his ashrams as well as online.

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