The practice of yoga today has come from varied traditions based in ancient India. Most of what is called yoga today can be traced, at least in part, to the Hatha Yoga tradition. Hatha Yoga was primarily concerned with strengthening and preparing the body for other practices such as sitting meditation. From its origins Hatha Yoga has expanded to include many styles of practice.
What is Yin Yoga?
In yin yoga we hold postures (mostly on the floor) in a very passive and receptive way.
We move into a given posture and come to a place we call our "edge". Our edge is a place we feel a manageable amount of sensation. This tells us we are creating circulation in the tissues and joint sites. Once we have found our edge we relax the musculature, and hold the posture in relative stillness for a longer period of time in order to activate the connective tissue and bring our awareness to the more internal practices of meditation and contemplation.
When we practice yoga in this way we not only increase fluidity in the tissues and joints keeping them flexible and supple but we also calm the nervous system, develop our meditation practice, and increase circulation of Prana or Qi in the energetic system of the body.
Most physical styles of yoga today emphasize a more "yang" approach. The word yang refers to relative masculine qualities in comparison to something that would be more "yin" and feminine. Yang is faster, stronger, more external and dynamic. Yin is softer, more passive, internal and gentle.
While the term "yin yoga" was more recently coined, a slower more contemplative approach to yoga practice has been around for a very long time within the yogic tradition. Western teachers such as Paulie Zink, Paul Grilley and Sarah Powers have popularized and contributed to the development of this style by adding their own understanding and integration of Taoist and eastern energetics, and Buddhist meditative practice to the slower yin style movements.
One of the aims of yoga is to create balance in the body, heart and mind. Because yoga asana (postures) have tended to be more yang, and our culture also favors yang, a slower more yin style practice helps to create balance. The yin style targets the yin tissues of the body -- namely the connective tissue, bones, ligaments, joint sites, and tendons, while the yang style practice activates the larger muscles.
When first beginning a yin yoga practice it can seem like the practice is too slow and passive but just because it is quiet and simple does not make it easy. Holding the posture gives us the opportunity to explore sensation and the nature of the mind. In this way we develop greater states of presence while at the same time as opening the physical body.
The yin yoga practice is more cooling and quiet so I would suggest having a warm room, and some support like blankets. Having a timer is also nice to have so that you can stay in the posture for the same amount of time on both sides. While you hang out in each of the shapes remember that you can focus on the breath to calm and focus the mind. And when it is time to move out of the pose take your time and notice the sensation of the blood, fluid and Qi rushing to the area you were targeting.
You can also study yin yoga with me in person at one of my Yin Yoga Teacher Trainings for yoga teachers and serious yoga practitioners. Or study with me in my Mindful Yin Yoga Online program.