Yin Yoga refers to a series of poses performed by Taoists in an effort to cultivate qi, the internal energy according to Traditional Chinese Medicine. Also called Taoist Yoga, or Tao Yin, this discipline was initially practiced in Chinese monasteries; it is also a formative element in the Chinese martial art, T’ai Chi.
Similar to most Indian styles of yoga, the chief aim of Tao Yin is to balance internal and external energies; the Taoists refer to this as the flow of qi—pronounced chi. Contrary to Yang Yoga, which is fast-paced and aerobic, Yin Yoga is slower and more focused. Most of the postures are performed in a seated or reclined position, and each pose is held for several minutes. Posture is key in this discipline, as the back must be held upright for energy to run freely through the spine.
While Westerners have been skeptical about the energy maps associated with yoga, acupuncture and tai chi, Hiroshi Motoyama, Ph.D., and James Oschman, Ph.D., have recently explored the possibility that these energy pathways correlate to the connective tissue running through the body. Examining this research in relation to yoga, Paul Grilley suggests postures emphasizing connective tissues may be considered yin, while those emphasizing muscle may be considered yang.
In his own words, “Taoist Yoga helped me see that we can combine Western scientific thought with ancient Indian and Chinese energy maps of the body to gain deeper understanding of how and why yoga works” (YogaJournal). Grilley believes that while practicing yang prevents qi stagnation, it does not adequately prepare the body for yin activities, such as seated meditation.
The yin approach to yoga generally promotes flexibility in areas that appear to be inflexible, such as the lower spine, pelvis and hips, as these areas have the highest concentration of connective tissue. In order to stretch the connective tissue surrounding the joints, yin poses are held for five minutes or more. Instructors encourage their students to go to their appropriate “edge,” or, in other words, to find a balance between a pose being too easy and too difficult (Stover).
As people age, the concentrated connective tissue surrounding the joints tightens, resulting in restricted mobility. In practicing Yin Yoga, however, this process may be counteracted, as the connective tissue stretches, freeing up the joints and increasing mobility. If Montoyama and Oschman are right about the correlation between connective tissue and the flow of qi, then the benefits of extending this connective tissue may be even greater.
Since Yin postures are held for several minutes, they pose more emotional and psychological benefits to practitioners than other disciplines. Such benefits include decreased stress, anxiety and depression, as well as improved sleep, circulation and healing. The calming effects of this style of yoga also ease the nervous system, encouraging practitioners to cultivate receptiveness and patience. In her book, The Way of The Happy Woman, Sara Avant Stover recommends Yin Yoga as a way for women to adapt and restore balance to their bodies during menstrual cycles and various stages of life.
- Pace yourself! Start off by holding poses for at least a minute, and then work your way up to five minutes over time.
- Let go; allow yourself to release all thoughts and concerns so you can sink into a deeper meditation.
- Combine Yin and Yang. Performing a few yin poses after a Power Yoga class will allow you to reap the benefits of both rhythmic and restorative yoga.