Yin and yang are terms applied to relationships. Every aspect of our lives can be classified as Yin or Yang as determined by their primal function and contrast to something other. In terms of the tissues of the body, the muscles are more yang as they have greater softness, elasticity and superficiality being located closer to the surface of the body. In contrast, the connective tissue is more yin as it is more stiff, inelastic and closer to the core. Tissues need to be exercised in a way that is appropriate to their nature: yin tissues respond best to being exercised in a yin way and yang tissues respond best to being moved in a yang fashion. The connective tissue responds most effectively to these long steady durational holds held in Yin, whereas the most effective muscular exercise involves rhythmic repetitive movement.
Yin Yoga extends and strengthens the deep layers of connective tissue that encapsulate the body. Connective tissue resides at and beneath skin level, in our skeletal systems, organs, tissues and in the deepest part of each and every cell. Yin focuses on these deeper layers of the body by stimulating the flow of chi through them. Chi flows much more predominantly into the muscles and the fascia when we move. Therefore, once we adopt a particular shape we minimise movement as much as possible to direct chi appropriately: to the connective tissue, the bones, the joints. Due to this emphasis Yin is best done when the body is cold. When the muscles are warm they take the body of the stretch and in this practice we want the muscles to become as passive as possible to soften so we can move deeper, more effectively reaching stretching and extending the connective tissue.
Yin Yoga is often known as yoga for the joints as it primarily focuses on the joints above knee height and beneath the navel. In targeting the hips, pelvis and lower back this practice can increase the mobility and the agility of these regions that become less mobile primarily through disuse and aging. Yin promotes greater circulation through the body’s core resulting in greater comfort when the body is still for prolonged periods – for example, when driving a car, working in front of a computer or within a meditative practice – and elicits more coherent graceful integrated movement in whatever activities we choose to embark upon. It can enable the body to open up, discharge stress and ease through physical tension. Yin can highlight discrepancies between the two sides of the body. Sometimes these differences can be incredibly subtle and other times they are incredibly obvious. In bringing awareness to these differences it enables the practitioner to begin to
minimise the effects they have on the body. It can also enable differentiation between our ultimate limit of our flexibility, compression, and what is simple muscular tension. Transformation can come through this awareness.
When we are born as humans we are incarnated into a yang phase: babies and young children have a great deal of mobility and flexibility and little strength and stability. Increasingly as we move through various stages of life our stability and strength increase and our flexibility lessens: we become increasingly yin. Ultimately when the body dies we have become completely yinified in rigor mortis. By the time we reach our early thirties we
generally have a beautiful balance between our mobility and stability but, if we do not continue to move our joints through their full ranges of motion we become increasingly stiff, tight, taught, restricted within ourselves. In this way Yin Yoga can reduce this contracture or shrink wrapping of the joints.
In yang physical training muscular strength is emphasised. However in order for the body to be able to use this additional strength, the joints and the connective tissue that become pivotal muscular attachments and surrounds must also have adequate strength and extensibility. These parts of the body are often neglected but are absolutely essential to work with the musculature for smooth efficient motion. Yin is an exceptionally beneficial practice particularly for athletes that tend to peak in their late 20s as it can prolong athletic performance. Often times people’s athletic careers are ended prematurely due to injury that are often joint related rather than muscular. In placing an appropriate degree of stress on the joints, gently teasing the bones apart it stimulates the production of synovial fluid, lubricating the joints allowing for smooth free effective movement. It can enable us to more fully express more strength and power as the joints can
move through a fuller range of motion.
Yin can enable us to come home to our physical body, to deeply inhabit regions of ourselves that may have been untouched for a long period of time. We can come back to the initial concept of what does it feel like for me to be in this body, in this shape, in this space, in this moment of time? Habitually we can be so busy ‘doing’ we lose a sense of ‘being’, being with ourselves, being with our bodies, with our minds, within our own energy. Our bodies can become objectified rather than embodied and embraced. We learn to feel the body from the inside, to deeply listen and respectively respond. We can foster and nurture an on-going dialogue with the body to determine whether it is appropriate to deepen, remain or back away from the intensity of the posture.
As the tissues moisten the body naturally invites you to move into the posture more deeply. We feel a soft tugging sensation, akin to a dull achiness deep within the tissues as we wait without moving. Assuming no pain is experienced you remain still. If your body asks you to leave, you gently move away from the edge, lessening the intensity without judgement or egoic striving. As Bernie Clark astutely states ‘use the postures to get into the body. Do not use your body to get into the postures.’ This is one of the reasons this practice is a beautiful way for those of us who have disconnected from our bodies, for trauma survivors and those suffering from eating disorders to reconnect in a gentle compassionate way, deeply listening to the inherent wisdom of our physical form. It can also be exceptionally beneficial for dealing with anxiety and PTSD as it can help regulate the nervous system, providing the conditions for parasympathetic activation promoting equilibrium when the sympathetic nervous system has been working overtime. It can thus promote the relaxation response by providing a space for the body to deeply relax, rest, recover and be nourished.