YIN YOGA: The Power of Slow and ReceptiveOct 01, 2023 06:00AM ● By David Penn
The Yin and Yang of Things
The taijitu, commonly known in the West as the yin and yang symbol, is the celebrated symbol of a black and white circle divided into two halves. The black half represents yin, and the white half represents yang. Each half also contains a small dot of the opposite color, representing the presence of the other force. Qualities of yin are seen as being more nurturing, intuitive and compassionate. In contrast, the qualities of yang are seen as more assertive, logical and decisive.
The Receptive Yin
The “yin” in yin yoga refers to the receptive and passive qualities of the body. It is a slow-paced style of yoga that focuses on the connective tissues of the body, such as the ligaments, tendons and fascia. Ligaments are fibrous connective tissues that attach bone to bone while keeping them stable. Tendons move the bones. Fascia tissue is more present in our bodies than most of us realize. This thin casing of connective tissue surrounds and holds every muscle, organ, blood vessel, nerve fiber and bone in place. In addition to providing a vital internal structure, fascia also has nerves that make it nearly as sensitive as skin.
Esther Eckhart, the founder of Eckhart Yoga, a popular yoga academy in Ireland, explains, “While Yang yoga practices, like Ashtanga and vinyasa, physically target superficial muscles, in yin yoga, we target the deep connective tissues of the body—the ligaments, joints, bones and deep fascia networks. A yin class usually consists of a series of passive floor poses held for up to five minutes or more. These poses mainly work the hips, pelvis, inner thighs and lower spine. These areas are especially rich in connective tissues.”
More Than a Physical Practice
In the West, yoga is most often considered a physical activity, and discussions about it usually revolve around its physical postures, but this hardly scratches the surface. Annelise Kristoffersen, E-RYT 500, the founder of Sacred Fire Yoga in East Atlanta and Sacred Thread Yoga in Summerhill, says her journey with yin yoga has had a profound effect on how she teaches and lives. “I’ve been practicing for more than 20 years, and I am sure I ended up in a yin class just out of curiosity and out of my quest to always remain a student. But, like most of the softer practices, I didn’t love yin at first. It was an acquired taste that developed with age and wisdom. Then, as I learned more about the science of this practice, I started to realize how much I needed yin.”
Kristoffersen extols the benefits—on and off the mat: “Yin has this unique benefit of interoception and connection to the nervous system as well. It helps us sense our body in space, and the passive approach to the practice can be really powerful mentally. In our culture, passivity is not valued. Passivity, though, has real wisdom to it. And yin helps us get a sense for how this can be a tool to use in life.”
Melting Stress and Anxiety
With its slower pace, yin is commonly recommended as a good place to begin practicing yoga. Amanda Powlowski, RYT 200, a yoga teacher at Stillness Yoga and Meditation Center in Marietta, points out that it’s also a fantastic place for those in a state of stress or anxiety. “Most people benefit from yin, but those under high stress benefit greatly. I was particularly stressed a few weeks ago and took a yin class and noticed that most of my anxiety had dissipated by the end of the class without any real conscious effort to change my thinking. This is a meditative practice. The process of holding the stretches and allowing thoughts to come and go is so helpful for chronically stressed individuals.
“The biggest benefit, in my opinion, is the effect on the nervous system. Yin provides the opportunity to slow down so the nervous system can unwind. Our way of life causes many of us to live in a state of high stress, which leaves us feeling depleted. Yin can restore some of our energy. As we decide to stay in the stretch and follow our breath or allow our thoughts to drift, we begin to unwind and release deeply held tension, not just in the body, but in the mind as well.”
A Great Place to Begin. But Still be Cautious.
Yin yoga provides a good place to start as it is a gentle and accessible practice for people of all ages and fitness levels. It is a great way to improve flexibility, reduce pain and improve one’s overall health and well-being. But as with all yoga practices, each individual needs to listen to their own body as they practice.
Bethany Farmer, E-RYT 500, teaches yin yoga at Sacred Fire Yoga and leads retreats for metro Atlantans in Greece. Farmer mentions the importance of being aware of over-stretching. She gives the example of practicing caution with forward bends. “Some poses in Yin have a deep forward bending position that can be unhealthy for any practitioner who has bulging or herniated discs in their spine. They would want to modify these poses by keeping their spine as straight as possible and hinge only at the hips in any of the forward bending postures. If a person is going to practice yin and has any of these contraindications, I would suggest letting an experienced teacher know so they can give them the proper adjustments and modifications to keep them safe and not cause any further harm.”
With yin, as with all styles of yoga, it is important to start slowly and listen to the body as the practice takes place. It’s also wise to chat with the teacher before class if there are any questions or concerns. Practitioners may find that they thrive with yin’s unique path to the fascia, ligaments, joints and bones and the connection with the mind and body. ❧
David Penn, E-RYT 200, founded Sun Dragon Yoga studio in 2015. He offers private instruction at homes and businesses throughout metro Atlanta and offers classes online. Contact him at 313-303-0096.