An Introduction to Yin Yoga – Retreat Relax Release

An Introduction to Yin Yoga

What is Yin Yoga

At first blush, the term ‘Yin Yoga’ might not appear to make a lot of sense. ‘Yin’, after all, is a term from the Chinese tradition, whereas yoga originated in India, right?

There are numerous yogic lineages, it’s true, and some yogic practices seem to have their roots in Tibet and China, where the term ‘yin’ is more commonly used. That said, the yoga most of us understand and practice definitely comes from India; so, where does the ‘yin’ come in?

“The intent of Yin Yoga is not to force the body into postures; quite the reverse. Practitioners passively allow gravity to do the majority of the work, undoing the knots in stressed minds and bodies.”

The answer is, it’s a modern invention. The first person to coin the phrase ‘Yin Yoga’ was martial artist Paulie Zink, back in the 1970s. The reasoning? Most modern yogic practice is very active: Ashtanga, Power Yoga, Vinyasa Flow, they’ll all raise your pulse and make you sweaty. These are archetypally yang qualities.

Zink saw another way of working. He sought to balance those dynamic practices by taking a different approach, one that gently lengthened the soft tissues in the body rather than focusing solely on the musculature.

How does it feel?

The first time I tried Yin Yoga was in Goa, India. I was volunteering at an eco-hotel where the rooms were specially-adapted Rajasthani hunting tents (really) and a teacher from Manchester brought a retreat group. In between duties, I was able to slip off and take part in some of the classes at the hotel’s yoga space, where I had a totally different experience from my intense and occasionally frenetic Ashtanga practice.

Aside from the opportunity to experiment with a neti pot – it directs water up the nose and through the sinuses to cleanse them – the majority of the classes were Yin Yoga. As I relaxed into long, long holds of a selection of forward bends, I felt my entire body relax at a deep level. The best way I can describe it is to say that it felt as though the very cells were releasing tension.

The intent of Yin Yoga is not to force the body into postures; quite the reverse. Practitioners passively allow gravity to do the majority of the work, undoing the knots in stressed minds and bodies. The Retreat Relax Release offices are a calmer, gentler place after a good session of Yin Yoga.

yin yoga

What’s the theory?

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin. We all have a web of soft tissue known as fascia that runs beneath the skin of our entire bodies. When we’re young, this fascia is supple and yielding, but as we age it begins to harden. Have you ever seen an older person whose entire stance is stooped? That’s because the fascia in their body has contracted over the course of their lifetime, and has become so restrictive that they can barely stand up straight.

Another scenario in which fascia can harden is when we injure ourselves and lose mobility in a joint. The fascia will thicken around the injured joint just as a spider’s web thickens around a fly, holding it in place. That can make healing and rediscovering mobility tricky, and more ‘yang’ forms of yoga may not address the injury effectively. Fascia doesn’t respond at all well to being forced into position, but it does respond to being gently allowed to release tension and regain its suppleness.

Major Yin Yoga Teachers

Paul Grilley is probably the most renowned teacher of Yin Yoga. His book (aptly titled Yin Yoga) outlines the concepts I’ve described above in much greater depth, and also showcases a number of poses and sequences you can try out. I received a copy as a gift at the conclusion of that retreat in Goa, and it’s still a treasured part of my yoga library. He travels and teaches widely and has a range of DVDs. Also good is Bernie Clark, whose website is probably the premier online resource for Yin Yoga aficionados.

Yin Yoga is less showy than more well-known styles such as Ashtanga and Vinyasa Flow, but equally – if not more – profound. It may not have the same Instagram ‘wow’ potential, but for preventing injury and creating a sense of spaciousness and comfort throughout the body, it’s unrivalled.

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