What is Yin Yoga Anyway?
Blog by: Samantha Akers
“Yin Yoga.. what is it? Is it safe? Why should be practice this modality? Are we “stretching” ligaments?”
These are all valuable questions. I believe we SHOULD practice Yin Yoga, but as teachers, we must have a deeper understanding of the fascia, ligaments and of what type of body benefits from what type of practice.
Yin Yoga affects the Parasympathetic nervous system as well as the fascial fabric of the body; both are extremely beneficial. Our fascia likes long held poses; one to five minutes, in most cases, begins to melt and lengthen the fascia. As the fascia warms and lengthens, the nervous system can move fight or flight to the rest and digest space. Fascia is informed by the chemicals produced in the body, not by the myotatic reflex in the way the muscles respond. When the “happy” chemicals are produced, such as Oxytocin, the Parasympathetic nervous system is switched. So it’s a win, win!
The concerns are valid, but they can be addressed with proper and skillful training in Yin Yoga. Tom Myers asks, “Are you a temple dancer or a viking?” Meaning, are you hyper mobile in your fascia ( it’s not just joints that are mobile, but the whole fascial network) or are you quite inflexible? We must address this in a Yin practice and I do so by giving mobile bodies cues to strengthen and isometrically contract vs just flopping passively into a pose.
What about flexible vs. Inflexible bodies for Yin Yoga?
Flexible bodies don’t need more flexibility and for these folks, Yin can be a great challenge AND work to strengthen the fascia around their ligaments and tendons. For the more inflexible folks on the spectrum, they need some “stress” to the fascia, and yes, perhaps even the fascia around the ligaments. Tom Myers also believes that many of us need some “stress” not “stretch” of the ligamentation.
As teachers, we can learn to develop our eyes to see who needs what in a class and offer poses and instructions accordingly, always using props to support the body. I have done extensive study with Tom Myers and Russ Pfeiffer as well as cadaver study to delve into what is happening in the body when fascia becomes adhered, especially internally.
The other side of the Yin pose
I bring Metta, a form of loving kindness meditation, into my Yin classes. This is a great opportunity, through long held poses, to practice loving kindness. Students report that they find they experience more ease and less pushing towards a goal, when they incorporate Metta phrases. In my trainings, I incorporate Metta, the Science of a Stretch, Biomechanics, Passive vs Contraction, use of props and developing the eye and the insight to see which students need what type of assistance to benefit from Yin in a safe and holistic way. I also include the TCM meridians, as they run through the myofascial lines of the superficial body.
Yin is a beautiful and beneficial practice and I believe we can assist and keep bodies safe in Yin Yoga. We can lengthen and warm the fascia, reduce stagnation in the tissues and address the nervous and circulatory systems through the Yin practice. Both systems are informed by the messages your fascial network are sending. Judith Lasater states, “ Most of us in the United States are Vata Deranged!” Meaning we are moving too fast, living too much in the head and becoming much too tight in our bodies. I agree!
I believe that practices such as Yin Yoga and Restorative Yoga ( two very different practices but both with relaxation of the nervous system in mind) can help our most vital systems to re-balance, renew and live, breathe and move more ease-fully. As teachers, I believe we have a responsibility to know what we are teaching, what we are asking of students bodies and why. Let’s delve in together!”