The beginner’s guide to Yin Yoga
The yoga classes we often see and attend are just one incarnation of this ancient practice. A much slower pace of class with postures held for five or even ten minutes offers a different experience.
By Hannah Bullimore
Where did Yin come from?
Yin yoga has its foundations in India and China. It combines the postures of Hatha yoga, originating in India with the slow, methodical practices of Kung Fu and martial arts in China. It’s modern, standardised practice began in the 1970s with the work of Paulie Zink who sought to combine the benefits of his martial arts practice with Hatha and Taoist yoga.
Yin and Yang
Yin yoga takes two forms in most yoga studios. Yin practices slow down, focusing on working the subtle body or deep tissues by holding postures for extended periods of time. This practice is designed to be practiced cold, without warming up, as being warmed up or having exercised beforehand can deepen the stretches and create a greater risk of injury.
Yin Yang classes combine more fiery or ‘masculine’ postures to represent yang before settling once more into the long-held, passive postures of yin. These classes can be more challenging and require some level of yoga experience.
Additionally, there are restorative yoga classes which also hold postures for a long time but use purely passive movements and props to help you relax and unwind, rather than working deeply into the muscles and joints.
The Benefits of Yin
Yin, just like all forms of yoga, has many benefits for the body and mind. This slower pace of yoga is more accessible for those with poorer cardiac strength but is a mental and physical challenge in a different way to Hatha. As you are holding postures for an extended period, you may find the practice is uncomfortable and often staying still in the posture for the full five minutes or more, is more a mental battle than a physical one.
The benefits of a yin yoga practice include:
- Calming the mind and reducing anxiety
- Increasing mental resiliency and focus
- Reducing stress and anxiety
- Increasing circulation
- Improving flexibility
- Releasing the fascia and improving joint mobility
- Creating a sense of calm in the mind
Yin is a fantastic practice to supplement a Hatha yoga practice or other forms of exercise. It’s important to make sure Yin is practiced cold to avoid moving too deeply into postures once flexibility is improved by warming up – this is true of both passive and active heating, meaning as well as avoiding warming up beforehand, you also want to practice yin in a room that isn’t too hot!
What to expect in your first yin class
Just like in a Hatha or Vinyasa yoga class, you’ll be on your own mat with plenty of space to move around. Whether you’re in a studio or at home, the class will begin with an opening meditation, breathing technique or reflection. However, you might not start in a cross-legged seat, quite often in Yin you’ll begin with the first posture. This could be a supported child’s pose or lying down.
The teacher will use a timer to guide you through the practice and might ring a bell or gong to tell you when the posture is coming to a close. There will also be a discussion of edges, you might come to your ‘first edge’ at the start and halfway through go to your ‘deepest edge’ once you are comfortable in the posture. Or you might start at your deepest edge and work backwards when the teacher lets you know you’re halfway through the pose.
Yin is best practised with plenty of support from equipment such as blocks, straps, blankets and towels. In studios, these are usually supplied, but at home, you may need to improvise. For example, a hard-back book can make a great block, a pillow or stack of cushions can work instead of a bolster and any blanket will do to keep warm during the long periods of stillness.
Practising Yin Online
As well as videos on YouTube, you can join a live Yin or Yin Yang yoga class with a local studio.
Wellness Space in Sunderland offers Yin Yang on Mondays at 19:30, Thursdays at 07:00 and Saturdays at 17:30.
You can also find a variety of slower-paced, restorative and yin yoga practices on the Yoga Therapies Digital Studio where you can access a range of classes and practices any time for £12 a month (you get your first 2 weeks free).
These online offerings are the perfect way to see if Yin is right for you.
Yoga for Beginners
If you are new to yoga and aren’t sure where to begin, yin can be a great option, as can beginners Hatha yoga and slow flow yoga.
As a yoga teacher, I have moved my classes to Zoom during the Covid-19 crisis and I offer ‘Yoga For All’ classes and slow flow yoga classes online that are suitable for complete beginners. You can find more information on these at www.hannahbullimore.com
Whatever style of yoga you enjoy, connecting with the breath, moving slowly and with care and finding a practice that feels good for you and your body are the most important things. Now is the perfect time to try something new, so why not give yin yoga a try?