Most of us are familiar with the ancient Chinese concept of yin and yang – two opposing forces in harmony and balance. Yang symbolizes the masculine principle and qualities such as movement, heat and activity. Conversely, the feminine principle of yin represents stillness, coolness, passivity and simply “being”.
Anything in life, including yoga or other forms of movement, can be classified as yin or yang according to their inherent qualities. There are styles of yoga (Bikram or Ashtanga for example) that are more yang-like, with their focus on strength and heat-building, dynamic movements. Yin yoga however, is completely different, with an emphasis on long-held poses done on the floor and the cultivation of mindfulness and inner peace. I have found yin yoga to be a truly transformative practice, here are 5 reasons to give it a try:
1. It’s an antidote to do the stresses of modern-day life
Western culture is a very “yang culture”, with its emphasis on go-getting, striving and achieving. While certainly useful for realizing external success and achievement, the downside is that it can lead to stress, burn-out and mental health issues. We must remember to balance a yang-based life with yin qualities as well, such as taking time to slow down, be still and relax deeply. A regular yin yoga practice is a great counter-balance to a fast-paced life.
2. It will dissolve physical stress and tension.
If you have ever spent too long at your desk and felt pain and stiffness in your neck and back afterwards, then you know what physical tension is! We often think these kinks arise in our muscles, but really, they form in the connective tissue or fascia. One of the number one boons of yin yoga is that it works specifically on the fascia and the long duration of the postures enable a deep release of any contractions in the fascia and a feeling of looseness and spaciousness in the body.
3. It will shift you from “doing” mode to “being mode”.
Each pose in yin yoga is held from a minimum of 3 minutes up to 8 minutes, so you are spending long periods in stillness, focusing on the breath and the sensations in the body. This can seem strange if you are not used to slowing down, but gradually you will be able to shift gears and surrender, and your body and mind will be able to relax deeply. It is a great introduction to more formal types of meditation as well.
4. It will enhance your other workouts.
Running, swimming, sports and working out at the gym are all “yang” forms of movement due to their repetitive, forceful nature. While very important for strength and fitness, they can also lead to joint wear and tear, injury and habitual tightness in specific areas of the body. Yin yoga can deeply stretch tight areas and reduce the risk of injury as well as help to cultivate an awareness and acceptance of the body’s natural limitations.
5. It will change your attitude to life for the better.
Perhaps the most powerful benefits of yin yoga is the way it will slowly change your attitude to your life in general. You will develop qualities of patience, acceptance and compassion towards your body within the poses, and these same qualities will show up in your daily life as well. From becoming more tolerant to people who ordinarily frustrate you to taking better care of yourself and being able to live more in the moment, yin yoga will slowly change your life from the inside out.
Sharee James is a certified naturopath and a yoga and meditation instructor. Try a short introductory yin yoga class and experience the peace of yin yoga for yourself!