What is Yin Yoga?

yin yoga and yoga nidra online class La Crisalida yoga retreat

Here at La Crisalida Retreat we like to offer different styles of yoga across the week, with different teachers. One of our popular classes is Yin yoga. Whilst this style is slowly growing in popularity, many guests have not experienced Yin yoga before, so are curious about what it is. In this article we take a brief look at what Yin yoga is and look at what it does for our health.

Practice and asanas

Yin yoga is a quiet, instrospective style of yoga, ideal for inner connection. 

In Yin yoga, asanas (poses) are held for three to five minutes each. The majority of asanas are seated on the mat and we aim to work with the connective tissues, rather than the muscles. The idea is that you would move into an asana, and find a place to stop – you can feel that the body is working (stretching, twisting or squeezing) but you are not in pain and not straining the muscles. We “sit” in an asana and allow the body to open. As the body opens, you are able to sink deeper into the asana. There is no straining, pushing, pulling or force; the idea is to encourage softness, both in our body and in our approach. 

In a one-hour Yin class, we would typically practice up to eight asanas, plus the opening meditation, and closing relaxation. Some asanas look similar to those practiced in Hatha yoga, but the approach is very different! For example, Caterpillar has similarities to seated forward fold (Paschimottanasana), however in Yin yoga we round the spine. Shoelace (a hip openor) resembles Cowface (Gomukasana), and so on. The focus of the asana is very different however.

Connective tissues

Yin yoga works the connective tissues, rather than the muscles. Connective tissues (including joints, ligaments and tendons), are less elastic than muscles, so to build strength and flexibility, we hold the asana for a longer period of time (compared to Hatha yoga) and then gently release. This holding for a longer period gently encourages the connective tissues to slowly lengthen. Using softness, we take care not to aggressively or vigorously move or stretch these connective tissues, rather gently holding. As you repeat the practice weekly or more frequently, these connective tissues build in flexibility. Strong, flexible connective tissues can help to stabilise joints as well as encouraging them to be more mobile, which is particularly important as we get older. It also means that we become more comfortable sitting in our body for longer periods of time, ideal for meditation practice.

Breathing practices in Yin yoga

At La Crisalida, we complement our Yin yoga practice with breathing techniques, designed to bring balance and calmness. For example, I like to use ocean breath. To practice ocean breath, you breathe in through the nose for a count of four, then breathe out through the nose for a count of four. Like waves gently falling onto the beach and rolling out again, this ocean breath helps to focus our mind on our breath, to stay present in our body during the practice, whilst we hold each asana.  The exhale can help us to relax and open the body further.

Meridians and energy flow in Yin yoga

Yin yoga is also said to work with the meridians in the body. Meridians, according to Chinese medicine, are pathways of energy that flow through the body. Chinese medicine holds that injury, stress or bad living habits can cause blockages in the meridians or energy flow, and that these blockages lead to imbalance and ill-health in the body. By holding the asana, these meridians are gently stimulated, leading to improved energy flow (or Qi) around the body. You might like to read our other article which explores the link between Yin yoga, the meridians and liver health. 

When is the best time to practice?

You may wonder when is the best time to practice Yin yoga? You will benefit from practicing yin yoga at different times of the day, or indeed year. Morning is a good time, when the muscles are colder, as it means that our connective tissues are more likely to be worked. However, it is also good to practice Yin on an evening, when we can start to relax and calm down before sleep. Yin is an ideal style of yoga to bring relaxation to the mind and body if you live a hectic lifestyle.

Balance for health

If you are unsure whether Yin yoga is for you – then consider whether you feel comfortable sitting in a pose for longer than a minute or two. If yes, then you will love Yin. If not, then maybe this style is just the sort of thing you need!

At La Crisalida, we believe in a balanced approach to life. So our Yin classes balance the more active Vinyasa classes. If you prefer the more dynamic Vinyasa classes, maybe consider taking one Yin class a week, to gain some balance in your yoga practice and to start to allow your body (and mind) to slow down. A balanced approach to our yoga practice can influence a more balanced approach to our life, and ultimately to better health! 

Read more about La Crisalida yoga retreats in Spain here.

About the author

Lisa is one of the founders of La Crisalida Retreats. She is an Epidemiologist, therapeutic hatha and yin yoga teacher and also teaches mindfulness meditation. Lisa has studied NLP and hypnosis, as well as nutrition (she designs the menus).