In this fast-paced world, we are conditioned to want the most, the best… the greatest yield in the shortest time at the lowest cost, in whatever we do.
Yin yoga is not any of that, at least on the surface.
You won’t get a burn while practising yin yoga as you would with more dynamic styles. Indeed, you might wonder what yin yoga practitioners get out of holding the same pose for up to twenty minutes!
And if such practitioners hardly move at all during their sessions, why would there be a sequence of movements to optimise its beneficial effects?
If you have any experience practising yoga, you must know that its benefits are mostly internal. You won’t build amazing muscle mass no matter how many warrior poses you adopt.
However, by practising yoga, you will develop a nice muscle tone and no one could be upset or frustrated with that.
Where does yin yoga fit in, then? If you already have a yoga routine you are satisfied with, you may not see the need to also embrace yin yoga – in fact, many avid yoga practitioners aver they were not initially enthusiastic about practising yin yoga.
A statement that begs the question: did they change their minds?
Your Superprof now heads into the studio, unrolls their mat and divulges the secrets of yin yoga before taking you, pose by pose, through an ideal sequence.
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What is Yin Yoga?
If you are already a yoga devotee, style notwithstanding, you already know that yoga is a way to know yourself on the physical, mental and spiritual levels.
Traditionally, the ultimate goal of this ancient form of communion with the self was moksha – the Hindu word for liberation.
Today, some people practise yoga as a part of their health and fitness regimen; others see it as a way of channelling energy to achieve a certain goal.
Hatha yoga, one of the most popular styles of yoga practised in the west, combines both of those themes, the net result being a solid mind-body connection, the effects of which can be both felt and seen almost immediately.
Yin yoga delivers far subtler results.
This type of yoga targets deep tissues such as joints, ligaments and fascia – the wafer-thin sheath around each of your muscles, for example.
These connective tissues can become damaged when stressed or injured and, as our bodies age, they become less flexible.
Many of yin yoga’s poses (asana) focus on those tissues surrounding your joints – in your hips, for example, and around your spine and especially the sacrum.
You don’t have to be advanced in age or recovering from a traumatic injury to benefit from yin yoga; in fact, practising yin yoga before you notice any loss of flexibility would be ideal!
Besides, if you are recovering from a serious injury, perhaps restorative yoga is the style you need right now…
Yin Yoga Particulars
As with every type of yoga, the focus for yin yoga is threefold: asanas – what we usually call poses, breath control or pranayama, and meditation.
In yin yoga, meditation is perhaps more pertinent than for other types of yoga, in part because one holds positions for far longer than, say, in Ashtanga yoga or Bikram yoga.
Also, while other types of yoga call for poses that range from standing – as in the tree pose or sun salutation poses to floor positions such as the lotus pose, yin yoga is all done at floor level.
You might wonder where the challenge is; after all, the child’s pose is so comfortable and instinctive that holding it would hardly seem to be work at all!
Yang yogas – the more active types of yoga, emphasise the depth of a move but yin yoga advocates for extending the length of time each pose is held rather than the intensity or depth of it.
That is why yin yoga practitioners have relatively few asanas in their session and hold each one for several minutes.
If you happen to be observing a class of yin yoga practitioners, you may find some yogis going deeper into each pose. You should know that it is because they are just that well attuned to their body.
They are not pushing themselves unduly and, if you are not yet comfortable with that depth of movement, you should hold off going deep until you are.
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The Comfortable Edge
The essence of yin yoga is positioning yourself in such a way that you are aware of the part of your body targeted by the asana but the pose is not painful for you. Finding the pain is not what yin yoga is about!
A defining characteristic of yin yoga is finding the line between awareness of your body and pain at it being stressed.
You should embrace the sensation of your hip loosening up but, if you start feeling painful twinges, that would be a sign that you need to ease back a bit.
With that firmly in mind, let’s look at which asanas feature in yin yoga and how best to sequence them.
Did you know that Iyengar yoga, Vinyasa yoga and power yoga all require the yoga teacher to create sequences but in Bikram yoga classes, the sequence is firmly set and followed in every class?
The Ideal Sequence of Asana for Yin Yoga
Yin yoga is best done with props so, if you have a block, make sure you place it within easy reach of your mat.
If you don’t (yet) have any blocks, you may use a pillow or a folded blanket. No need to worry; we’ll indicate when you might want to use it!
Seat yourself on your mat, tailor-style. If this position is not yet comfortable for you, you might sit on your block, pillow or blanket to take the stress off your hip joints.
The session starts with a meditation of the breath: focus on breathing in and out. If you are new to yin yoga, you may find that counting your breaths will help focus your attention on them.
After 1-3 minutes of focused breathing, move into the butterfly pose: the soles of your feet together, legs relaxed; no pressure on your hips. Lean forward, bringing your head as close to your ankles as possible.
If needed, you may place your yoga block on your ankles to rest your head on it. If you are just beginning yoga, only hold this pose for one minute; less if you need to ease out of it.
Next is the half-shoelace pose.
Extend your right leg in front of you; bring your left leg over it, folding your calf back so that your foot points toward your hip. Lean forward as far as possible (if possible), using your block to rest your forehead on if needed.
Hold the pose for only one minute, and then switch legs: your left leg is now extended and your right overlaps it, with your right foot pointed back. Again, lean forward, holding for only one minute.
As you become more flexible, you may extend the time you hold each of these poses but, remember: at the first twinge of pain, ease off!
Continuing to breathe deeply, assume the child’s pose but with a slight modification: instead of your arms reaching forward, position them so that your hands are close to your feet.
As comfortable as this pose is, hold it for one minute before flowing into our next pose: the straddle.
Torso straight up, legs spread as wide as possible. If you can, lower your torso over your right leg. Here too, you may use a block or bolster.
Hold for a minute and then move into a centre straddle; head/torso bent forward. Finally, lower your head over your left leg.
Relax, and then move into the classic child’s pose: arms extended in front of you.
If you are in a beginners yoga class, your session may end there but, if you have been practising yin yoga for a while, you may add these asanas:
- the sphinx pose: elbows at 90 degrees, torso raised, hips and legs flat on the floor
- the seal pose: from the sphinx position, push your hands into the mat and straighten your arms
- the happy baby pose: it feels as delightful as it sounds!
- The reclined spinal twist: shoulders on the mat, twist your hips so that the inside of your right knee is laying on the left side of the mat.
- You may use a block to support your knee.
- savasana: lay supine, legs comfortably spread and arms relaxed along the body. You may choose your palms to rest comfortably either up or down
Remember: if any of these asanas prove too strenuous for you, ease back to the point that you feel your body stretching but it is not painful to do so.
As you become more flexible, you may prolong the time that you hold each position from one to three, even five minutes. After all, hold time is one of the principal tenets of yin yoga.
To make it easier for you to get started, we’ve organised all of these poses into an easy-to-reference table for you to print, clip and position next to your yoga mat as a guide.
Yin Yoga Asanas in Order:
|tailor-fashion; focus on breath||seated|
|soles of feet together, knees as close to 90 degrees as possible; hands near your toes. Lower your head as far as possible||butterfly pose|
|right leg extended, left leg draped over with foot pointing back.||half-shoelace (right)|
|Left leg extended, right leg draped over with foot pointing back||half-shoelace (left)|
|same as classic child's pose but your arms reach back instead of over your head||modified child's pose|
|sitting upright with legs spread as wide as possible; bend as far over your right leg as you can.|
Repeat in the centre and over your left leg
|From a kneeling position, bend at the waist, arms extended over your head, lean torso forward, resting your forehead on your mat.||classic child's pose|
|from a prone position, raise your torso, rest it on your elbows with forearms flat on your mat||sphinx pose|
|hips and legs remain on the mat; torso is raised as arms are extended||seal pose|
|on your back, raise arms and legs; each hand should hold its corresponding foot||happy baby pose|
|laying supine, roll your hips so that the inside of your right knee rests on the mat.|
Repeat with the left leg.
|reclined spinal twist|
|lying supine, your entire body is relaxed.||savasana|
We bet you can’t wait to get started!
Now find out how you can sequence any yoga class.