Yin yoga is a slow-paced style of yoga with poses, or asanas, that are held for longer periods of time—five minutes or longer per pose is typical. It was founded by and first taught in the United States in the late 1970s by martial arts expert and Taoist yoga teacher Paulie Zink. Yin-style yoga is now being taught across North America and in Europe.
Yin yoga poses apply moderate stress to the connective tissues—the tendons, fascia, and ligaments—with the aim of increasing circulation in the joints and improving flexibility. They are also designed to improve the flow of qi, the subtle energy said in Chinese medicine to run through the meridian pathways of the body. Improved qi flow is used to improve organ health, immunity, and emotional well-being. A more meditative approach to yoga, yin aims at cultivating awareness of one’s inner silence, and bringing to light a universal, interconnecting quality.
Yin yoga employs specific sequences of poses aimed at stimulating particular meridians, or subtle channels, as understood in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)(said to be equivalent to the nadis or shrotas in Indian yoga).
During the long hold times of the yin asanas, teachers usually give “dharma talks,” informal monologues drawing from a variety of sources, according to teachers’ choice. They will often explain the physiology and anatomy of poses, including the location of the meridian lines being affected. They may tell traditional Buddhist stories, recite poetry, sing songs, or reflect on their own experience.
In keeping with its roots in taoist yoga, Paulie Zink says that yin has a deeper level: to “open the heart and invoke the primal self.”
Muscles account for about forty percent of the resistance against the body’s flexibility, while connective tissue accounts for about fifty percent. The intensity and physical benefits of yin yoga practice depend on two variables: duration of the asana, and the temperature of the muscle. Asanas are usually held for three to five minutes, but can be held for as long as twenty minutes. Because of the long duration of asanas, it is said that patience is another of the key values cultivated by yin yoga.
It is usually recommended that yin yoga be practiced when the muscles are not yet warmed up. When the muscles are cold, they are less elastic, and more stress will be transferred to the connective tissue. However, this is a general rule and for some people, it is better to stay a bit warm while practicing. Because this style of yoga does not generate bodily heat, yin teachers recommend keeping the temperature of the room a little higher than usual. During yin asanas, muscles are relaxed to avoid tetany, or muscle spasm, which could result from engaging muscles for long periods.
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