As I sit planning Wednesday’s lesson, I’m emailed by a prospective student asking me to explain Yin Yoga. ‘Ooh, that’s a good one!’ I think, and I go about writing a reply.
So in simple terms, here’s my interpretation of Yin Yoga – as I like to teach in my classes:
Yin is a slow kind of yoga which works on the deep connective tissues of the body – the tendons, ligaments and fascia – and is wonderfully calming. It’s often floor-based and passive, but can be deceptively strong; sometimes you’re working the body without realising it, if you see what I mean!
I’m a great fan of using props such as chairs, blocks and bolsters to help support the body and enable the muscles to work gently and loosen slowly, rather than offering a vigorous aerobic workout.
Yin is a relatively recent yoga school, having been started by respected Karate champion and Kung Fu elder Paulie Zink back in the 1970s. Zink put Hatha yoga together with his knowledge of martial arts and began to teach his students – many of whom were super-fit and strong but inflexible due to tight fighting muscles – what he termed Yin and Yang Yoga. This comprised the Yang attributes of heat-generating, active, strenuous and flowing yoga and Yin’s passive, gentle and still yoga.
Paul Grilley studied under Zink and added his own experience as an anatomy scholar, along with acupuncture expert and yogi Hiroshi Motoyama’s explorations of the meridians and chi or qi in Traditional Chinese Medicine (much like the yogic prana in Ayurveda). This essentially led to the creation of a new “synthesis of anatomy, Taoist yoga and meridian theory” which Grilley initially named Taoist Yoga.
Grilley in turn worked with Sarah Powers, who, already a successful yoga teacher in her own right, incorporated mindfulness from buddhist teachings and a focus on health and breath, before deciding on Yin as the name of this ever-evolving school of yoga.
In Practical Terms
Much like in Qigong, Kung Fu or other Taoist martial arts, traditionally Yin poses are held for ever-increasing periods of time depending on how long the student has been practising. During this time the teacher often talks through what’s happening in the body, exploring mindfulness or varied ayurvedic or buddhist teachings.
For the purpose of my class I go with the flow (usually metaphorically, sometimes literally!) and see how we’re getting on. Although yoga’s a discipline I teach yoga for real bodies, so for me there’s no hard and fast rule for the length of time we hold a pose, and if necessary I modify it to the individual’s needs with extra blocks or bolsters so that we can really sink into it and…release.
Due to my own history of chronic pain the yoga I promote is inclusive, and I aim to make my classes as accessible as possible. No need to feel intimidated because you’re not particularly supple: flexibility may be an asset in yoga, but in my classes it’s absolutely not essential!
And back to my email reply requesting an explanation of Yin Yoga, rather unhelpfully I add:
You’re welcome to join us tomorrow and see what you think! I generally teach across a spectrum of styles on Wednesdays anyway.
Insight Yoga – Sarah Power
Yin Yoga Principles and Practice – Paul Grilley
The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga – Bernie Clark (a student of Power and Grilley, and the man behind the incredible resource www.yinyoga.com).
Potted history of Yin Yoga compiled with help from Wikipedia 🙂