Explaining Yin Yoga

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.

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.

The Complete Guide To Yin Yoga by Bernie Clark foreword by Sarah PowersAs 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.

Book your Wednesday and Sunday classes with me here

 History

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.

Insight Yoga by Sarah Powers, Foreword by Paul Grilley

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. 

!

Yin Yoga Principles & Practice by Paul Grilley

Further Reading

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 🙂

 

 

Coughs and Sneezes Can be Eased

For the purpose of easing the symptoms of a tight chest due to coughs and colds, pay attention to these particular aspects of Cobra Pose. Go Yoga!

The first few weeks of this new school year have flown by, and with them the last warm days of summer. The arrival of autumn brings with it its own special characteristics: a sense of impending jumpers and coats, of enforced cosiness from increased indoor living, and of course the inevitable onslaught of coughs and colds.

To counter this seasonal shift my classic hatha yoga class on Wednesday (27th September) saw us work through a variety of chest-opening poses, each moving closer to an ultimate yoga asana towards the end of the class (more on this later).

One of Wednesday’s chest-openers was Cobra Pose or Bhujangasana, an energizing backbend that opens up the lungs enabling better breathing despite bronchial congestion, and releases any viral spinal stiffness or tension from the tailbone to the base of the skull (yeah, take that, chesty cough and endless snot!).

For the purpose of easing the symptoms of a tight chest due to coughs and colds, pay attention to these particular aspects of Cobra Pose:

  • Roll and retract the shoulders (in anatomical terms, via circumduction of the ball and socket joint of each shoulder)
  • Bring the shoulders back and down (depress them), so that the shoulder blades (scapulae) are brought closer together on your back, thereby
    • Bending back (hyperextending) the spine and
    • Bringing your chest forward and lifting it towards the chin (elevating the sternum).

Got that? Didn’t think so, so here’s a quick, extremely amateur sketch!

Cobra Pose Yoga - Bhujangasana - Sketch-Colour Yoga UK - #colouryogaukstickpic

Remember I mentioned I designed Wednesday’s class to include a carefully selected collection of asanas, each a positional variation exploring chest-opening, each pose a step in the journey towards one of yoga’s ultimate examples of the theme?

Well, here it is, and it’s another dynamic backbend, the rather more extreme Camel Pose or Ustrasana. For those of you who have injuries or are less experienced yogis, worry not: Camel Pose can always be modified with yoga blocks and bolsters to become a gentler, less intense, and more supportive asana.

Image of Camel Pose - Utrasana - Colour Yoga UK - Sketch - #colouryogaukstickpicsSo, can you see how Cobra Pose might relate to Camel Pose? And could you apply the specific chest-opening instructions above for Cobra to Camel?

In tonight’s deliciously relaxing Sunday Yin/ Restorative Colour Yoga class I will continue to address which yoga asanas are helpful when we inevitably succumb to coughs, colds and seasonal sickness.

So, come and enjoy the perfect excuse to enjoy lovely long stretches while being supported by yoga blocks and cossetted by bolsters, proving that yup, if you search hard enough you’ll find a positive side to everything – even snot!

The Ultimate Yoga Glow

When teaching a Restorative Yin yoga class, there is nothing as rewarding as the moment at the end of the last, lovely long Savasana, when your students roll to one side and, after resting there a moment, slowly push themselves up to a seated position.

Rather than the pressures of daily life they inadvertently brought with them to the studio at the start of the session, little by little, asana by asana, the students have released the tension stored in their body.

The yogis in the class sit bleary-eyed and unfocussed, their skin shining, the lines on their face softened, looking newer somehow, and more fresh.

Shoulders once hunched up in desk-stress are now gently loosened and lowered. Body language speaks quietly of ultimate relaxation, of grounding and reconnection with the self.

At least that’s my experience of a successful Restorative Yin class from where I’m sitting. What’s yours?