YIN YOGA: YANG-STYLE’S LESS AG­GRES­SIVE COUN­TER­PART

NICHE Magazne - - Romantic Fantasy - by Janet Ki­nosian

A softer, gen­tler form of yoga seems to be qui­etly on the rise. From Los An­ge­les to Lon­don, so-called yin yoga is in­creas­ingly be­ing taught at stu­dio classes and yoga re­treats, not to men­tion via books and DVDS.

The power or “yang-styled” yoga forms so pop­u­lar in the West -- with their fast shifts be­tween poses and em­pha­sis on sweat -- have left a gap for more med­i­ta­tive, longer-held stretches, says Paul Gril­ley, a mar­tial arts and yoga prac­ti­tioner who helped de­velop the yin yoga style along with fel­low pro­po­nent Sarah Pow­ers.

He says yin yoga is not a new form, but rather a re­turn to more med­i­ta­tive, tra­di­tional yoga. Slower forms -- such as restora­tive yoga -- al­ready ex­ist, he ac­knowl­edges, re­ly­ing on props to aid with poses and en­cour­ag­ing stu­dents to stop when they start to feel dis­com­fort.

But with yin yoga, he says, the em­pha­sis is not on a lack of pain, but rather on how to feel dis­com­fort, stay with it and move through it.

Yin yoga re­lies on sev­eral core poses that, on first look, do not ap­pear dif­fi­cult. Most fo­cus on the lower half of the body, such as the hips, pelvis, in­ner thighs and lower spine. The dif­fi­culty lies in the length of time the poses are held with­out shift­ing or move­ment.

Each pose is held from two to up to 20 minutes, and long, deeply held breaths co­in­cide with the stretches. This pro­vides for a med­i­ta­tive and mind-clear­ing prac­tice that helps prac­ti­tion­ers learn how to fo­cus on the mo­ment, pro­po­nents say, thus re­duc­ing anx­i­ety, ten­sion and stress.

Some yin poses are sim­i­lar to their yang coun­ter­parts, such as “corpse pose” and “child's pose,” though most have been al­tered and re­named.

The faster paced yang-style yoga, such as ash­tanga or vinyasa, tar­gets length­en­ing and strength­en­ing the mus­cles, says Gril­ley, who teaches yoga in­ter­na­tion­ally and wrote Yin Yoga: A Quiet Prac­tice. Taoist-based yin yoga tar­gets the con­nec­tive tis­sues, lig­a­ments, joints and syn­ovial fluid and the en­ergy chan­nels or merid­i­ans that the phi­los­o­phy hy­poth­e­sizes runs through them.

Adds San Fran­cisco-based Pow­ers: “This means that in­stead of com­ing into a pose for a short amount of time and hug­ging the bones close to­gether by en­gag­ing our mus­cles, [one] needs to pull the skele­ton apart nonag­gres­sively and with ap­pro­pri­ate pres­sure and then re­main sta­tion­ary a while, al­low­ing the mus­cles to re­main stretched but with­out en­gag­ing them.”

Yin poses are not an at­tempt to stretch the lig­a­ments and con­nec­tive tis­sue but to load them ap­pro­pri­ately, she says.

Kelly Mc­go­ni­gal, a yoga in­struc­tor and psy­chol­o­gist at Stan­ford Univer­sity and the ed­i­tor of the In­ter­na­tional Journal of Yoga Ther­apy, elab­o­rates. “The fourth minute [of a stretch] is not like the first. If you pull some­thing fast and hard, you don't get a ben­e­fit; but if you keep ap­ply­ing mod­er­ate, slow and longer pres­sure, it will even­tu­ally re­lax.” Yin yoga's pro­po­nents say the phys­i­cal ef­fects can have a pro­found emo­tional com­po­nent as well, by teach­ing prac­ti­tion­ers how to han­dle dis­com­fort and strong sen­sa­tions. For that rea­son, yin yoga is be­ing used in ad­dic­tion and trauma re­cov­ery pro­grams.

Dina Am­s­ter­dam, a San Fran­cis­cobased yoga teacher who teaches yin re­treats na­tion­wide, says she's found that this form of yoga has emo­tional and spir­i­tual ben­e­fits that “re­ally out­weigh what you'd think the ben­e­fits could be for a seem­ingly sim­pler prac­tice like yin yoga.”

The cen­tered and con­tem­pla­tive breath­ing seems to help re­lease emo­tion, much like thaw­ing ice, she says.

Also, be­cause much of the stretch­ing is done when the body is cooler -- as op­posed to yang yoga, in which the mus­cles have been warmed up -- the re­sult­ing dis­com­fort helps train the ner­vous sys­tem to be less re­ac­tive to the stress of a stretch.

Molly Lan­non Kenny, founder and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Sa­marya Yoga Cen­ter in Seat­tle, says this form of yoga is es­pe­cially re­ward­ing for ea­ger-to-re­cover ad­dicts and trauma sur­vivors be­cause of the need to work through the dis­com­fort -- ba­si­cally wait­ing it out.

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“For ad­dicts, when they feel that over­whelm­ing, I-have-to-have-that sen­sa­tion; i.e. I have to have that cig­a­rette, food, drink, drug or what­ever, they learn to feel it, sit with it and see how this chal­lenge un­folds, and see that it [both the phys­i­cal dis­com­fort and the emo­tional ten­sion] can in­deed pass, safely,” she says.

As for the in­jury po­ten­tial in mus­cles that aren't warmed up, South Bay yoga in­struc­tor Via Page says: “Yin yoga poses are long, held stretches so no warm­ing up is nec­es­sary -- ac­tu­ally the yin yoga poses them­selves are es­sen­tially a warm-up prac­tice.”

RE­LEASE STRESS

As for those emo­tional ben­e­fits, they're not lim­ited to those who have suf­fered trauma, Page says. “I've had many stu­dents tell me it's helped them learn to be­come more deeply re­laxed and less an­gry and stressed-out all the time.”

That doesn't mean yin yoga stress on in­ner de­stress­ing will over­take the hot­ter, sweatier yang.

“Yin yoga might be a hard sell in an en­vi­ron­ment where stu­dents want a real car­dio ex­pe­ri­ence,” Page says, “but -- de­spite this -- yin is, and will con­tinue, to grow. Once stu­dents get started they can easily see the ben­e­fits of adding yin yoga to the mix.”

It's im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that we need both yin and yang, she points out. “Yin makes us very flex­i­ble and helps us with a more spir­i­tu­ally-med­i­ta­tive way of do­ing things, but we need strength-build­ing, as well.

EMO­TIONAL IM­PACT

ED­I­TOR’S PICK

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