How to safely practice Yin Yoga
WHEN PEOPLE HEAR ABOUT STRESSING THEIR JOINTS, as we intentionally set out to do in Yin Yoga, concerns about overstretching dense connective tissues and ligaments crop up. I’ve noticed that this fear is often the result of practitioners confusing stress with stretch. Stress is force applied to something—in this case, joint tissue. Stretch is the subsequent lengthening that occurs due to the stress placed on that tissue. But not all stress causes stretch—and in Yin Yoga, the intention is to moderately stress our joints to promote the health of the tissues in and around our joints, not to overly lengthen these tissues. In Yin, we’re not seeking deep postures or extreme ranges of motion. We’re simply bringing the body to a tolerable edge and gently stressing those tissues in service of activating the mechanisms of remodeling and repair. Of course, as with any yoga style, people might override the alarm signals of pain and end up with an injury. Intention and awareness are the keys to safe practice, no matter what style of yoga. These five principles will help you stay safe.
1 Move with intention. When you enter a Yin pose, it should be with the intention to target a particular area with a moderate amount of positive stress. When you do this, you will probably feel a dull, slightly achy sensation. These feelings should not be intense, but slightly outside your comfort zone. (Read: The sensation should feel manageable, and you should be able to breathe naturally while holding the pose.) 2 Know your edge. If 10 is strong pain and 0 is the absence of sensation, try to stay between a 2 and a 4 on the sensation scale. Inappropriate sensations include anything characterized as pain: sharp, burning, or electrical sensations mean you should back off to a milder edge or exit the pose entirely. Also, numbness or a tingling sensation indicates you need to find a different alignment or modification for the pose.
3 Strategically relax your muscles. Once you get into a Yin Yoga pose, try to relax the muscles in the area(s) you’re targeting, which will actually shift the emphasis of the pose from your muscles to the dense connective tissues in and around your muscles and joints.
4 Stay relatively still for relatively long periods of time. The intensity of Yin Yoga is generated by the amount of time your muscles are relaxed in each pose. To start, hold each pose for two to four minutes, potentially building up to 5 minutes or longer as your body adapts to the practice. Just remember: You don’t want the principle of being still to override the other principles of finding your edge—and coming out of the pose (or modifying it) if the sensations become too intense. 5 Exit Yin Yoga poses slowly. When any tissue is exercised, it will be immediately weakened post exercise. For this reason, you’ll likely feel fragile and vulnerable in the areas you stressed. While this should fade within a few minutes, it’s important to come out of each pose slowly, and give yourself a minute or two to recalibrate.