HOT YIN YOGA. Your body wants this and your body NEEDS this.
Being the anatomy and physiology “nerd” that I am, Yin yoga is a GIFT for the body, mind and soul. While my exposure to yoga began years ago, at that time, I was mainly attending periodic Ashtanga flow yoga classes (“Yang” yoga classes). In Yang yoga practice, this occurs via dynamic movement (sun salutations, inversions, standing poses and the like) aimed at building heat in the body. A productive, high-impact and ACTIVE practice, that’s for sure!
Considering the aims of Yang yoga, and the other types of exercise I've mix enjoyed engaging in over the years (i.e. Pilates mat and reformer classes, spin classes, dance/barre classes, bike rides, hikes, neighbourhood walks, living room dance parties, etc.), my body craved a type of exercise that would offset those means of exercise with deep stretching and lengthening of the muscles and beyond.
Enter HOT YIN YOGA!
Yin yoga is a PASSIVE yoga practice. In contrast to Yang yoga, it encompasses a variety of seated, supine (lying flat, facing upward) and prone (lying flat, facing downward) poses that are typically help for 3-5 minutes or slightly longer, depending on the experience of the participant.[i] The ultimate aim of this practice is to have participants be able to sit longer (and more comfortably!) in meditation; meditation also constituting a Yin activity that is highly dependent on the flexibility of your body’s connective tissue and requires feeling free of physical distractions![ii]
Connective tissue wraps every bone, muscle and organ in the body and is most heavily concentrated at your joints (i.e. ankles, knees, pelvis, spine…). These non-malleable areas of the body (areas whose composition are not easily changed or shaped in new ways) not only NEED to be exercised, but need to be exercised DIFFERENTLY than muscle tissue.[iii]
The basic tenet of exercise involves stressing the tissue of the body so that it will respond by being strengthened, which typically occurs via the rhythmic contraction of muscle.[iv] Connective tissue requires the complete opposite type of stress: a slow and steady load, which explains why Yin yoga poses are eased into and then held for a number of minutes. This slow and steady load successfully accesses the connective tissue (which includes tendons and ligaments) and deeper layers of fascia (a type of connective tissue), stretching such tissue that encases the joints.[v] Once you stretch one side of the body in a particular pose and come out of the pose, you will be baffled by the difference you feel in the side of the body that was already stretched, versus the tension that still remains in the un-stretched side of the body.
The result? Stretching and strengthening in the areas of your body that require it the most. While responsible exercise involves a proper warm-up and cool-down with adequate stretching, such bouts of stretching do not access this tissue with this impact. Over time, connective tissue will, unfortunately, gradually shorten to the minimum length required to execute and accommodate your day-to-day activities[vi]; Yin yoga can assist in offsetting this gradual tissue-shortening to keep you more comfortably able to execute and enjoy those activities you’re both required to and desiring to do.
In attending a Yin yoga class, you’ll notice that a particular sequence/combination of stretches are engaged in; not all yoga poses (i.e. poses you may have executed during Yang yoga classes) can be done safely or effectively as Yin poses[vii]. As such, expect a different type of experience during your Yin yoga practice.
Why HOT Yin Yoga?
While the studio will likely be cooled down slightly in temperature from that of a hot Yang yoga class, the heat in the room allows your body to commence your practice in a warmed-up state, allowing for stretching of the connective tissue in the absence of dynamic, heat-building sun salutations that typically start a Yang yoga class. It will be glorious! And, not only will your physical body thank you, if you're in the moment while in your practice and are connected to your breath, your cleared mind and elevated spirit will thank you as well! ;)
And, if you’re lucky, you’ll find a studio that offers later-evening, candlelit classes that have you then going home for a detoxifying bath/shower and collapsing straight into bed!
What have been your experiences with Yin yoga? I'd love to know!