The silver lining of an injury: discovering the benefits of Yin Yoga

Yin Yoga

The older I get, the more I believe that there is a silver lining in everything. This week, it’s my injured foot that continues to teach me the lessons I need to learn. Being grounded for another week from doing my daily Ashtanga practice, I’ve been forced to embrace the benefits of Yin Yoga, the only form of yoga I am allowed to do right now.

Despite my best efforts to keep my injury clean – I cut my foot open on a water glass in a moment of complete mindlessness – it got infected as everybody had warned me it would.

My first reaction was disappointment. I’d finally established a dedicated yoga routine at home that was leaving me pumped up and high on endorphins. I was seeing real progress and the idea to switch from an active, dynamic practice to a passive form of yoga that involves lying stretched out over bolsters holding poses for up to 10 minutes wasn’t exactly appealing

But that’s the silver lining of my injury. Forced to practice patience as I wait for my foot to heal, I’ve found comfort in the stillness and contemplative rest that comes from Yin Yoga.

So what exactly is Yin Yoga?

The term Yin Yoga is relatively new and was coined by Sarah Powers, one of the teachers credited with developing the practice in the West, to distinguish it from the ancient Chinese practice of Taoist Yoga from which it derives.

Unlike the traditional and more popular dynamic Yang Yoga styles of Ashtanga, Hatha, and Vinyasa Flow which are designed to build muscular strength, flexibility and stamina, Yin Yoga is a slow-paced, more internal, passive and cooling practice  focused on downward poses that target the deep connective tissues of the body.

Yin Yoga was first introduced to the West in the late 1970s by martial arts expert and Taoist yoga teacher Paulie Zink and was later developed further by Paul Grilley, as student of Zink’s, and Sarah Powers as a complimentary form to active yoga styles and to train meditation practitioners to sit for long periods of time.

What’s the difference between Yin and Yang Yoga?

In active Yang Yoga styles we move quickly through dynamic sequences in repetitive movements to generate heat and strength. Yin Yoga poses, which are fewer in number, are held for long periods of time, typically from 3-5 minutes, and up to 20 minutes by very experienced practitioners.

While Yang Yoga practices are typically focussed on external and upward poses, Yin Yoga focuses on seated, supine and kneeling asanas that target the lower part of the body, ie. the lower spine, pelvis, inner thighs and hips.

Yin Yoga is a unique practice that requires  us to relax into a pose to soften the muscles in order to access the deep connective tissue of the body – the tendons, ligaments and cartilage – which are hard to open and activate.

Sarah Powers advocates to practice the long-held passive poses of Yin Yoga before  the muscles are warm, ie. before active Yang Yoga asanas. Given its roots in Taoist Yoga, Yin Yoga works with the chi flow through the meridians of the body. Practicing Yin Yoga before the muscles are warmed up, allows the energy to reach the deeper connective tissues of the joints and the corresponding pathways of the meridian system.

Finding your edge

In these long-held floor poses we take the body to an appropriate edge of our range of motion. Yin Yoga is all about listening to the body for feedback before moving deeper to find an appropriate amount of intensity and balance between space and sensation, without worrying too much about alignment or the aesthetics of the pose.

Once we have found our edge, we rest in stillness. Much like in mindfulness meditation, we focus on the breath and observe our sensations, consciously trying to release into the shape of the pose.

“Yin yoga challenges you to sit in the pure presence of awareness.” Sarah Powers

The benefits of Yin Yoga

I know that I stepped on that damn water glass that cut open my foot, because my mind was juggling too many things, as we all do in our busy lives. Practicing Yin Yoga this week has helped me shift gears from active doing mode into passive observation mode.

As I relaxed into the long-held floor poses, I watched my mind and body become more calm and balanced. I’ve come to treasure my Yin practice as a practice in stillness and mindful awareness.  Sitting with your physical edge is a great way to release emotional, physical and mental blockages and to let go of what no longer serves us.

By accessing the deep connective tissue of the body, we create more flexibility in the joints and we make them more ‘juicy’ which helps to protect the joints especially as we age.

There is no reason not to do Yin Yoga. If I can do it with an injured foot, you can do it too. Here are the benefits again in a nutshell:

  • Stillness: yin yoga calms and relaxes mind and body
  • Increased mobility: especially of joints, hips and connective tissues
  • Increased  circulation and balance to the internal organs through improved flow of chi or prana through meridian stimulation
  • Better lubrication and protection of joints (so important as we age!)
  • Release of emotional, physical and mental blockages and tensions

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Ready to try Yin Yoga?

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NB: pending my injury, it is due to be released next week. I can’t wait to share this with you!

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