When we think of the word “yin” for many of us the first thing that comes to mind is the yin and yang symbol. The taijitu symbol. The yin and yang are very popular in the Taoism (Daoism) philosophy.
Through Taoism we come to understand yin and yang as the two halves that make the whole. It is seen as the starting point for change. In simple terms Yin and Yang are equal opposites. Where one ends the other begins. Without one the other ceases to be. At its core this is the definition of balance and harmony.
When referring to these terms in yoga, yang is consider practices such as Hatha or Vinyasa but it can also be any activity that raises the heart rate or produces warmth in the body. It’s opposite is yin, this includes yin yoga but one could also include forms of meditation, restorative yoga or any activity that slows the body and mind down, is cooling and slows the heart rate.
Yin yoga was first introduced by Kung-Fu Master Paulie Zink. Master Zink was trained by a direct descendant of the Tai Shing Pek Kwar and is the only westerner to be trained in its secret knowledge. From his training Master Zink developed yin yoga and what we commonly practice today is only a fraction of Master Zink’s “Art of Yin” and considered to be beginner level.
It is said that yin is not a complete practice on its own, It is a complementary practice to all other forms of yang activity. But complementary does not mean unnecessary, it means to complete or go with something.
Through yin we stretch and strengthen. Holding pose for 3-5 minutes we allow the space to get into the deepest tissues of the body. Referred to as the plastic tissues, these are the tendons, ligaments,facia and bone.
You may be thinking “but I stretch” or maybe you ask “why do I have to hold so long?”.
When we actively stretch before an activity, we are stretching muscle tissue. This is important and should be done. However we generally forget or maybe hardly think about the deeper connective tissues. The tendons, ligaments, facia and bones are rarely considered, until we experience injury and when we recover we tend to again forget about them.
Poses are held for the 3-5 minutes because, it takes 120 seconds (2 minutes) for these plastic tissues to even begin to change. The extra minute or more allows the body time to become more deeply nourished.
This change is brought on by hydration from hyaluronic acid, which over time and different activities and injuries is depleted. This depletion causes the plastic tissues to shorten become rigid and brittle . As we take the time to hold a pose this hydrating acid begins to build and allow the tissues to lengthen,strengthen and become more flexible. All of this allows for healing of injuries, more fluidity in our movements and more flexibility in our everyday lives.
Yin yoga practice is also a practice of the mind. Every pose offering us a few moments of mindfulness work. Working to stay present, with the breath and in our body. Allowing for deeper expansion of the mind body connection.
Through a multitude of physical injuries (I’m a daredevil at my core) bone and soft tissue deformities and weaknesses and surgeries, all by the age of 35. At age 50 add diagnosis of fibromyalgia and psoriatic arthritis, there are days that the act of getting out of bed has been my biggest accomplishment.
Through yoga and in some cases, more specifically Yin yoga, I have found more healing then through many years of physical therapy, avoiding powerful medications and even more surgical interventions. I continue to move in ways and have more flexibility then my array of doctors can comprehend. Through the mindfulness of this practice I now more then ever am able to choose whether “I suffer”or “I learn” and I have found myself able to lean into the “now” without dwelling on the past or fearing my future.
It may be physical or in the mind but I can say that it holds challenge for each of us. It will not only change but actually improve other activities. Whether you’re a beginner or advanced yogi, runner, swimmer or weightlifter, Yin Yoga is for you.
Dedicated to the doctor that said to me “You will be in severe pain for the rest of your life and it will likely only get worse” I say “NO”