Easy Yin Yoga for beginners
Easy Yin Yoga for Beginners
I remember my first Vinyasa yoga class like it was yesterday. I was never the sporty type, but I really enjoyed the practice. It wasn't until my first Yin Yoga class, that I was completely blown away! 2 hours of pure magic and I instantly knew that I just discovered something special, a practice that will change my life forever.
What is the physical aim of yoga? It might surprise you (it surprised me indeed!) but the whole reason why monks, thousands years ago, practised yoga was to strengthen their body so they can comfortably... sit and meditate for hours
At first you might think that sitting isn't very high on the difficulty scale, however have you tried sitting cross legged with a straight spine for longer than 2-3 minutes? You will discover that your shoulder are rolling forwards, you really want to lean against something and you remind yourselves that you actually have sit bones and kneecaps. Your eyes are wandering and your mind is already planning the food menu for your child's birthday party next week...
In the modern world we are not accustomed to siting still in one position, hence we need yoga more than ever. Most yoga styles like Vinyasa and Ashtanga focus on strengthening the body and muscles, but what about joints, ligaments, bones? They play a key role in how our body moves and our movement range.
What is Yin Yoga?
Yin yoga is a passive practice that focuses on the deep connective tissue in your body. It's a slow paced, meditative style of yoga, where positions are hold for longer periods of time. We let gravity do most of the work for us
Yin yoga is a mix of Chinese/Taoist philosophies and traditional styles of yoga. Although many Asanas appear similar to what we know form Vinyasa or Ashtanga classes, the poses often have different names and the aim of the practice is to get deep to the fascia, rather than stretching or strengthening muscles. It also helps to restore the flow of Chi (Prana) through our body.
Yin yoga targets fascia, joints, ligaments and bones, while also soothing and calming your mind. It's the perfect practice for those who want to look inwards. Holding each pose for longer allows us to focus on our breath, tackle discomfort and simply be present here and now instead of racing towards another pose.
At first yin yoga might feel "easy", although once you on the mat, you will realise that remaining in the same pose for a couple of minutes (especially when we feel slight discomfort) is not an easy task at all. Your mind roams, breath gets shallow, eyes stray... it takes a lot of practice to keep your thoughts quiet and focused on your inner world the whole time length of the pose.
How long to hold yin yoga poses
There is no answer fit all, but there are some good guidelines on where to start from. As a beginner you should aim to hold the pose between 1-3 minutes. You should feel comfortable with a small amount of stress applied to the area you are working on. If you are fidgety and uncomfortable, it usually means you went too far. Remember that Yin Yoga NEVER hurts. If you feel pain, tingling or numbness get out of the pose immediately.
As you progress you will want to slowly extend the time for each pose up to even 10-15 minutes. The optimal time, often done at commercial yoga classes, is 3-5 minutes.
Be mindful that no one position feels the same (your hamstrings might feel much tighter than lets say your shoulders) so adjust the time for each body part and its capabilities rather than forcing the same stretch of time on all poses. Further more there are differences between both sides of your body, often you will find the dominant side to be stronger and more flexible.
Another aspect to keep in mind is that you might not feel the same every day, some days you might be able to get much deeper into the pose than on another days.
What are the benefits of Yin Yoga and why you should start practicing it now?
The benefits of Yin Yoga:
- Improved flexibility and joint mobility
- Release and lengthen fascia
- Reduce stress and anxiety
- Calm mind
- Better sleep
- Improved blood flow
3 principles of Yin Yoga
These principles, when remembered, make your practise safe and fruitful. They were named by Sarah Powers, one of the first people who brought yin yoga to the western world and made it popular. She is one of the founders of this style of yoga. I highly recommend books by this teacher if you want to dive deeper into Yin Yoga
1) Find your edge.
When practising Yin Yoga find a balance between actively working in the pose and making progress (no matter how small) and pushing yourself too far. It's difficult because we all strive for progress. Imagine yourself a scale where 0 means no sensation at all and 10 is pain. Finding your edge means finding your golden spot somewhere around 4 or 5 on this scale. This means you are actively stressing fascia and progressing, yet you are not fidgety, waiting for the pose to end or - worst - in pain.
2) Be still
Once you find your edge and get settled in the pose, be still. It's tempting to escape the discomfort of the pose and move even slightly to distract your brain. That's why it's so important to assess your edge correctly, take under consideration the you will be in the same position a few minutes. Remember that a really deep stretch might feel good initially, but after a minute or two of holding it could be too much.
3) Hold the pose
This is when the magic happens! Focus on your breath and the sensations in your body. Hold the pose anything from 1 to 10 minutes. More intense poses will require shorter times, while the more experienced Yogis will be able to hold even 10-15 minutes. 3-5 minutes per pose (or per side) is enough to reap the benefits of the pose.
The reason why we hold poses in Yin Yoga for an extended period of time is because we are trying to target joints, fascia, ligament and bones. Their structure is completely different from muscles and hence we need to treat them differently. Stressing and putting pressure on connective tissue over time will make it stronger.
Do you need any props for Yin Yoga? The short answer is yes, although many of them you can already find in your home.
Props are really useful in Yin Yoga practice to close up any "gaps" eg. between your sit bone and floor when in swan pose or between knees and the ankles when in the square pose. Sliding a blanket, yoga block or a book might help you stay in the pose for the required time and will slowly help you build up the needed flexibility without the risk of contusion.
The best props for Yin Yoga
- Yoga Blocks - you can swap them with thick books
- Yoga bolster - you can use a thickly rolled blanket or cushions instead
- A blanket to fill smaller gaps and keep you warm
- Yoga strap - you can easy swap them with a regular belt
- Warm, loose clothes and cosy socks because we don't move much in Yin Yoga so it's easy to get cold
Each pose can be treated as a mini-meditation and that's why Yin Yoga is my absolute favourite type of yoga!