Yin Yoga Practice
Like traditional Yang yoga practices, Yin yoga is designed to align the body’s energies to prepare for more subtle states, like meditation. You can offer Yin yoga to students who feel stuck energetically to help them move the energy and encourage balance.
Considering human physiology, moving before we sit for an extended period of time makes sense. According to the yoga sutras, we must practice pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses) and one-pointed focus to achieve a state of meditation. As we’ve discussed, the pranamaya kosha is embedded within the annamaya kosha. The energy within the pranamaya kosha includes blood, which carries oxygen. When the body is still for long periods of time, the blood begins to pool. Fortunately, as modern-day yogis, we don’t run into this problem as often as they did in ancient times.
To engage in a holistic spiritual practice like Raja yoga, known as the royal yoga of devotion and renunciation, you need a complete practice that includes pratyahara, concentration, meditation, chanting, and other activities that require a lot of sitting. When you practice asana before meditation, you help your energy to flow freely. Practicing asana also helps to calm the mind before meditation.
The yoga sutras instruct us to begin practice with the yamas and niyamas. We can do this by selecting a practice space that’s bright, clean, has good circulation, and is free from clutter. We get our bodies and minds ready for practice with the niyamas, or five observances, purifying ourselves both physically and mentally.
Yin yoga practice is similar in preparation. The first step in Yin yoga preparation is to make sure we’re supported mentally with a clean space and physically with yoga props. We come clean to the practice so that we can channel energy more easily. As we practice Yin yoga, we move energy through various centers of the body, and we observe the felt effects of the rebound of energy.
How to Practice Yin Yoga
When practicing Yin yoga, the muscles should be cool. This prevents stress meant for the ligaments, joints, and bones from transferring to the muscles instead. Good times to practice Yin yoga are late at night or early in the morning when the muscles haven’t been recently heated up by yang activity. Practicing Yin yoga before a yang activity can benefit both elastic and plastic tissues.
You can also practice Yin yoga to counter seasonal shifts. Yin yoga practice during the spring and summer, when the weather is warm or hot, can help balance the body. It’s also helpful to practice Yin yoga when your daily energy is more yang and/or needs to be conserved.
Yin yoga poses should be held just deep enough so that students can feel sensation without overwhelming stress. Yin yoga poses also require stillness over a long time. Props are used in Yin yoga to help students find the right depth for their particular bodies.
Yin Yoga and Energetics
Orbiting energy is a big part of Yin yoga. We do this by working with the pranamaya kosha, using the breath to move energy through the nadi channels. You can begin to teach students how to orbit energy by guiding them to inhale and exhale gently while elongating their inhalations and exhalations with each round of breath. Have students visualize each inhale as it moves from the nostrils down the spine to the base of the tailbone. Have them visualize each exhale as it moves up the spine and out of the nostrils. Once the breath is established, students can focus on orbiting energy in various directions. Here are some examples of how to cue students to orbit energy:
Rebounding is another energetic tool that we can use in Yin yoga. In Yin yoga, we work with the plastic tissues of the body with the goal of compressing, stressing, and encouraging cellular healing and hydration. To do this, we have to begin by working with the fascia that surrounds the muscles. As we hold each Yin yoga pose, we work deeper to compress ligaments and joints. Long holds in Yin yoga help fascia to open over time. The compression these holds offer starves the joint of fluid while stretching fascia around the joint capsule. When compression is released, the joint capsule is freed, but the fascia remains slightly stretched and more open. Fluid then rushes back to the joint capsule, and this flood of hydration is felt in the body as the rebound.
When we feel the rebound in Yin yoga practice, we are feeling fluid, nutrients, and oxygen as they flood back into the joint capsule. This feels like a throbbing sensation. During the rebound, we have the opportunity to rest in a more restorative way, allowing the effects of practice to wash over the body and mind.
When teaching Yin yoga, counterbalance compressive poses with rebound poses that are more restorative in nature, giving students a few minutes to completely relax. Note that each rebound pose should be held for about half the time of the compressive pose. Below is a table that lists several active Yin yoga poses and their rebound counterparts.