Meditation is all about being still, but that can be tough if you find the seated pose uncomfortable. If you’re having trouble sitting comfortably for the length of your meditation, you might want to check out Yin Yoga. This style of yoga is designed to help you sit longer and more comfortably when you’re meditating. It is made up of deep, passive stretches that are held for longer periods of time.
Yin yoga gets its name from the Taoist concept of Yin and Yang. These opposite forces make up the entire world around us. Yin is the stable, hidden aspect of things, and Yang is the moving, revealing aspect. Most yoga we think about in the western world is an active, yang practice. It focuses on strengthening muscles and cleansing our bodies. Yin yoga focuses on the connective tissue in the body and helps to prepare you for the still practices such as meditation.
Another aspect of Taoism is qi (pronounced chee). Qi is the energy flowing through the body and meridians are the pathways it follows. Practices such as meditation, Tai Chi, yoga, and acupuncture seek to balance this energy. Recently, Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama and Dr. James Oschman have been studying the possibility that the connective tissues running throughout the body might be the pathways that allow qi to flow through our bodies. This is where Yin yoga focuses.
Focusing on working the connective tissues might strike you as odd. Most of the time, you only hear about the connective tissues when dealing with some sort of injury, such as strained backs or blown out knees and shoulders, so our instinct is to avoid using them in exercise. However, as with any form of exercise, yin yoga focuses on working these tissues in order to strengthen them. In this way, yin yoga is a great choice for athletes who are at risk of joint injuries like the ones I listed before.
It is important to remember that connective tissues are still very different from muscle and so should not be worked in the same ways. When lifting weights, we are working our muscles by continually lifting the dumbbell; this repetitive motion is what builds muscle. When strengthening connective tissues, the trick isn’t to repeat the stretch, but to hold the stretch for longer periods of time.
So, what is different about participating in a Yin yoga class as compared to other yoga classes? Many of the poses are similar, but have been modified so that the muscles are relaxed during the stretch. This is what allows us to really work the connective tissues. Think of it this way, if someone tugs on your arm, you instinctively tense your muscles to protect your shoulder and the connective tissues around it. Yin yoga poses put you in a position where your muscles can relax and so the stretch focuses on the connective tissue. The poses are held for a longer time than in other classes, 1-3 minutes for beginners and 5 minutes or more for advanced practitioners.
Consider taking a class or two to introduce yourself to the altered poses and learn how to listen to your body when stretching. Try committing to practicing yin yoga just twice a week and you’ll see how it can change the way you feel when you sit down to meditate, helping you maintain your posture, and deepen your practice.