Our newest yoga teacher, Lynne Fugard, explains all about yin yoga.
Before my first ever yin yoga class I was admittedly a little sceptical. Until then, I had thrown myself into a fast-paced, dynamic style of yoga and was completely addicted to the sweat, stimulation, intensity, endorphins, physical transformation, empowerment, and joy that came with challenging and extending my physical limits. In comparison, the thought of finding stillness of breath, body and mind in long, passive stretches didn’t immediately appeal to my impatient nature. Two hours later however, I left feeling lithe, spacious, focused and relaxed, only regretting that the class had not been longer. I went back a few more times and, sure enough, enduring physical and mental benefits soon began to reveal themselves throughout my usual dynamic yoga practice, as well as in daily life. It turns out that the subtleties of yin were just what my body and mind needed, and now this powerful practice constitutes an essential, balancing supplement to my more “yang” vinyasa practice.
Yin for the Body
A yin yoga class consists of passive, seated and/or supine positions that specifically target the fibrous, collagen-based connective tissues (fascia) that surround every joint, muscle, tendon and ligament in the body. These tissues bind and hold our muscles together, ensuring proper alignment of muscular fibre, blood vessels and nerves, whilst allowing these structures to change shape without impinging on one another as the body moves. Often when we feel we are tight, tense or inflexible in certain areas, or experience chronic pain or discomfort there, it is not actually the muscles that are restricting our range of motion, but rigidity or “densification” in the neighbouring fascia.
“Yang” styles of yoga work on strengthening and lengthening the body’s elastic muscular tissues via short, repetitive isomorphic movements between tension and release. Yin yoga on the other hand adopts the “slow burn” approach: long, passive releases – usually held for around 5 minutes – that deepen into the more plastic connective tissues. Importantly, this requires the muscles around the fascia to completely relax, something that is often easier said than done. Working on these tissues in this way can dramatically enhance the flexibility, stability, control and range of movement in our bodies.
One of the joys of teaching yin yoga is the recognition that every student’s body is completely different, depending on biology, genealogy, habits, posture, daily routine, and previous training and exercise regimens. I’m never surprised when some poses to which I myself have dedicated years of practice seem to be much more accessible to students on their first attempt. In any yin class then, each position is supported with props (bolsters, blankets, blocks and bricks), and can be adapted so that everyone can comfortably soften into the sensations of release with safe alignment.
In that sense, one of the joys of practicing yin yoga is the opportunity to get to know with real detail the specific quirks of your own body, watching it transform. You notice where you are naturally supple, where you are strong and stable, where you struggle to release and let go, and where you can begin to sense opening and improvement.
With a regular yin practice, this enhanced relationship with the body begins to be mirrored by an increasing understanding of the particularities and habits of the mind.
Yin for the Mind
As you melt deeper into each pose, the challenge comes with finding a focused stillness, and staying there: letting your awareness explore the sensations stirring in the body, noticing the emotions that arise alongside them, and the thoughts that attempt to define or distract. At the same time, restorative breath and meditation techniques help to relax the mind by activating the calming parasympathetic nervous system. As opposed to the over-stimulated “fight-or-flight” sympathetic nervous state that is particularly prevalent in London living, this groovier parasympathetic state allows blood flow and activity to increase in the digestive and reproductive systems, as well as the brain, supporting healthy sleep patterns, recovery and rest so that you leave feeling calm, focused and stress-free.
Yin with Lynne is on Wednesdays from 19.30 to 20.30.