Yin vs. Yang
Yin and Yang are the constant balancing forces within life; Yin is the moon to Yang’s sun, the dark to the light, the cold to the hot and the passive to the active. Yin cannot exist without Yang, nor can Yang exist without Yin, and at the centre of this harmonious pairing is called “the Dao.”
“Daoist yoga” or “Daoist Yin” is the predecessor to the “Yin” yoga we practice today. This practice originated in China and Taiwan and is approximately 2000 years old. Daoist yoga was taught along with breathing techniques first thing in the morning to Kung Fu practitioners to prepare them for extended meditation practices. Daoist Yin was also taught to these practitioners as a way to naturally balance the Yin and Yang and the “Chi Flow” within the body.
Daoist yoga is a practice that combines both Chinese and Indian cultural traditions. This form of yoga tries to encompass all; It incorporates the Yin, the Yang, mediation and breath work in order to find the balance of chi flow or “the centre.” Yin yoga as we know it today was later derived from Daoist yoga by martial artist, Paulie Zink, and created popular in the western world by Paul Grilley, Sarah Powers and Bernie Clark. The name of the practice was changed early on by the latter three to avoid confusion between the teachings provided by Paulie Zink, and the much slower, more passive practice of Yin yoga taught by Paul, Sarah and Bernie.
With the new ideas towards Yin yoga, and the introduction of such passivity in a yoga practice, some clarity needed to be provided to differentiate these distinctive styles of yoga. The main yoga styles we see today can be categorized as either “Yin” or “Yang”. Yang styles of yoga go by a multitude of names but are most commonly referred to as “Hatha,” “Vinyasa,” or “Flow.” These forms of yoga in comparison to Yin yoga display opposition within their methods due to the fact that their approach targets independent yet coinciding tissues within the body.
The rhythmic activity of Yang Yoga, or “flow”, heats the body and stimulates the muscle fibres by stretching and contracting, while the cool passivity of a yin practice, where we hold poses for upwards of 5 minutes, establishes stress not stretch, on the connective tissues of the body. The connective tissue targeted in a Yin practice include the fascia and ligaments which live in and around the joints, most of which are quite dry and stiff compared to that of the soft tissue of muscles. The purpose of initiating stress on the connective tissues is so that we can create more space and strength, which in turn creates a larger range of motion within the joint capsules. These tissues respond best to a slower, gentler practice as the more active yang practice would be more likely to damage these tissues, hence why the approach of a Yin practice and even the names of similar style poses are different. e.g.; swan in Yin is quite similar to pigeon in Yang.
There are a multitude of benefits we can receive when stressing our connective tissues, which include strengthening the bones and ligaments within the joint capsules and reducing inflammation while boosting our immune system and improving our natural healing response. But in a Yin practice we also tap into an intricate internetwork within the channels of fascia called “meridian lines.” Meridian lines are said to hold the “Chi Flow,” “Prana” or “Life Force” of the body. We can access meridian lines through many different formats including accupuncture, acupressure and Yin Yoga as they tap directly into these energetic lines. These methods help to release stagnation through the subtle body allowing the chi to flow freely, which encourages increased vitality, organ health, a calmness of the mind and an increased emotional awareness. If the chi were to remain stagnant it could manifest itself as irritability, depression, anxiety, poor circulation, discomfort or physical illness.
Heated Yin vs. Room Temperature Yin
Since the rise of hot yoga, Yin has moved from an early morning, cool practice to a late evening hot practice, and a heated yin practiced in the evening definitely has it’s advantages. In a tighter body, the added external heat in the room and the activity of the day is necessary in order to gain access to the connective tissues that we hope to stress and strengthen. Evening yin is also wonderful before bed as it provides a sense of calm, which allows for a slowing of the mind and a release of mental stress, which can assist us in falling asleep with ease allowing for deep healing rest. However, there is lacking awareness about the benefits of practicing Yin Yoga in room temperature and the often forgotten wisdom of the ancient Daoist practices from which Yin Yoga was born. When we practice Yin yoga in a heated environment we often create so much playability in the soft tissue of the muscles that they receive the majority of the “stretch” that is activated in each pose, leaving the connective tissue with only a small percentage of the stress applied in the posture.
We are also able to be more supported and comfortable in yin postures with a greater availability to props, including blankets and bolsters, thus allowing for more of a restorative experience, which allows us to sink in and sync up that much more with each pose, ultimately benefiting not just the tissues of our body, but all of our physiological systems, our mind, and overall wellbeing. n Yin is practiced without warming the muscles it allows us to access more deeply the connective tissue so they can be the highest receiver of the “stretch” or stress. Studies have also shown that longer, low force stretches that cause distraction within a joint, (when bones are pulled apart), stimulate bone and ligament growth, and produce the greatest amount of permanent elongation, with the least amount of trauma and structural weakening of the connective tissues. For the hyper mobile, heated yin can potentially become a dangerous practice, allowing for too much mobility in the muscles and the joints, and we all know that it is possible to have too much of a good thing. In a heated setting, “your edge,” also known as the safe end point of the range of motion in your muscles, moves to a much further degree making it much easier to overstretch or “pull” your muscles, causing pain, inflammation, and sometimes permanent damage. Since this stress does tend to move more into the muscles and out of the connective tissues, we are also limiting the benefits that would be received if the Chi did have more of an opportunity to become stimulated as it is in a non-heated Yin practice. In a non heated setting, we are
In conclusion, all yoga is good yoga, and all Yin is good Yin. When choosing a Yin class consider your intention. Are you looking for a place to stretch muscle tissue in a toasty room and get a little sweat on? Or are you hoping to create more long-lasting results in joint health and connective tissue elongation? And when we ask ourselves the question of what we are hoping to achieve, the answer will always be clear and worthy.
Bliss YogaSpa offers both heated and non-heated Yin classes, check our online schedule for class times.
Written by Ashlynn Udholm
Edited by Lindsey Park