Yin Yoga

“The real yoga is what you can’t see.” – David Williams

I teach about 17 yoga classes a week.  And keep in mind that these classes are mostly very active, heat forming, muscle strengthening, yang-style yoga classes.  The one thing I’m missing right now, are slower, yin-style yoga classes.  Which is why I was so pumped to attend a Yin Yoga workshop last week, hosted at Cooper Fitness at Craig Ranch. 

Yin Yoga is a quiet, cool, gentle asana practice that is generally targeted for the deeper connective tissues and areas between the knees and navel.  To be most effective the muscles need to be relaxed.  If the muscles are warm and active they will tend to absorb most of the tension of the stretch.  Therefore a Yin practice is best done early in the morning when the muscles are cool, before an active yang practice, when life has become very hectic, and after a long trip. 

There are only three dozen postures or so in the entire Yin practice, which is much less than the more active yang-style practices.  In a typical Yin Yoga class you may move thru 8-13 asanas.  Because the poses are held longer (1-8 minutes each) the benefits of the pose reach past the muscular system and effect the connective tissue and joints. 

 “New depths in postures, deeper ranges of motion, or an increased flow of energy may only be achievable by focusing on the deeper tissues of the body.” (www.YinYoga.com)

The yoga instructor who was leading the Yin Yoga workshop was Michelle Mixell.  She is a 500-hr RYT who has recently teamed with Dr. Troy Allam of Craig Ranch Chiropractic to conduct a four week randomized trial evaluating the practice of Yin Yoga on individuals with varying degrees of chronic low back pain.  Specifically, they analyzed the effects of this calm and quiet practice on improving low back muscular and nerve function and pain relief.  What did their study conclude?  Their findings suggest that Yin Yoga may be a safe and effective treatment for improving certain indices of chronic low back pain and for improving lower limb function.

As someone who suffers from lower back pain, I am very interested in how Yin Yoga works.  Especially because after the Yin Yoga class lead by Michelle, my lower back was pain free for several days following the practice.  I thoroughly enjoyed the cool, gentle, and quiet practice.  Yin Yoga will now be a weekly addition to my yoga routine.

 Below are a few Yin Yoga poses modeled by my very flexible son, Tre.  Information on the specific Yin Yoga asanas is from the book “Yin Sights” by Bernie Clarke.

CAMEL POSE: Yin-version is very similar to traditional yang-version.

Benefits:

  • The camel deeply arches the sacral/lumbar spine and opens the top of the thighs.
  • Stretches the hips’ flexors and opens the shoulders.

Contra-indications:

  • Without support, the back can spasm, so people with weak backs may want to do only the gentle versions.
  • If you have any neck issues, do not drop head back – keep the chin to the chest.

Alternatives & Options:

  • There are two ways to go into this pose – by holding hands on the hips and keeping the hips forward as you arch back, or by having the hands on the floor behind you and walking the hands forward, until you have reached an edge.
  • Dropping back may be unsuitable for people with back problems, because there is little support from the hands in this version.  Do the hands on the floor version instead.
  • Walking the hands on the floor toward the feet may be unsuitable for people with knee problems because there is more pressure in the knees in the early stages of this variation.
  • Very flexible students may wish to bring their hands to the floor between the feet, or move the hands toward the knees.
  • For less flexible students, the toes can be tucked under and the hands rested on the heels, or on a block between the feet.

Meridians & Organs Affected:

  • Urinary bladder, kidney, and stomach meridians.
  • Sometimes the upper arms and shoulders are stressed, which stimulates the heart and lung meridians.
  • Thyroid is stimulated, if the neck is dropped back.

Joints Affected:

  • The spine, shoulders and ankles.

Hold for how long?

  • One to two minutes at most.

Counterpose:

  • Child’s pose.  Coming out slowly, lift chest forward, allowing the head to remain dropped back until the shoulders are over the hips, then bring the head forward and sit back into Child’s pose.

 

MELTING HEART: yang-version is half-down dog (puppy)

Benefits:

  • Good stretch for the upper and middle back;
  • Will also open shoulders.
  • Softens the heart.

Contra-indications:

  • Be careful: if student has a bad neck, this could strain it.

Alternatives & Options:

  • If shoulder pain prevents the arms going over head, move arms wider apart.
  • Flexible students can bring chin to floor and look ahead, but this could strain the neck.
  • If knees are uncomfortable here, place a blanket underneath them.
  • Toes can be tucked unde.;
  • Chest can be rested on a bolster (allowing the body to relax);
  • Can do this pose with just one arm forward at a time, resting the head upon the other forearm.

Meridians & Organs Affected:

  • Along the spine: Urinary Bladder lines.
  • The arm meridians, especially the Heart and Lung lines.

Joints Affected:

  • Upper back (which is actually the scapula, not the thoracic spine).
  • Mildly stresses the lower spine;.
  • Shoulder/Humerus joint.

Hold for how long?

  • Three to five minutes;
  • If the student is resting chin on floor, the hold may need to be shorter … the student has to carefully watch the sensations in the neck.

Counter poses:

  • Lying on stomach, or go back to Child’s Pose.

Other Notes:

  • It is nice to do this pose after a series of lower back bends.
  • Could be used as a gentle warm up to deeper back bends.
  • If students feel pinching in the back of the shoulders, they may be reaching a compression point … abducting the arms (moving them farther apart) may release this. If this does happen here, it probably happens in Down Dog and the Wheel too, so they may be well advised to have hands wider in these poses.
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