It's more like deep stretching than exercise.
Awhile back, I found myself incredibly burnt out and at my ragged edge of stress. I also felt stiff in my whole body, but especially my outer hips, my IT bands, the backs of my legs, and my traps (between neck and shoulders).
The stiffness got worse and worse, propelled by poor desk posture, daily bike commuting, and never stretching, till it was a constant dull ache.
Yoga had historically never been a great fit for me, as I don’t have the upper body strength to do a vinyasa properly and I’m not coordinated enough to keep up with a fast moving class. (I love Pilates reformer for strength training, but it also contributes to my body stiffness.) I knew I desperately needed a new stretching routine so I started researching other types of yoga, including Yin Yoga.
When I attended my first Yin Yoga class, I found just the delicious deep stretches I was craving. For example, intense hip openers like pigeon, held for 2–5 minutes, with bolsters (a stiff pillow found in yoga studios) and props to keep the stretch manageable. The arrangements of bolsters and blankets, the supportive language used by teachers, and the new-to-me breathing techniques made me feel somehow totally mothered and cared for. I also found it much easier to drop into a nourishing meditative state, relative to seated meditation.
While it was love at first stretch, I’ll admit the first several weeks I felt a bit weird. My muscles had been so stiff that after a Yin class I felt like I walked funny for a few hours. Friends have described a “pinchy” sensation in the muscles after such a different use of them than the norm, and I could relate to that.
But over time I adjusted, and the longer term benefits of Yin Yoga on my life have been undeniable. I don’t feel stiff anywhere in my body — in fact I feel vibrant and great. I also love having a larger toolkit for pain, fear, anger, and frustration. In general I have a significantly more positive outlook on life that has had a ripple effect on every relationship. (I just asked my husband if I’ve been more vocally appreciative of him since starting Yin Yoga and he replied: “Noticeably so.”) It also does wonders for insomnia.
I could try to get into the science behind Yin Yoga, Western (wonderful for joint health) or Eastern (opens the meridians), but I’ll let you learn that stuff from a qualified instructor. You can search Yelp for studios that teach Yin Yoga near you, or sample some online resources if you’d like to try this at home. My favorite online practitioner is Bernie Clark, a retired scientist who does a great job of explaining the process in a rational way. I highly recommend his and other yoga videos at Gaia.com, though they are behind a paywall. ($.99 the first month, $9.99 after, and totally worth it in my opinion. They even have convenient apps for Apple TV, iPhone, iPad, etc.)
Bernie Clark’s Yin Yoga videos at Gaia.com (behind paywall)
Dozens of other great Yin Yoga videos at Gaia.com (behind paywall)
Lower quality Yin yoga videos at Doyogawithme.com (free)
It’s been so easy to grab the Apple TV remote and turn one of these on that I’ve even got my exercise-abhorrent husband hooked.
Thanks for reading and I’d be happy to answer more questions about Yin Yoga in the comments. I hope it’s as helpful to someone who reads this as it has been for me. Stretch away!
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This post was originally published on Medium. It is reproduced with the author's permission.