What is yin yoga? Many of us recognize yoga as a physical activity focusing mainly on flexibility and muscle strength. As a society, we tend to emphasize the importance of muscle strength and forget about other important tissues such as joints, ligaments, and even bones. Yin yoga works to strengthen the health of these connective tissues through asanas (poses) that are often held for 3-5 minutes and are mostly done on the floor or mat. Appropriate for almost all levels of students, yin yoga complements more yang-based or dynamic yoga (think Vinyasa or Ashtanga) extremely well. It is also incredibly beneficial for those without a yang-based yoga practice, athletes of all kinds, as stress relief, and to aid in many bodily healing processes.
There are three very important things to always remember when practicing yin yoga; time, edge, and stillness. When you first come into a Yin pose, you will likely feel some tightness in the muscles associated with the pose. But, remember that we are not trying to work on the health of the muscles but instead of the connective tissue. In order to reach these deep tissues, we must first give the muscles enough time to soften and relax before the connective tissues begin working. The edge really refers to your edge. After the muscles have had enough time to soften and relax, you will begin to feel some sensation in the connective tissue. There most likely will be some discomfort, but there should never be pain. This fine line between discomfort and pain is what we refer to as your edge. Once the edge has been established, the student then goes onto except the discomfort of the pose to find stillness. Stillness is incredibly important in yin yoga. Once you move or adjust in a pose, your muscles react and are once again contracted. This action takes the stress off of the connective tissue which may feel like relief, but is really opposite of what we want to achieve until an appropriate amount of time has been spent in the pose.
One more very important thing to remember is that Yin yoga may cause discomfort, but should never cause pain. If you ever feel any burning, stinging, strong pulling sensations, sharp pain, shooting pain, or any kind of electrical sensation immediately back of out the pose. A tingling sensation is often associated with the compression of a nerve. If this is what you feel, back out of the pose and come back into it. If the tingling is still there, skip that pose for the day and try again another time.