Yin yoga: the perfect counter-practice

As every good yogi knows, each posture should be followed by a counter pose. But have you considered tempering your dynamic practice with something more static? Journalist Cathryn Scott introduces yin yoga.


The theory behind Yin yoga stems from the Taoist belief that all things can be described by their mutually complementary 'Yin' and 'Yang' aspects.


As Paul Grilley, one of the leading practitioners of this style of yoga, explains on his website, "Yin and Yang can be used to describe all things we are capable of experiencing - whether they are clouds, stars, forests, our thoughts or our bodies.

yin yoga


"Basic examples of Taoist analysis would be: there is always a front and a back to a coffee cup but we can never experience both at the same time.


"The exposed part of the cup is Yang, the concealed part is Yin but both are necessary to form the cup. Or consider the fact that inhaling and exhaling are opposite movements.


"Inhaling is Yang, exhaling is Yin but together they are the 'Tao of Breathing'.


So what's the difference?


Whether you practice ashtanga, Bikram or a gentler form of hatha yoga, in most cases this is what we would call Yang yoga.


It focuses on muscular effort and repetition. It's good for people who lead sedentary lifestyles. It can help overcome fatigue and depression.


But, as Grilley says, yang is only one half of the equation. Our bodies also need to learn to relax and be quiet too - and even though this can come with meditation, it can be a difficult state to achieve for people who practice more dynamic forms of yoga.


A Taoist view of yoga would argue that where muscles and blood are Yang, connective tissues and joints - and in particular those around the hips, pelvis and lower spine - are Yin. And they need difference types of practice to benefit them.


A new style of practice


The first difference you'll notice with Ying is that you practice it when the body is "cold" rather than warmed up from preparatory asanas and stretches.


This ensures that you're targeting the connective tissues and not just the muscles - which themselves are released, rather than contracted. And postures are held for three to five minutes at a time and generally not repeated.


Most are floor-based, focusing on the hips, thighs, pelvis and lower spine, which helps prepare the body and the mind for longer meditation practices.


Taosist theories would dictate that standing poses cannot be Yin poses because they require the use of the muscles to protect the structural integrity of the body.


Taking the focus away from the muscles and deeper into the bones achieves a deeper state of relaxation.


It's all in the name


At first glance, Yin postures will look familiar - and indeed many of them are based on classic yoga asanas.


But because of the difference in emphasis, they're generally given different names. Baddha Konasana (butterly, or bound angle pose) becomes Butterfly. Upavistha Konasana (wide-angle seated forward bend) becomes Dragonfly, and Halasna (plough) is known as snail.


The change in name recognises the different aims and purposes of this practice.





Cathryn Scott is a freelance journalist based in Cardiff. She has practiced yoga for seven years and is about to start a yoga teacher training course with the British Wheel of Yoga.


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