Fitness Magazine

Is Yin Yoga Right for You?

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Baxter
Is Yin Yoga Right for You?We recently received two questions regarding a style of yoga known as Yin Yoga, in which one assumes certain yoga poses, often done sitting or down on the floor, and passively holds the poses for 3-5 minutes.  An example of a pose done in the Yin way would be Sukasana (Seated Crossed Legs) with a forward fold, done passively for the allotted time. As a disclaimer, I have limited personal experience with Yin Yoga, but have done several two hours sessions over the years.
According to articles that can be found online at Yoga Journal Magazine, as well as the websites of two well-known teachers of Yin Yoga, Sarah Powers and Paul Grilley, Yin Yoga is more than just doing yoga asana a particular way. There is a focus on not just affecting the physical structure of the muscles, bones and connective tissue, but reportedly also influencing the energetics of the body via stimulation of certain Chinese meridians associated with the acupuncture/pressure systems. And there is an emphasis by some teachers also on working with the discomfort that arises in holding the poses longer, as a form of meditation. The concern both of our readers brought up had to do with how safe it might be to stretch the joint stabilizers known as the ligaments via this approach to yoga asana. One of the readers self-identified as being very flexible already, in her 50s, and noted that after a recent Yin workshop (which she found wonderful on many levels), she was left with joint pain for days after the practice and possibly some chronic pain. She specifically wondered if Yin style of practice is safe for students who are hypermobile and don’t really need more flexibility in their joints.
I wish this was an easy question to answer. I might start by saying that there is probably a style of yoga best suited for each of our unique body types, and conversely, there are some styles of yoga less beneficial for you. Secondly, I would recommend, as Paul Grilley does in one of his balanced articles on Yin style of practice, that you need to proceed slowly and with lots of attention, sometimes to subtle body signals, as you try out a new style of practice like Yin Yoga, if you have never done it before. With Yang styles of practice, which is just to say more active asana styles where you are more likely to be engaging muscle groups on both sides of joint that is moving, you will experience what is called your “active range of motion” of your joints, meaning that which you can create by contracting the muscles around the joint alone. However, this is not the “full” range of motion for most joints.
In anatomy circles, there is another term to describe this second stage of joint movement, “passive range of motion,” which usually involves gravity or some other part of the body taking you past the active range of motion place. An example would be lying on your back and using your muscles alone to bring your knees into your chest, like an upside down Child’s pose. This would be the active range of motion of your hip and knee joints in flexion (bending forward). Now, if you take your arms around your shins and pull with your arms (your “outside” force), your legs fold in deeper, thus taking you to your passive range of motion. The idea here is that this may be good for your overall flexibility and joint health, as some compression of the joints seems to be good for the cartilage of the joints as we discussed in our posts on osteoporosis and arthritis. When you flip over and do regular Child’s pose, you now have the full weight of the body pressing down on your hip and knee joints and this might get you even more deeply into the full range of motion of the joint. The question is how much is safe and where do things get potentially troublesome. The answer to that, again, is not easy.
Most sources I can find suggest that keeping your connective tissues—like the fascial containers around all of your muscles—mobile is a good idea. They also suggest that ligaments, the usually smaller bands of connective tissue that keep two bones in a joint close together are not designed to actually stretch much at all without the risk of injury, tearing and chronic looseness. Two things to watch out for if you try out Yin type classes: do I have persistent pain for more than a day or so after class?  And do my joints feel too loose, wobbly or unstable after such practices? If neither situation arises, this style of practice may be fine for you. If either does arise, maybe this practice is not for you. A combination of a Yin type practice with an active Yang style practice may work well for some. And if props take away some of the physical intensity of sensation when you are in Yin poses, this could possibly be a safer way for some to try the longer passive holds of Yin style without causing joint pain or overstretching of ligament. So do experiment a bit and see what you can discover to find the style that works best for you. 

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