Yin yoga is a slow, meditative practice composed of seated and supine postures designed to “mindfully stress” the body’s connective tissues, explains Seattle-based instructor Pamela Chang.
These tissues, including tendons, cartilage, and the full-body subcutaneous casing known as fascia, are most concentrated in and around the joints, where they can stiffen and shorten with age or inactivity. Mobilizing the tissues lubricates them and makes them more supple. Yin yoga is one way to achieve this.
Yin is suitable for both beginners and more experienced yogis, though it’s common for newcomers to struggle to remain still for several minutes at a time.
The key to getting the most benefits from this practice is to listen to your body and ease into longer holds. Stop when you find resistance. The sensation may feel uncomfortable, but never painful.
“I follow my breath and the changes in sensation,” Chang says, “and I enjoy the mindful process of slowly letting go over several minutes.”
Perform the following three postures on their own or sequenced for a gentle flow.
- Sit on the floor with the soles of your feet together, about an arm’s length away from your body. Let your knees fall apart. Fold forward with a rounded spine until you feel a stretch through your hips and back.
- Find a comfortable place to rest your forehead — you can use a yoga block (or two) with your fists stacked on top of each other as a makeshift prop.
- Relax your muscles and hold for four to five minutes.
Make it easier: If your back or hips feel tight, sit on a folded blanket to tilt your pelvis forward. If you want more support for your hips, try placing a yoga block under each knee.
- Sit on the floor with your left leg extended. Bend your right knee and place your right foot outside your right hip with the top of your foot on the floor. If you feel pain in your knee or ankle, sit on a block.
- For more intensity, lean your upper body back toward the floor, and come down to your elbows or lie flat. If leaning back hurts your knee or ankle, stay upright.
- Relax your muscles and hold for four to five minutes. Repeat on the other side.
Make it more challenging: If you can’t feel a stretch in your right quadriceps, bend your left knee and place your left foot flat on the floor with your knee pointing upward. For the deepest stretch, draw your left knee toward your chest.
- Lie on your back. Bring your arms overhead and bend your upper body to your right.
- Walk your feet over to the right to feel a stretch on the left side of your body. Keep your glutes and shoulders on the floor.
- Interlace your hands overhead or cup opposite elbows to help hold your arms in place. Try crossing your left ankle on top of the right ankle to help hold the legs in place.
- Relax your muscles and hold for four to five minutes. Repeat on the left side.
Make it easier: If this feels intense on your shoulders, place a block under your arms for support.
This originally appeared as “Yin Yoga Flow” in the October 2018 print issue of Experience Life.