Whilst Yin is a gorgeously deep and multi - layered practice it is also immensely simple. I'm conscious of much of my writing on it (ironically even in a post entitled Radical Simplicity in Yin..) veering towards the layers rather than the what how and why of the physical foundation. In a previous jobs I've written entire comms strategies basically on 'simplicity, what, how and why'.. so here I am for once preaching what I've preached..
So what is Yin / how is it practiced?
Poses are generally held for 3-10 minutes and each pose is focused on a specific target area – a specific place in the body you want to feel it ie 'left hip flexor'. The practice involves coming in to a pose in order to feel a sensation in the target area, looking for an ‘edge’; a 7/10, a place where there’s some resistance in the body. You should be able to feel it quite clearly in the target area discomfort - yes, pain - no.
The practice of Yin is then confronting the physical ‘edge’ with softness, intentional and sustained release through letting go of activation of muscles, any gripping holding or striving and becoming still – allowing the pose to come into the body.
In that stillness with the absence of distraction and with the felt sensation, the inner landscape (really any interpretation of that) has rare time and space to be explored in a myriad of directions. Props can be useful in Yin to create sensation or to help the body be soft and still at the edge but not to take the edge away.
Why? - Physical purpose
Yin is multi-layered (see other Blog articles, see many of my instagram posts..) but on a purely physical level:
All living tissues need stress to avoid atrophy (use or lose). Yin stresses the tissues that we rarely stress; fascia* ligaments, tendons, bones themselves. These ‘Yin’ tissues are plastic in nature requiring longer slower stress which Yin, and perhaps not a huge amount else, offers. Think braces on teeth – slow pressure over a long time, sustained not sudden.
Considering limits to range of motion one limit is through resistance/tension (the simple tightness you can feel in the opposite direction of movement ie in the back body when bending or folding forward); Muscles contribute 41% , tendons 10%, connective tissues 47%.
Given that 30% of muscles is fascia this means 70%+ of resistance through 'tightness' comes from 'Yin' tissues. It is therefore obvious that the range of motion and fluidity of movement in the body is dependent on healthy connective tissue and this is exactly what Yin Yoga targets. Unsurprisingly I can attest that Yin has had far greater impact to my flexibility than any other Yoga practice. That's not to say I don't find 'Yang' (dynamic) Yoga practices hugely valuable for different reasons and that's not to say I can now fold in half (Yin won't change your unique skeletal structure - probably for the best..) but there's more space.
This useful stress also stimulates production of synovial fluid in the synovial joints - synovial fluid reduces friction, offers greater fluidity of movement, and sadly decreases with age.
Through calming the mind and breath Yin also takes the body into the Parasympathetic Nervous System rest and digest' mode where the body can rest, process and repair. In this shift, likely alongside a multitude of other factors, Yin can lead to really excellent sleep – really the ultimate in rest and repair.
Why are we so fussed about Fascia?
The term comes from Latin meaning bond or bandage. Think of fascia like a complex immensely clever clingfilm or a giant silvery candyfloss. A complex continuous web essentially everywhere in the body; holding together bones, wrapping and penetrating every muscle, organ, and nerve. It holds us together. For a long time Western researchers thought of it purely as packaging and never investigated it (throwing it away in research) now it's been - and being - discovered as hugely important not just for movement but also the body's internal communication system. As one continuous 'body stocking' it is integral in providing a system to enable all systems in the body to integrate and operate effectively. Fascia transmits information around the body and is now considered our greatest sense organ - with 10 x more nerve ending in fascia than muscle.
Fascia becomes dehydrated and can thicken and contract (shrink) from lack of movement in a particular direction - ie sitting - which restricts our mobility, it can also essentially 'clump' (ie in scar tissue) also causing stuckness.
Yin hydrates fascia and targets this stuckness through slow appropriate stress enabling the fascia to slowly unwind. Stress also keeps existing fascia healthy and responsive which, given that fascia is our greatest sense organ, seems fairly important. Through the (useful) stress of Yin, fascia responds by producing fibroblasts which lay down collagen (again we all know decreases with age, again disappointingly early) and elastin to give fascia both its form and mobility.
There is also huge research and evidence emerging around neuro-fascial interaction or 'issues in tissues' - memories, insights, emotions stored in fascia which can be released through bodywork (Yin offering one such way in) you may well experience / have already experienced emotional release in Yin. Anyway I said I'd stick to physical already you can see this release and un-stuckness is across many layers, realistically I don't think mind and body can or should be considered separately. But for now I'll leave it there.
Basically no-one chucks fascia away anymore and yours is very much worth looking after.