Yin Yoga ~ No Pain, No Gain?
We are honored here at GoddessCeremony to share this lovely guest blog post by Amanda Cantrell, a yogi with over 15 years of experience on her mat. Enjoy!
As a longtime yogini, I never thought of yoga as something that should hurt, or be uncomfortable, or cause me to rethink my time on the mat. Then I went to a yin yoga class.
Now, there will be those out there who say even then it shouldn’t hurt. Hear me out.
Yin yoga is a specific practice that allows for poses to be spicy (one of my favorite words for uncomfortable in yoga!); that allows for poses to create a strong sensation. It asks that once the line of sensation and true pain is found, the pose comes back to just this side of sensation, without crossing into pain. So yes, it shouldn’t actually cause pain, but since I always associate yoga with a feeling of relaxation or stretching that leaves me feeling better when I leave my mat, I consider this yoga that hurts so good.
So why in the world would we want to go to that kind yoga class? Because it is AMAZING!
Yin yoga, also called Taoist yoga, is a practice that focuses on stretching and lengthening the deep connective tissues and muscles. In order to do this, poses are held for an extended amount of time. You want to feel the stretch, but not hurt. It should be spicy, but not painful. Once you find that spot, you will hold…and hold…and hold. Some classes are geared towards newer yogis and will hold for a minute or two, while those with a longer practice history will hold for 5 or more minutes. Just like in a twisting pose, as you exhale, you’ll feel yourself go deeper. And it can get spicy!
Yin yoga is often confused with restorative yoga, and is often paired with a half class of yin and a half class of restorative, which can add to the confusion. The main difference between the two practices is where it focuses your energy. Restorative focuses on letting your body heal, letting it relax, letting it…well, restore. It doesn’t look for the line between pain and sensation; rather it removes any working of the muscles and allows them to relax.
Perhaps this is most easily illustrated with an example. Take a supine spinal twist done on the floor. In yin, your cues might involve placing a sandbag on your upward facing hip, or the shoulder to help guide it closer to the floor. There may be a placement on the knee or an extension of the leg to go further into the pose. Yin wants to help you lengthen your psoas muscle, work that external oblique or glut.
Restorative yoga is going to do the same pose, but place a bolster under your leg, a blanket under your shoulders, maybe one under your neck. You will support any place that does not have direct contact with the floor. Then you will breath and feel yourself sink into it. Restorative yoga wants to create a space where all tension from those muscles melts away.
Due to the low impact, large amount of floor work, and high utilization of props, many consider yin yoga good for every level. While I can see that, I generally tend to recommend it after a consistence yoga practice of a minimum of 6 months, but prefer more towards a year. The reasoning is two-fold. One is that until you have had a regular practice with correct form, posture, alignment, and time on the mat, the large basis and understanding of alignment within this practice will be missing. You have to understand and achieve the alignment for a traditional triangle before you begin to bind.
The second reason is internal awareness. Yin asks its practitioners to balance on the sensation side of pain. While there may be people who are that self-aware of their body earlier, I have found that the kind of awareness that can distinguish, hold, and not push themselves into pain takes some practice. Being able to piecemeal out your oblique from your transverse abdominal and know which muscle is creating the sensation is critical to finding that line and having a productive yin practice. And those skills just take time.
Yin yoga is a practice that uses a lot of props, and moves at a pretty slow pace, especially if you’re used to a hot flow based class. It won’t rev your heart up, or leave you needing a cool shower, but having a regular yin practice allows for your standard practice to expand on a different level. Lengthening those deep muscles will allow for a better forward fold, a deeper pigeon, a stronger plank. Yin yoga will develop a base for taking those poses you’ve mastered to the next level, and allowing poses you never thought you’d experience to become some of your favorites.
Add a little yin yoga, and you’ll add a little spice to your practice!
About the Guest Blog Writer~
Amanda Cantrell is a yogi with fifteen years of practice under her belt. She is passionate about yoga, and is that friend who is always asking you to go with her to a class. Amanda has a wide background in public education, non-profit work, theatre, and of course-yoga. Currently she resides in Anchorage, Alaska with her husband and two furkids. Amanda loves to travel, learn, read, write, paint, do yoga, and act in the theatre community. Her favorite pose is probably pidgeon or dancer, and is often reminded of the anonymous quote, "Blessed are the are flexible, for they shall not be broken."
You can find her online at thebendyraven.wordpress.com,
on Instagram @thebendyraven