Yin yoga is simple. There are really only three, sometimes four, rules to follow. These “rules” are the principles of yin yoga and they are how you can tap into the essence of this relaxing practice.
There are many benefits to practicing yin yoga, but I believe that it’s the principles that you learn in practice applied to your daily life that are the most impactful.
Sarah Powers, who is credited with coining the term Yin Yoga says, “Yin Yoga teaches us the art of surrender, both on the mat and in life.” Let us unpack how you can do just that.
Principle 1: Find Your Edge
Finding your edge is all about how far you go into a pose. It’s that place where you hover between comfort and discomfort. As I like to tell my students, “Find the comfort in the discomfort.” Think of your edge as the tipping point just after you move outside of your comfort zone in a pose.
You want the pose to be comfortable enough to be able to be still and hold. But you also want to feel sensation in the pose. Aim for about a 5 out of 10 on your sensation scale. There should be no pain or pinching, but you should be feeling a change in your body.
Yin places good stress on your body to help you open and create more space. This healthy stress helps to find your body’s natural threshold. This threshold can change from day to day, practice to practice. It’s important to never judge yourself based on your previous practices as life, your menstrual cycle, and other factors can impact your body’s capabilities from practice to practice.
Each practice is an opportunity to test your limits and listen to your body. You will notice when your edge changes during a yin practice, as your body opens, and you can move a bit deeper. But most importantly, never push yourself past your edge. This is when you risk injury.
Find Your Edge Off of the Mat
If you always stay inside of your comfort zone, you will never grow. Your edge off of the mat is just after you teeter over into the habits outside of your comfort zone. An example is that it may feel uncomfortable to get up at 6AM. But it’s only uncomfortable until you begin to try and make it a practice. The more you test your limits, the more you’ll be able to grow and evolve your life. This is something I focus on a lot with my private yoga and coaching clients in my Sacred Exploration sessions.
“You never change your life until you step out of your comfort zone; change begins at the end of your comfort zone.” – Roy T. Bennett, author of The Light in the Heart
Principle 2: Be Still
A simple concept, but it can be difficult to practice. It’s not uncommon to believe that yin is an easy practice, but this misconception, if brought to the mat, can make this practice more difficult. The art of being still is not something that is encouraged in modern-day society, which is what makes it all the more important to practice it while on your mat. Once you are in the pose, do all you can to be as still as possible. Let yourself be heavy. Let the mat hold your weight and your worries. Let your body melt and naturally pull itself deeper into the pose.
Your own weight will help you to get deeper into the pose simply by being still. There is no need to force or maneuver your way into the pose. Get your wiggles out beforehand and focus on your breath.
Be Still Off of the Mat
Being still is the antidote to our hustle culture. Physically you may be still most of the day if you work a desk job. But is your mind still? Or is it running around with a million thoughts, to-do lists, and worries?
When was the last time you simply sat and stared out a window really noticing the details around you? Perhaps you keep yourself busy constantly and when you sit down or rest it feels like you’re about to crash. Or maybe being still is uncomfortable to you and you only feel good or like you’re enough when you’re doing something.
Practice being still by taking longer in the shower. Do one task at a time. Take time to notice details. Pay attention to your breath. This is the art of being still outside of your practice.
Principle 3: Hold the Pose
Similar to being still, principle three is all about staying in the pose. As nice as it feels to flow it out in a more active style of yoga, yin asks the opposite of you. This is because yin works with your connective tissue called fascia. Your fascia surrounds your entire skeletal structure, including your muscles, and quite literally helps hold you together.
Your fascia isn’t accessed until a pose is held for 90 seconds. It takes a minute and a half for you to even begin to help your connective tissue let go. Yin poses are held between 3-5 minutes to give your fascia ample time to let go, release, and create more space.
This is beneficial for your entire body, no matter which area a specific pose is targeting as your fascia is interconnected. A release of your fascia in your hips can ripple and cause a release in your shoulders. It’s a win-win!
Hold the Pose Off of the Mat
Have you ever had a project that you quit before you saw results? Or the opposite, you held on too long? This is navigating the concept of holding the pose in real life. It’s the gentle balance of knowing when to hold on and keep going, and when to let it go and move on.
Principle 4: Release Mindfully
Traditionally there are only three principles of yin yoga. But I see a lot online about a fourth principle that I believe is worth paying attention to as well.
It’s very easy to want to slingshot out of a pose and move quickly onto the next one. But the fourth principle of releasing mindfully encourages you to move slowly out of a pose. This is not only important for your body’s safety, but also so you can feel any new sensations and really notice any changes.
Coming out of a forward fold like caterpillar is a great example of a time when you can notice more length in your spine, space between the vertebrae, or a spaciousness down the entire backside of your body.
Release Mindfully Off of the Mat
Are you someone who rushes around trying to tick off everything that’s on your to-do list? Do you pester yourself with needing to get things done as efficiently as possible so you can get more done? Then I recommend that you practice releasing from tasks more mindfully. Notice if you are rushing to the next task. Can you move more slowly into the next thing?