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Why you might really need Yin Yoga

(Photo: We Heart It)

Busy city-types tend to be have a whole lot of “yang” in their lives—the Chinese medicine term for fire, heat, change, and other high-energy states of being. And they crave it in their workouts, flocking to Barry’s Bootcamp, SoulCycle, and sweatier yoga styles, like Ashtanga, Bikram, and Baptiste.

But a growing school of yogis have joined with doctors of Chinese medicine to sound the call for balance, favoring yoga classes that temper all that hyped-up yang energy with its more peaceful opposite, “yin” (think water, darkness, cold, moon, and rest).

Enter Yin Yoga, a technique superstar yin teacher Joe Barnett defines as “the practice of quiet and surrender.” The gist, he explains, is simple: 1) Stay in each pose for at least a few minutes at a time. And then 2) Let go.

Both of which, of course, are easier said than done. When Barnett made the switch from his original practice, which he described as “incredibly yang,” he found it “maddening to linger quietly in a pose for three to five minutes,” he admits. “[But] it was just what I needed at that time—a dynamic and vigorous practice to snap me out of my debilitating mind/body patterns.”

(Photo: Joe Barnett)

Barnett eventually met Paul Grilley—one of Yin Yoga’s leading lights who has brought attention to the slow style with his DVDs and classes. Grilley has been his teacher for the past 13 years, and helped him find the evenness his body needed. “[Yin yoga’s] lubricating and energizing effects on the joints make all my yang activities (yoga or otherwise) much lighter and more fluid,” raves Barnett, who now spends 90 percent of his year traveling to teach Yin Yoga at studios and festivals. (We met him at Wanderlust.)

Letting it all go

As for “letting go,” as Barnett describes it, it isn’t as ambiguous or daunting as it might initially sound to fiery type-A-ers.

Physically, Barnett says it’s about relaxing the muscles while holding long poses and applying gentle therapeutic pressure to gradually move energy along the body’s connective tissues. (Bones and ligaments, the theory goes, need this stimulation to maintain structural integrity and hydration.) Intense yang exercise stimulates our muscles, while yin takes care of everything else.

But emotionally (deep breath), letting go in Yin Yoga is all about calming the mind and heart from an over-stimulated state of anxiety, Barnett says, by going into an almost meditative state while holding poses for three minutes, five minutes…or even longer. While yang styles of yoga tend to awaken or stimulate subtler feelings, yin is all about quieting things down.

None of which means fans of serious sweat sessions need to forsake their jump-backs, marathon training, or handstands—the whole point is harmony. Barnett recommends Yin Yoga as a supplement for anyone who needs a way to even out out their more dynamic, action-packed workout routine, as well as for anyone looking for more mental, emotional, and spiritual balance.

In other words, all of us. —Ann Abel

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