Seeing the word “yin” tends to conjure its counterpart: yang. Visually, these two represent the complementary aspects of opposing sides of a circle, but in yoga, it’s totally possible to find the two polarities under the same roof, or, er, studio.
Here’s how they differ: Yang-style practices encompass fast-moving flows like the ones taught in sweaty, vinyasa classes. And as you’d expect, yin is, well… so not that. “There are only 26 total yin postures, and while they look similar to yang poses one would take in a vinyasa class, they have slightly different names and intentions,” explains Lindsay Pirozzi, a New York City-based yoga instructor at Y7 Studio. “Since the emotional and energetic layers of the body are the main focus, [yin] practitioners experience a dramatic reduction of emotional imbalances, such as less anxiety, stress, frustration, and depression.”
“Since the emotional and energetic layers of the body are the main focus, [yin] practitioners experience a dramatic reduction of emotional imbalances, such as less anxiety, stress, frustration, and depression.” —Lindsay Pirozzi, NYC-based yoga instructor
Yin classes ask you to linger in asanas (or poses) for minutes at a time to get past the superficial shell and target the deeper muscles along meridian lines as well as acupressure points, with the goal of achieving these mind-body benefits. And while, yes, the practice can make you feel blissed out, it can also challenge you mentally.
“Yin allows the mind to rest by producing a dream-like quality to the thoughts. A student can feel unsure of where one thought ends and one begins, and by allowing the mind to rest, the practice promotes clarity,” says Pirozzi.
Ready to try it?
Below, Pirozzi breaks down the ins and outs (and physically how to get in and out) of 9 essential yin postures.
But first, the basics
It should take you 30 seconds to exit each yin pose, moving as effortlessly as possible out of the postures. It’s best to lie down on your back or stomach between each posture for 30 seconds to let your chi (or the energy of the body) recirculate. Breathe through your nose as naturally as you can the entire time to ensure the body stays in rest. Lastly, remember that our bodies will never keep us in pain, but often, discomfort is necessary for healing. Be sure to drink a lot of water after. Yin yoga is like a deep tissue massage, so now it’s time to flush the toxins from the body out.
1. Ankle stretch
Begin by sitting on your heels with the tops of the feet down. If you have ankle or knee sensitivity, enter very mindfully. Leaning back on the hands is the first position (and the least stressful), but beware of collapsing backward. Keep the heart forward, and imagine you are trying to do a backbend. After a few moments, bring the hands to the floor beside your legs. Try not to lean away from the knees. Keep the heart open, arching the back forward. Finally, try holding the knees and gently pulling them toward the chest. Hold for 90 seconds.
2. Toe squat
Begin by sitting on your heels with the feet together. Tuck the toes under and try to be on the balls of the feet, not the tippy-toes. Reach down and tuck the little toes under. Stay for just one minute. If you prefer to do two sessions of 30 seconds each, that’s okay too.
From a seated position, bring the soles of your feet together and then slide them away from you. Fold forward, allowing your back to round. Lightly rest your hands on your feet or on the floor in front of you. Your head should hang down toward your heels. No stretching or reaching or striving is required—just allow your body weight and gravity to do the work, and feel the traction of tissue. Hold for three minutes.
4. Reclining twist (right and left)
Lying on your back, draw both knees into your chest. Open your arms to the side like wings and drop the knees to one side. Adjust the body so hips are stacked directly on top of each other, and then soften into your anatomy rather than forcing the twist deeper. Hold for three minutes on both sides. Rest in between each side, flat on your back.
5. Child’s pose
Begin by sitting on your heels and then slowly fold forward, bringing your chest to your thighs and your forehead to the ground or to your forearms if it doesn’t touch down with ease. You can open your knees as wide as you would like, but as you settle into the shape do your best to soften your muscles. Hold for four minutes. Slide onto your stomach slowly, and rest there before the next posture.
Sitting with both legs straight out in front of you, fold forward, allowing your back to round. Keep your head heavy to allow the traction of your spine to occur. You can also sit on a cushion to elevate your hips and pelvis on the proper direction. Hold for two minutes, and slowly round up to exit.
7. Straddle (dragonfly)
From a sitting position, spread your legs apart until they won’t go any further. You can sit on a cushion to help tilt your hips forward. Fold forward, resting your weight onto your hands with your arms locked straight, or rest your elbows onto a block. Head is heavy, spine is naturally rounding towards floor. Hold for three and a half minutes.
8. Sleeping swan
You can come into this pose either from downward dog or from cat pose (on hands and knees). Slide your right knee between your hands, lean a bit to the right, and check in with how your right knee is going to feel. If the knee is fine, flex the right foot and move it forward; if the knee feels stressed, bring the foot closer in toward the right hip. Now, center yourself so your weight is even. Try tucking the back toes under and sliding the back knee away. Do this a few times until your right glute is on the floor or as low as it is going to get. You want to feel grounded, so the intention is not a squared hip, but a grounded hip. This may require bending your back knee slightly up toward the top of the mat. Recline slowly, try to stay for four minutes on each side, resting in between.
Whether you’re lying on the stomach, back or side, find a resting pose that is sustainable for you and rest your body for at least five minutes.
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