The umbrella term for the physical practices of yoga is Hatha yoga. There are many types of Hatha Yoga. The dynamic styles of Hatha Yoga which focuses on muscle tissues are considered to be yang style of practices. Yin Yoga focuses on more static tissues. The yin tissues are the connective tissues, like ligaments, tendons, and fascia. Since those tissues can not be strengthened as muscles, the aim is not building strength here.
Yin Yoga aims to release tension in the connective tissues and cultivate healthy blood circulation throughout the body. Healthy blood circulation cultivates a healthier function of the internal organs as well as joints.
Yin Yoga has a strong meditative aspect, and effective in reducing stress. Yin Yoga practice also improves the flexibility.
If you are familiar with the yoga asana practice, you already know that the asana practice is unlike most of the other physical practices. In yoga the poses are held for several breaths rather than repeating the pose several times to work out the muscles. For example, in Pilates you sometimes repeat a pose 25 times and the number of repetitions might even go up to 100. In most types of Hatha yoga you hold the poses for several breaths. In Yin Yoga the poses are held even for a longer time. How long depends on the aim of the practice but it can go up to 10 – 15 minutes for a pose. Since the less dynamic tissues are targeted the practice is also more static. It takes a longer static hold to reach the deeper connective tissues.
The practice of Yin Yoga was inspired from Daoist yoga and Taoist philosophy. In Yin Yoga classes it is very likely that you hear about the meridians and their associated organs or systems of the body. In Yoga Tradition we utilize a different vocabulary for the energetic systems, and for our subtle energetic bodies.
No matter what we call them both the Ancient wisdom of Yoga and the ancient wisdom of Tao refers to the same energetic systems. So the terms are interchangeable. The Parana means the life force energy and it is same with the chi. The energy channels of Parana are called Nadis and they are the meridians of Taoism.
In the late 1970s Paulie Zink introduced the practice of Daoist Yoga inspired form his martial arts practices. His student Paul Grilley developed his own style and called it the Yin Yoga. The most well-known students of Paul Grilley are Bernie Clark and Sarah Powers. They are among most inspirational Yin Yoga teachers today. Both Paul Grilley, Bernie Clark and Sarah Powers write about Yin Yoga, publish articles, videos and they offer many other inspirational and educational sources for those who want to learn more about Yin Yoga.
Some define Yin Yoga as a gentle practice but I would not call it gentle. It is a Yin style of practice. You go into a pose and surrender into the pose, to the sensations that come with the pose. At the first sight, this might sound like a description of a gentle practice. But imagine sitting with a deep stretching sensation for 10 minutes without moving. Surrendering is a very challenging practice. Not doing anything in the face of a rather unpleasant sensation requires a lot of mental strength. Yin Yoga does not teach how to suppress or ignore such sensations it teaches us how to surrender into them.
The yin kind of strength is something that we are not taught. We know how to resist, how to fight against, how to ignore but not how to surrender. It is so hard for us to surrender into experience, into now, into being present.
Other than many health benefits Yin Yoga also offers us a chance to practice surrendering and patience.
There are certain things in life that can only be experienced if you let go and flow with the moment. Some of the most valuable, most magical experiences that life offers are like so. Yin Yoga is one of them. The practice of surrendering during Yin Yoga also opens the gates for many others.