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Why Try Yin? Six reasons you might benefit from this passive yoga style

There are so many different styles of yoga around now that you could be forgiven if you've not heard of, let alone tried, yin yoga. But (in my entirely subjective opinion as a teacher & long-standing lover of yin) you almost certainly should!

To put you in the picture, yin is a passive style of yoga that targets the deep tissues rather than the muscles. It's virtually all floor based (there's only one standing pose), there's an emphasis on relaxing muscles rather than engaging them, & props & variations are encouraged to help you to find your 'edge' (the point at which you can hold a pose for several minutes with some appropriate sensation, but without pain or distress.)

Relaxing yin yoga style butterfly pose
Sue practicing a relaxing yin style butterfly pose

It's not the same as restorative yoga, which aims to find nurturing poses with little to no physical sensation, because you are looking for a positive kind of stress. but in those deeper connective tissues of the fascial network.

If you've not tried yoga before, or are partial to a more strenuous style of class & aren't convinced that yin is for you, then consider whether any of the scenarios below apply to you. Even accounting for my unashamed bias as a huge fan of slow & stretchy yoga, the benefits of yin if you find yourself saying yes to even one of the 6 reasons below should make you want to try it out!

  • You work in a desk based job, or otherwise have a fairly sedentary lifestyle

  • You're over the age of 40.

  • You suffer from muscular aches & pains.

  • You're recovering from injury or trauma.

  • You have a regular strength training routine.

  • You often feel over stimulated or struggle to relax.

Person hunching over a laptop - one of the factors contributing to thick, matted fasciaontributing to
Yin yoga may help the effects of hunching over a computer for long hours

A healthy network of fascia both surrounds & separates internal body parts like muscles, bones & organs, allowing them to glide smoothly as they need to - which translates to us having free and easy movement.

As we age this fascial network can start to lock down, in individual areas or even throughout the whole body. This is partly because it starts to lose moisture as we age, & partly because both age & lifestyle factors including inactivity can cause the fascial tissues to become more dense & matted. As a result our range of motion starts to reduce, & it's often by around the age of 40 that this starts to become noticeable, as our bodies become less able to compensate for any lack of responsiveness in the tissues.

So that covers age & inactivity, but what about aches & pains, injury, & strength training?

Research in recent years has shown that many sports injuries are in fact injuries to the fascia & not, as previously thought, to the muscles themselves. Similarly muscle soreness is often a fascial response, & not a muscular one after all. And even if you're lucky enough to avoid soreness or injury, strong muscles still need a strong support system. If you have a regular strength training routine but the bones, organs & muscles lose their ability to glide smoothly due to fascial issues, then your strength will be less effective because you won't have the range of motion you need. On top of all of this, any physical trauma or injury can cause the fibrous fascial tissues to build up further, for protection around the area of injury, which is then often compounded because we instinctively move an area that's been injured less than we might otherwise.

A man lifting heavy weights, an example of somebody who should consider yin yoga
Strength Training needs complementary stretch training to be most effective

Yin yoga targets the fascia with slow stretching, which (in very simplistic terms) helps to gently stretch out the tissues, especially where they have become dense or matted. Think of a shrunken woolly jumper - slow & gentle stretching can help to get it back to it's original form, but anything too intense would likely make things worse not better!

As well as the benefits of the stretching itself, this type of slow & deliberate movement can help to improve the hydration levels of the fascial tissues. Their moisture comes from a watery, gel like ground substance containing hyaluronic acid, which is produced within the sliding layers of the fascia - so in order to keep our fascia hydrated & encourage smooth motion throughout or bodies, we need to include movement which targets this deep connective network - movement like yin yoga. When it comes to our fascia, motion really is lotion!

As the fibrous tissues of the fascia slowly regenerate, replacing themselves over a period of around 7 - 14 months, slow, targeted, stretching movements can not only improve the health of the existing structure, but also ensure that dense, matted tissues are replaced by more responsive ones.

If you're not yet convinced there's still more! There has been research (recently by Helene Langevin & her students) on animals & cell structures, which has shown that slow stretching reduces inflammation, alleviates pain, & can even accelerate wound healing

And beyond these physical benefits, if any more was needed to convince you, the slow stretching & long holds of yin yoga seem to have a calming effect on the autonomous nervous system, taking it from that state of over stimulation which seems to be symptomatic of modern life to the state of relaxation which most of us could benefit profoundly from (& which addresses the last of our 6 reasons to try yin yoga!)

Sue looking relaxed in a child's pose, with Ronnie the cat sprawled out next to her
Sue in a relaxing child's pose, accompanied by Ronnie the cat

All in all, I think it's pretty clear that yin has to be at least worth a try! It might turn out not to be your thing, but given all of the potential benefits I hope you can at least see why I'm such a passionate advocate ❤️

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