The first time I ever tried Yin yoga was about a year ago. I'd never even heard of it before I went on a yoga/fitness retreat where the teacher got us to lie in long held, static stretches for up to five minutes at a time. Five minutes of lying in one position might sound like it's totally relaxing and sleep inducing but in actual fact all the time you're fighting this mental battle to not fidget and shift your position as you reach your "edge". Sometimes you're fighting the urge to cry and you're constantly having to have a word with yourself not to come out of the posture early, telling yourself that if everyone else can stay in it, you can too. How long can five minutes really be?
I've just painted a really bad picture of Yin Yoga. In actual fact it's one of my favourite styles to practice. As oppose to restorative yoga where although very relaxing and I just feel like I'm falling asleep (that sunbed sleep where you realise you've just started dribbling) in Yin I find it a more conscious practice that allows your body to get into a really deep and intense stretch. You have to really focus on your breath leading you into a meditative state and you will the teacher to keep on talking to you throughout, as silence means one thing...that you focus on how uncomfortable you actually are. I always come out of it feeling slightly dazed but in a good way, coming out a lot lighter than when I went in.
Yin yoga is a slow-paced style of yoga (as oppose to yang which is more physical) where you hold a posture for anything from 3 minutes (deemed the minimum time) to 20 minutes (if you're a bit more of a pro) whilst at the same time cultivating inner stillness.
The majority of the poses are floor based and focus primarily on the lower part of the body (hips, pelvis, inner thighs, lower spine). The aim of holding the postures for so long is to access the deeper tissues such as the connective tissue and fascia, which account for about fifty percent of the resistance against the body's flexibility. It increases both mental and physical flexibility as well as stabilising the flow of energy through the body and is a great way to balance out a more dynamic yoga practice.
Within each posture you move to a place called the "edge" where you feel a manageable amount of sensation. It shouldn't be "painful" but depending on the posture sometimes it's not all that comfortable either. When this is reached the musculature around the point of focus starts to relax in the static hold and fluidity is increased in the tissues and joints, promoting flexibility and suppleness.
It was popularised by Paul Grilley and Sarah Powers who developed it from Taoist yoga and is not intended as a complete practice in itself, but more to compliment other forms of yang yoga and intense physical exercise. It often encompasses props, from straps and blocks to bolsters and sand bags (one of which was trying to pin down my hugely tight shoulder the other day) and in an average class you may get into around 6-8 different postures.
When on my yoga TTC we did Yin yoga regularly. It was always my favourite class allowing me time to think and go into myself whilst at the same time feeling as though you are really opening up your body. Maybe it's also because I never have to move off the floor!
If you haven't ever tried Yin yoga before, I'd highly recommend it, especially if you are someone who does high-intensity sport and don't normally balance this out with stretching enough. It tends to take place on an evening as you do feel pretty relaxed after it and for me is the perfect way to end a weekend, feeling like you've finished up doing something good for your body but without having to do anything too physical.