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The Ancient Daoist practice of Yin Yoga

Yin yoga is a powerful practice that has a myriad of physical and mental benefits. It is very different than the more popular styles of yoga. It is passive and slow compared to active and fast like many of the other styles of yoga that we typically see being taught in yoga studios in the western world. However, this practice has ancient roots in China and Taiwan using Daoist principles, and its benefits are undeniable.

In the Dao tradition, yin yoga is practiced to increase the flow of qi – energy – which is called prana in yoga. Daoists believe in yin and yang. This ideology of contrast asserts that balance and harmony can come from opposing characteristics. Yin is a slow, cold, passive, gentle non-movement; whereas yang is a mobile, speedy, heated movement. Yang yoga practices are illustrated in continuous flow sequences, heated rooms as in the Bikram style of yoga, and shorter asana holds. Yin yoga practices are therefore slower, isolated poses fewer in number but much longer in hold duration in a cool room. The polarity of yin and yang is also extended into the body. Yang is the movement – blood, muscles, and joints. In contrast, yin is the deep connective of the body that does not move as easily like tendons and fascia. Therefore, the areas targeted and the separate intentions of these different types of yoga practices are in direct accordance with the way that energy manifests within the body.

I remember trying a yin yoga class early in my yogi experience and being very disappointed by its style. Upon reflection, I believe this is because I was in a state of imbalance. I was seeking, as many who are imbalanced do, the same things I was already experiencing. I found myself often moving too quickly, hot, and anxious with a speedy mind. I sought things that matched this because it felt comfortable and natural. However, it was practices like yin yoga that would have assisted me to decrease my racing thoughts and to slow me down. I had pain in my back, neck, and hips. I would have benefitted from deep intentional stretching that is found in yin yoga rather than quicker strengthening movements. I would have benefitted from practice to create harmony and balance.

The ideology of yin yang is illustrated in its symbol. They are not two exclusive and opposing forces, but instead, two forces that swirl into one another and even contain a small piece of the other within them. We need part of each, whether big or small, to bring about harmony. In fact, practicing yin yoga allows many people to consequently strengthen their yang-style yoga practices as well by increasing flexibility and enhancing their connection to their breath and meditation practice.

Yin yoga is a deeply meditative practice. It is important that the body can be comfortable, and so, we should be wearing yoga pants or women’s gym clothes to ensure mobility and comfort. The physical aspects are important; yet, the mind is equally as vital to consider. Yin yoga is beneficial for the current state of society that already witnesses so much movement, overstimulated with advertising, noise, cell phone notifications, and overall commotion. It should be considered as a way to balance a yoga practice and an individual. Yoga teachers suggest that you attempt a few classes before making decisions about its benefits for you. If you’re like me, your racing mind will take some time to slow down and acknowledge the positive effects that this ancient style of yoga can bring.