BREAKING THE BARRIER WITH YIN ENERGY
Yin Yoga – A Balancing Approach
You started a yoga practice to gain more flexibility. For the most part, you've seen some improvements after practicing for a while. You attend your Power Yoga, Hot Yoga, or your Anusara Yoga classes regularly and you've noticed your hamstrings are lengthening, your hips are opening, your back is less stiff and your shoulders have more mobility. But it seems you've hit a plateau. Is there anything more you can do in your practice to continue to make gains in your flexibility? Try Yin Yoga.
1. The Dualism and Unison of Yin and Yang
The classes you're most likely attending (Hot Yoga, Power Yoga, Forrest Yoga, etc.) are considered Yang Yoga practices. That means, your body is moving, your muscles are engaging, and it's within these styles that you gain strength, mobility, flexibility, and more. However, it's very much possible to experience your progress coming to a stand-still; your body becomes accustomed to the yoga class workouts, and your body ceases to change any further.
Another style of yoga is called Yin Yoga. It may be a challenge locating studios that offer this type of yoga class, but it is well worth it once you've found it. Are you familiar with Yin and Yang? In Chinese philosophy, Yin and Yang are the symbols of dualism. They characterize the forces of nature that appear to be opposites, but also interconnected and balanced at the same time. Yin is the receptive while Yang is the active - considered contradictory, but also complementary; they work in unison.
This is also true with your yoga practice. To find balance in your practice, you may need to introduce Yin Yoga practices to compliment your Yang Yoga classes. As mentioned, in Yang classes, you are engaging muscles to hold and move through poses and sequences. In Yin Yoga, you are disengaging your muscles. The benefit of this is to completely release and relax the body. Physiologically, the fascia and connective tissue in your body has an opportunity to soften, release, and expand in order to experience greater mobility and flexibility in your body.
2. The Key Aspects – Non -Aggressive Approach, Steadiness & Duration
Here's how it works. In a Yin Yoga class, you will practice several poses within the 60 to 90-minute timeframe; probably no more than 5 to 7 postures. Most of these postures are done on the floor, lying down on your yoga mat. Postures like Pigeon Pose, Seated Forward Fold, or Supported Bridge Pose are practiced using props: blankets and bolsters. The idea is to settle into these hip openers, hamstring stretches or backbends, completely relax the body, in order for the healing process to begin. You will hold these postures anywhere from 5 to 12 minutes; in time, the tension in the muscles, ligaments and other connective tissues relax, thereby making you more limber and mobile.
i.) Healing and Improving Flexibility
Yin Yoga is ideal for those who are generally stiff, had a recent surgery or injury, or just want to gain more flexibility. Yin Yoga has beneficial healing properties, too. If you sprain your ankle, for example, this definitely damages tissues in the body. As it heals, scar tissue develops, and the fascia in the surrounding areas binds up. Fascia are strands of fiber our tissue in the body that essentially holds you together. It's the connective tissue beneath the skin that attaches, stabilizes, and holds the muscles and internal organs in place. It's like a webbing that is distributed throughout your entire body. When you're injured, this fascial layering in the damaged area binds together creating less mobility in that region. Although your sprain ankle will heal, you may be left with stiff ankle joints and muscles.
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This is where Yin Yoga is most effective. When you hold certain poses that target these stiff areas, you allow your muscles to disengage, and the healing process begins. Holding still for an extended period of time in these yoga positions with the support of props encourages the bound-up fascia and connective tissue to release. The good part is, it stays released. And with some time, you'll regain mobility and flexibility.
ii) The Bound Angle Pose
Here's an example of a Yin Yoga posture you may practice in class or at home: Bound Angle Pose. This posture is a hip opener, an area of the body that tends to be bound and tight. It also targets your back if you fold forward in this posture. Start the position sitting on the floor. You will be using a yoga prop like a bolster in this position. If you do not have a bolster at home, you can use several large pillows. Sit with your spine fully extended.
Place the soles of your feet together. Your knees will be bent and pointing outward. If you're not very flexible in the hips, it is unlikely that your knees will touch the floor. If that is the case, you will also want to support your knees with cushions or yoga blocks. You want to be able to let your limbs fully relax. Place the bolster or stack of pillows in your lap. Inhale to ensure a lengthen back and spine. As you exhale, hinge at the hips, and drape yourself over the cushions. Adjust your body until you're fully comfortable; you'll want to be able to hold in complete stillness for the duration of the posture. Do a body scan to see if you're holding any tension in your body. Do you best to relax entirely. The intention is to disengage your muscles. In this folded position, your hips and inner thighs will start to stretch and release. And because your back is rounded as you fold over the pillows, your back muscles enjoy a lengthening and stretch, too. If you're alone, set a timer for 7 minutes; that is a good standard start time. If you want to hold longer, feel free. Practice this pose once every day and notice the change in your body. Check your range of motion in your hips, your agility when you walk, and notice the added flexibility.
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If practicing the Yin version of Bound Angle Pose was effective for you, you may want to find a Yin Yoga class in your area to further enhance your overall flexibility.
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