Yin Yoga

Suspension Bridge

I suffer from chronic IT-band tightness. It tends to flare up after 75 miles of hiking and climbing, which limits my long distance hiking range to about 5 days. I know that many of you suffer from it as well.

Over the years, yoga and yoga-inspired stretches have proven to be the most effective way to mitigate my IT-band issues, as long as I do them on a regular basis.

Recently, I discovered a new style of yoga called Yin Yoga, which has proven to be more effective for me than other yoga styles such as vinyasa, hot, ashtanga, hatha, etc, for managing my IT band issues. It also provides mental and spiritual benefits that I just don’t get in more vigorous yoga classes.

Yin Yoga is different from other popular yoga styles because it uses very long holds to break up the connective tissue, fascia, and ligaments surrounding your muscles instead of toning the muscles themselves. These parts of your anatomy don’t respond well to short duration movements, regardless of the internal heat created by repetition.

The Yin style doesn’t replace these other styles: they really are complementary and you can practice both during the week. But Yin Yoga can be very intense. I find it much harder than even hot yoga, despite the fact that I’ve never broken a sweat during a Yin class or session.

Principles of Yin Yoga

There are 3 principles that form the foundation of Yin Yoga: playing your edge, stillness, and time.

Like more active yoga styles, you practice asanas or positions in Yin Yoga. Once you get into a position, you stay still for anywhere from 3 minutes to 5 or even 10 minutes per pose. If you’ve ever done a deep IT-Band stretch like half pigeon in a yoga class and felt like you wanted to hold it longer, Yin Yoga may be for you.

After a few minutes of holding a position, your body will start to leg go and sink deeper into the pose. This is assisted by deeper breathing: the subtle movements that accompany your breath are the secret ingredient that takes you deeper into most yoga poses. From there, the practice is to experience what it’s like to let go and see how your edge advances or resists.

In addition to sensing the positional changes in your body during a long pose, you may experience intense mental stimulation and physical discomfort during the process. If it’s too intense for you, you can back off. My teacher has us focus on our breathing during a pose and suggests that we make mental notes periodically about the sensations we’re experiencing during a hold. This can extremely meditative, which is something I appreciate.

This is where Yin Yoga gets very personal and everyone’s experience is very different. The form of the postures varies widely by individual and liberal use of props and personal adjustments are made depending on anatomical or physical limitations and injuries.

My teacher’s classes don’t have music in them and no one is looking around at anyone else and comparing their form or physique. Practicing Yin, even with 30 other students in the same room, is very self focusing. I rarely look at anyone else when I’m in a posture: often because my forehead is on the mat itself and my eyes are closed.

The Benefits of Yin Yoga

I’ve been practicing Yin Yoga for about 6 weeks now and I’m hooked. Physically, I am aware of dramatic changes in my flexibility and the depth I can go to in certain poses, both in my Yin practice and my more active hatha and vinyasa style yoga sessions. I am also much more aware of how much further I have to go to fully unwind my IT-Band issues.

Yin Yoga has also filled a meditative void that I’ve experienced with other more active forms of yoga, and that I wrote about last month.

I take a weekly 90 minutes class with a gifted teacher named Josh Summers and I practice Yin myself at home for 1 or 2 other sessions at home each week. Josh is trained in the same style of Insight meditation that I learned and his classes combine Buddhist teachings with Yin postures.

If you live in Boston and are interested in trying a class, contact Samara Yoga in Davis Square for more information.

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7 comments

  1. Yoga is cool …

    Have you every tried foam rollers? You roll your it band or a muscle group along a hard piece of foam.

    I have had tight it bands and foam rolling seems to work well for me especially when combined with yoga. It can be quite painful at first but just take it easy for a while and it soon gets better.

  2. I've tried it. It doesn't really work for me because I don't keep it up. Yin yoga is helping me make progress, but I fear that it will either take a very long time to unwind the layers of fascia or simply be a function of my personal anatomical structure. Despite our belief that we can change everything about ourselves, anatomy does not change.

  3. Good for you! Yoga is great for connecting the body, mind and spirit in harmony. It has made the single biggest improvement in my life. Me, I have a terrible time with Plantar Fasciitis and shoes have been a very important consideration. But, lately I've extending that theory of balance and experimenting with redistributing my pack-load like Aarn Design. It has improved my stride and my weight distribution during climbs and my feet have felt even better. The results have been so promising that I'm going to invest in one of his systems. I think it has changed my overall posture so my weight distribution is more in balance with normal no-load, rather than pushing myself slightly off balance to compensate for my old style packs load. Namaste fellow Pilgrim.

  4. Posture and pack balance are essential. I've also been interested in moving more weight to the front of my body to keep it closer to my core and above my hips. I'll be interested in how you make out with the Aarn system.

  5. I took a workshop with Josh at Dancing Crow in Hingham. He was great. I love Yin Yoga. 7 minutes in Pigeon is heavenly! Frog, not so much…

  6. I took a class this morning with a fantastic teacher at Florence Yoga in Northampton. Turns out her husband drives each Wednesday from Western Ma to Cambridge to take the same class with Josh as I do. He's that good of a teacher to warrant this.

    Try frog with your feet flat against a wall. It's a great mod.

  7. Thanks for the interesting article. I have made similarly positive experience with (yin) yoga with my IT bands as a result from long distance running. I still practice yin yoga today sometimes, but usually combine it with more dynamic forms of yoga.

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