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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