Why I Love Yin Yoga

Yin_YogaA couple days ago I posted about all the benefits yoga has brought in just a few short weeks.  However, there are many different types of yoga.  If you’re just entering the world of yoga it can be intimidating as there are so many different variations.  That being said, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to yoga, which is the problem with most conventional yoga classes.  Depending on what you want from your yoga practice, a mix of multiple types of yoga could be beneficial.

Yin yoga is a form of yoga that focuses more on passive stretching of the joints and includes postures that are mainly on the floor.  While some of the postures are similar to other forms of yoga, Yin Yoga is unique in that it is not a forced stretch or pose as much as a relaxation into the posture so that your body softens the muscles, moves closer to the bone and deeper in the stretch.  As such, the longer you practice it is not uncommon to see postures held for three to five minutes, even 20 minutes at a time. As a result of these long, deep relaxing stretches, Yin Yoga targets the deep connective tissues, bones, joints, fascia and ligaments in the body.    If you gently stretch connective tissue by holding a yin pose for a long time, the body will respond by making them a little longer and stronger.  For healthy range of motion, layers of connective tissue must allow muscles to glide over each other.  However these connective tissues can become bound together by injury, habitual posture in daily life, and aging, and restrict that movement between the sliding surfaces of the muscles.  The more we work our fascial system and deep tissues, the less dense and tight our bodies become as we age.  Often times you aren’t really concerned with flexibility until it’s gone!

I started noticing how inflexible I was when I started dabbling in Olympic-Style Weightlifting.  I was so restricted on the amount of weight I could lift and progress I could make because my body was not flexible enough and my joints were not open enough to perform the lifts properly with increased weight.  It was then that my coach introduced me to ROMWOD (Range of Motion Workout of the Day), which is a different video routine every day designed to open up and work on those connective tissues, joints, ligaments, fascia, and all those areas that get tight.  While I’m still not as flexible as the video demonstrators, I know this process works because my coaches have made comments about how my form and movements during my lifts have improved!  So while I may not be lifting as much anymore, I’m definitely still trying to continue to incorporate the practice of Yin Yoga as often as possible.  Not only do I enjoy the stress and anxiety relief and the balancing of the mind and  body that results, but (since I’m getting old) I’m trying desperately to increase my range of motion and present stiffness as well!

Top 5 Ways Yoga Has Impacted My Life

Benefits_of_YogaYoga is a 5000 year old Indian body of knowledge about harmonizing the body with the mind and breath through the means of various breathing techniques, yoga postures and meditation.  The benefits can be physical, emotional or mental, or even all of them combined.  Today most people practicing yoga are engaged Hatha Yoga which is a program of physical postures designed to purify the body and provide the physical strength and stamina required for long periods of meditation.

I was interested to see what benefits such an ancient and deep rooted practice might bring.  First I started with a couple of yoga sessions at my gym.  But the schedule didn’t really accommodate people who worked full time during the week as much as it did the stay at home moms and housewives.  Rather than pay an arm and a leg to join a yoga studio across town, I bought a yoga subscription to The Yoga Collective and started practicing at home.   Here are some of the benefits I began to see after only a few weeks:

1.    Increased Strength, Agility and Flexibility – Very few sports or practices will increase strength, agility, and flexibility all at once.  The practice of yoga tones our body muscles and also makes them strong.   Stronger muscles help prevent injuries due to overexertion.  Studies have shown that people can their flexibility up to 35% after only 8 weeks of yoga.  Results will vary with each individual of course, so while I may not be at the 35% mark, there is a marked difference in my flexibility and strength.

2.  Stress relief – Just a few minutes of yoga can be an effective method to get rid of stress that accumulates daily – in both the body and mind.   It can also enhance your mood and overall sense of well-being.  With regular yoga practice, your chronic daytime stress hormone levels drop and your heart rate variability (a measure of your ability to tolerate stress) increases . This has been shown to improve after just a few sessions of yoga.

3.  Decreased Blood Pressure – Yoga has been shown to be as effective as dietary changes for improving blood pressure in some instances.  The deep breathing yoga exercises help slow the breathing rate, which reduces blood pressure and soothes the nervous system that generates stress hormones.  Two studies of people with hypertension compared the effects of Savasana (Corpse Pose) with simply lying on a couch. After three months, Savasana was associated with a 26-point drop in systolic blood pressure (the top number) and a 15-point drop in diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number).  It was mentioned that the higher the blood pressure was to start with, the greater the improvement was.  While my improvement wasn’t nearly that great, my blood pressure wasn’t too far out of the normal range to begin with.  Nevertheless, the improvement was there.

4.  Improved Posture –  Yoga has made me much more aware of my posture.  Throughout the sessions you’re constantly being asked to lengthen the spine and to focus on your shoulder, neck and head position.  It was exhausting at first because muscles weren’t used to having me force them to straighten and align everything.  It was something I had to constantly correct and pay attention to.  The more I practiced the more I became aware of all of times outside of my yoga practice where my posture was poor.  Poor posture can cause back, neck, and other muscle and joint problems.  Just picture your head like a big round heavy bowling ball sitting on top of your neck.   When it’s balanced directly over an erect spine, it doesn’t take as much effort for your neck and back muscles to support it.  However, since most of us don’t hold our head up directly over our spine, that’s a constant strain that can cause you to slump.  As you slump, your body may compensate by flattening the normal inward curves in your neck and lower back which can cause pain and degenerative arthritis of the spine.

5.  Improved Sleep –  According to my sleep monitor, one of the byproducts of reduced stress appears to be better sleep.    Practicing relaxing asanas such as forward fold (uttanasana) or lying on your back with your feet up the wall are helpful poses that calm both your mind and body and lead to a deeper and more intense sleep.  Researchers from Harvard found that eight weeks of daily yoga significantly improved sleep quality for people with insomnia.

You don’t need to be an expert at yoga (or in my case, even good at at) for the benefits to take effect. People keep telling me it will get easier with time, but I’m truly SO. SO. SO. BAD. AT. YOGA.  While I haven’t been particularly consistent or dedicated, I do like the results I’ve seen thus far.  I can only imagine the benefits I would see if I actually committed myself to some kind of consistency.