With inky black November nights closing in, you might be facing the bleak temperatures and feeling the urge to crawl into bed and hibernate. If you’re looking for a way to reap the benefits of physical activity while also giving yourself a warming winter mood boost, try adding Yin Yoga to your workout plan.
While yoga itself can be traced back thousands of years to Northern India, Yin Yoga was created by a martial arts instructor in the 1970s and has since become very popular across Europe and North America. It takes its name from the Maoist principle of yin/yang– the two balanced energies that complement one another.
In biological terms, the yang side of your body is the physical, active energy. Think of the organs, the muscles and tissues that push blood around your body. Yin yoga balances out the ‘yang’ energy, all that movement and chaos, with some calming stillness. The focus of yin is on the stable parts of your body, such as bones, tendons and ligaments.
In the Yin-style, rather than flowing through sequences, you hold long stretches to get into the fascia and deep connective tissues around your muscles and organs. Poses in a Yin class are held from anywhere between 1-5 minutes (sometimes longer for advanced practitioners). In winter, carve out the perfect Yin practice with comfy clothes, blocks, bolsters, and maybe even a warming candle and soft music. If you don’t have these things in your student pad, it’s okay to improvise with a firm pillow, rolled up blankets, or use that fat psych textbook as a block.
There are three principles to focus on in Yin Yoga:
1) Find your edge
If, like me, you tend to push yourself hard through sweaty cardio routines or even speed through vinyasas, Yin is a great way to slow down. You can do most Yin poses on the floor (including my favourite–Bananasana!). Unlike its close relative, Restorative Yoga, Yin is not entirely passive. In Yin, you find the sweet spot of slight discomfort, never pain. It helps to not push too far but accept where your body is each day. Easier said than done but it’s a great way to practise some self-compassion!
2) Be still
With crazy student schedules, festive plans, socials, and finals around the corner, it sometimes feels like we’re constantly in motion. That’s why Yin yoga makes the perfect counter to an active routine. It can also improve flexibility and mobility, which helps with gym recovery and injury prevention. If you’re someone who keeps on top of your fitness through the Winter, Yin yoga can be a perfect way to balance out those more active days.
3) Hold the pose.
Sounds dull? I thought so too. I’ll admit, when I first tried this yoga style it wasn’t exactly the sweat session I was searching for. However, in some ways, Yin is more challenging than its more active cousins. You won’t find yourself doing sun salutations, planks or even much down-dog, but for many of us it’s trickier to stay still for extended periods of time. The impulse to wriggle, fidget, or jump up is real! Practising Yin yoga helped me start to acknowledge and work through these feelings. Try it, I promise it gets easier.
If you’re eager to get started, here are three guided practises to try during colder months:
Yoga with Kassandra: 30 Minute Yin Flow
Kassandra is pretty much my go-to when I’m looking for a Yin sequence. Try this slowed-down flow for massaging your digestive organs with gentle twists—the perfect evening chill out after a heavy festive dinner.
Fightmaster Yoga: Blissful 1 hour Yin Yoga
If you have more time, try this deep stretching sequence with Lesley Fightmaster (RIP). This 50-minute Yin sequence is a great way to round off a hectic week of final exam prep and classes.
PsycheTruth: Bedtime Yoga with Chelsey Jones
Yin is great as an evening routine. It activates the parasympathetic nervous system, letting our brain and body know it’s time to wind down. If you’ve been studying and sitting at a desk all day, try this short sequence to really stretch into those tight hip muscles. You can even practise in your pyjamas, just try not to fall asleep on the mat!
‘Tis the season to give Yin yoga a try. Perhaps you’ll fall in love with this style the way I have. Keep safe, warm and enjoy.