Many people believe that Yoga must be physically vigorous and draining to have an effect. While it is true that Yang Yoga includes fast paced classes such as Ashtanga, which focuses on strengthening your muscles, this is not the case for all styles of Yoga.
Yin Yoga focuses on your deep connective tissues. It is much less physically vigorous than Yang Yoga, and much slower paced and meditative. In contrast to Yang Yoga, the poses are held for much longer, which allows you more time to pay attention to physical sensations, to your mind, and to your breath.
Yin Yoga is based Taoist principles and ancient Chinese philosophies which believe that Qi energy flows through our bodies, following certain pathways. However, these pathways can become blocked, and the deep stretches of Yin Yoga help open up these pathways so the energy may move freely. Maintaining the homeostasis of this energy in our bodies is vital to our physical, mental, and spiritual health. According to ancient Chinese medicinal practices, illnesses are caused by blockages of Qi, deficiencies of Qi, or even too much Qi. Yin Yoga can be implemented to help restore and maintain the homeostasis of Qi, not only by posing to unblock our Qi channels but through controlled breathing to recycle the Qi in our bodies.
To channel Qi through breathing is referred to as the practice of Qigong. The goal of Qigong is to restore the rhythms of our breath which gradually become shallower as we age. Scientifically, our breath acts as a channel which allows oxygen, nitric oxide and carbon dioxide to be exchanged so that our cells can be oxygenated. When we take deeper breaths, this exchange is more efficient, and we are more energized. In Qigong, when we inhale fully, we are filling our bodies with Qi such that the breath is a channel for harnessing and expelling Qi.
Practicing Qigong or Yin Yoga can be done anytime and anywhere. Many Yin Yoga poses are seated or reclined as the goal is to fully relax your muscles and hold the poses for extended periods of time. Although you should never stretch to the point of pain, you can push yourself so that you feel deep sensations, so you know that you are reaching your deep connective tissues. In Yogi terms this is referred to as “comfortable discomfort” and requires you to be fully still.
Lastly, engaging in deep and intentional breaths through Qigong really helps take focus away from discomfort, which helps form the meditative link between body and mind.