Benefits of Yin Yoga: The Science

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PHYSICAL:

  • Range of Motion (ROM) within our joints is limited by tension.

  • Tension resistance comes from the 4 main tissues:

    Joint capsule and ligaments 47% Muscles (and its fascia) 41% Tendons 10% Skin 2%

  • Yin Yoga removes tension & improves flexibility and motion for stiff joints

  • Increases circulation

  • Increases fluidity into the joints and stimulates the production of HA

  • Helps fight contracture of the joint capsules

  • Avoids degeneration of the bones

  • Redues fixation in the joints

  • Aids in injury management & prevention

EMOTIONAL/MENTAL:

  • Calms the mind and may relieve stress and anxiety

  • Stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system allowing a state of rest and digest

  • Balances Yang lifestyles

  • Lowers our stress response

ENERGETIC:

  • Increases the flow of prana/chi in the body

  • Stimulates the meridian lines associated with different organs

  • Releases stagnant energy

  • Replenish the reserves of Jing in our Kidneys.

  • Creates internal pulsed magnetic fields that can restore cellular health.


The Theory of Exercise:

  • First we must stress the tissues,

  • Then we must let the tissues rest.

Yang tissues (muscles) perform better when stressed (exercised) in a yang like matter - rhythmic and repetitive.

  • Muscles are elastic and can take this type of exercise. Applying a Yin exercise to a yang tissue for example holding a muscle in a contracted state for a long period of time is called ‘tetany’ (Tetany or tetanic seizure is a medical sign consisting of the involuntary contraction of muscles, which may be caused by disorders that increase the action potential frequency of muscle cells or the nerves that innervate them.) and may damage it.

Yin tissues (fascia, connective tissues, ligaments, tendons and joint capsules) are better when stressed in a yin like way - gentle, slow, long, deep stresses.

  • Yin tissues being more plastic respond well to more gentle longer. Applying a Yang exercises to a Yin tissue can potentially cause injury and damage.

  • This is why it is important when we come out of a Yin pose to rest.

Think about when you bend a credit card up and down repetitively, what happens eventually? The plastic card snaps right?

To Stretch or to Stress?

According to Bernie Clark every stretch is the result of a stress, but not all stresses result in a stretch. Indeed your muscles are being stretched and stressed sometimes, and this is not wrong. Muscles are designed to stretch: they can lengthen in some cases 50% before being torn. Ligaments on the other hand dont like to stretch, not very much anyway. Depending upon which ligament and where, most ligaments if stretched beyond 4~10% will stay stretched. Unlike muscles, ligaments are more plastic and dont snap back to their original lengths like the elastic muscles do. However, ligaments, fascia and joint capsules still need to be stressed to be healthy. So, here we see that stress is not the same as stretched. We want to stress our tissues: sometimes this results in a stretch (good for muscles) but not always (bad for ligaments.)

So in short what we are actually doing is stressing our tissues. Personally I still use the word stretch as it is a form of stress however people can relate much better to the word stretch and I don’t want to be dropping the stress word more than I have to considering that’s why the majority of people are coming to your class, because they are stressed!


Yin Yoga and The Nervous System

The Autonomic Nervous System

The two main systems making up the autonomic nervous system are the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.

The autonomic nervous system acts largely unconsciously and regulates bodily functions such as the heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, temperature regulation and multiple other functions all automatically, without you having to make it happen. The human body is designed to seek balance and the autonomic nervous system is the biggest system in the body that plays the biggest role in regulating homeostasis. Your body is communicating with you every second of every day and it will tell you when something is out of balance, it’s is up to you to listen!

The Sympathetic Nervous System

Otherwise known as fight or flight! The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for energy production and the bodies ability to adapt and deal with stress. It is more active during the daytime.

If we go back in time to caveman/woman days, looking for food and survival were really our two main tasks in life. When a ferocious saber-toothed tiger came charging out of the woods our parasympathetic nervous system was stimulated to kick into gear causing our HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adreanal) axis to spring into action pumping up our stress hormones and adrenaline. We had two options either ‘fight’ the bloody animal or ‘flight’, run for the life of humanity!

Now days a good portion of humanity have that same response constantly, ranging from traumatic experiences, an oncoming car, relationship and family complications, bills and finances, climate change or maybe just an impending deadline and difficulties with work commitments and time management. Our bodies trigger a physical stress response that prepares us to either fight or flee the scene however one way our present day scenario can differ is that unlike our ancestors often we are unable to run away from our stressors and they keep piling up or we suppress them which can result in serious complications.

Stress causes dis-ease either physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually and some potential causes include:

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  • Poor diet choices

  • Overexertion (yang) or inactivity (yin)

  • Lack of sleep (insomnia)

  • Weak immunity and illness

  • Allergans

  • Unhealthy relationships

  • Death of a loved one

  • Childhood trauma or held physical trauma

  • Suppressed negative emotions and unresolved issues

  • Living in fear

  • Financial stress

  • Environmental factors including overuse of mobiles, computers, appliances and fluorescent lights, being exposed to toxins and harmful chemicals

  • Lack of purpose or faith

  • Disconnection from nature

Negative stress elevates cortisol levels and is the number one cause of many dis-eases including heart disease, cancer, all auto-immune diseases, gastrointestinal dis-orders, neurological and emotional dis-orders.

Functions of the sympathetic nervous system

  • Protects the body under attack

  • Stimulates flight or flight response

  • Elevates blood pressure and blood sugar

  • Increases body heat

  • Regulates the brain, muscles, thyroid, adrenal glands, insulin and cortisol

It’s not all bad news as there is also forms of healthy stress and that’s what we apply to the body in our practice of Yin Yoga, we apply a healthy amount of stress on the tissues and allow the body to release, relax, rest and digest, which brings us to…..the parasympathetic nervous system.

The Parasympathetic Nervous System

Sometimes called the rest and digest system, the parasympathetic system is responsible for conserving energy, recovery, regeneration and repair as it slows the heart rate, increases intestinal and gland activity, and stimulates the gastrointestinal tract. The parasympathetic nervous system has the primary role of turning the sympathetic nervous system off and self-regulating physiological functions. It is known as the relaxation response or the restful alertness response.

The stronger your parasympathetic nervous system is the healthier you will be.

The parasympathetic nervous system is closely related to the vagus nerve and is the primary pathway that it uses to send nerve impulses and signals. These signals can be activated by meditative practices including Yin Yoga. The vagus nerve when stimulated induces the relaxation response and helps the body regulate homeostasis. The tone of your voice and the facial muscles are influenced by vagus nerve stimulation and you can see and feel the relaxation response.

Functions of the parasympathetic nervous system:

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  • Regenerates, replenishes and relaxes the body and mind

  • Improves immune function

  • Aids in rest and recovery

  • Aids in assimilation and elimination

  • Regulates liver, kidneys, pancreas, spleen, stomach, small intestine and colon

Some activities to help you access more of your parasympathetic nervous system included:

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  • Yin Yoga and gentle forms of Yoga

  • Meditation

  • Pranayama

  • Mindfulness activities

  • Massage

  • Reading a book

  • Spending time in nature

  • Art

  • Resting

  • Swimming in the ocean/natural water

  • Eating nourishing warm meals

  • Calm/healthy relationships with friends/family and work

  • Adequate sleep

  • Walking

Inviting more of these Yin like activities into your life in turn will help you manage stress, regulate the bodies inflammation levels, rejuvenate your cells, improve memory and brain performance, sleep better and increase your overall well-being.



Yin and Pregnancy

  • During pregnancy, the body releases the hormone relaxin which softens the connective tissues, making it easier to overstress the ligaments and cartilage.

  • It is advised to stick with whatever natural range of motion you had prior to pregnancy.

  • In the first trimester, it is advised to avoid inversions to allow the embryo to implant firmly into the walls of the uterus. In this phase, relaxin is released in high concentrations.

  • In the Second and Third Trimesters, many women crave a release on the spine and hips. Good Yin poses include Sleeping Swan (with bolster), Squat, Butterfly/Diamond, and Straddle, will all allow room for the growing belly.

  • Yin Yoga Benefits for pregnant women include helping the body find greater comfort within dramatic physical changes, helping the organs to be more healthy, balance out emotions, hormones, and overall energy.


I would personally like to thank all of my mentors and teachers over the years including Joe Barnett, Mysan Sidbo, Travis Eliot & Annie Au also Paulie Zink, Paul Grilley, Bernie Clark and Dr. Motoyama for providing in depth studies into Yin Yoga which have been included in the resources of this training.