I recognize that I am limited in this information, but I will share as much as I know at this time to the best of my abilities. With every truth there is some untruth and with some untruth there is some truth.
Yin is a term that comes from Taoist (also written and pronounced Daoist) philosophy. Yin is interconnected to Yang. You may even have seen the symbol above. This is a representation that in the light part of the symbol there is still a drop of darkness and in the dark part of the symbol there is a drop of lightness. We could go on and on about the names of duality light/dark, masculine/feminine, hot/cold, sun/moon, right/left, etc. but essentially this symbol comes down to everything is interconnected and cannot truly be separated. The Masters of Eastern philosophies and practices knew this. From the Ancient Rishis to the Masters like Lao Tzu [who was the founder and author of the Tao Te Ching(The Way of the Tao), the book for Taoism]. They knew this information as well as our Native brothers and sister here on Turtle Island (The Americas).
“Yin yoga is an art form not an exact science. The purpose of Yin yoga is to take us out of the systems of social convention, indoctrination, and mechanistic ways of thinking, not to reinforce them by demanding conformity to rigid, limited paradigms. Yoga does not require scientific approval or validation. Intellectualizing the practice of yoga serves to obstruct a deeper understanding of its essence. The real power to authorize truth is contained within each and every one of us.”
~Paulie & Maria Zink
My teachers of Yin yoga like to pull teachings from Bernie Clark, who is a student of Paul Grilley, in mentioning that originally asana was slower and methodical in it's approach in how to move the stuck energy throughout the body to reach a higher state of being essential to connect to the Divine. Speaking of these teachers; I shall continue with how we got this style of yoga asana, Yin, here in the West.
Paulie Zink learned ways to advance his Kung Fu through his teacher Cho Chat Ling, who through the blessing of his Uncle passed down the practice of Taoist QiGong and Taosit Yoga. The name Yin yoga didn't come around until Paul Grilley began to study with Paulie and then taught it to Sarah Powers. Sarah then renamed it to Yin Yoga. For consistency these practitioners have settled on the name Yin yoga to achieve the same goal. A slow practice to realign the nervous system, energy channels, and distress or dis-ease within the body.
How does this relate to Yoga asana?
So what is Yin yoga and how does it differ from the other schools or styles. So besides the deep connection to a Chinese philosophy the practice is much slower than say a Power, Ashtanga, or Vinyasa class. The practice is to stretch the Yin tissues of the body instead of the Yang tissues. What are these tissues?
Yin Tissues: Ligaments, Bones, and Joints.
Yang Tissues: Muscles, Blood, Skin
As Paul Grilley says in his books and teachings is that we are stretching the bones in a Yin way instead of a Yang way. An example of this is if we moved our tooth back and forth vigorously (Yang) then we would lose our tooth quickly. If we slowly and over time moved the tooth then we might have straighter teeth (these practice and use of braces).
"When practicing yin yoga it is best to have a yin attitude. Do not be anxious or aggressive and force your body into the pose. Make a modest effort to approximate the pose as best you can, and then patiently wait. The power of yin yoga is time not effort. It takes time for our connective tissues to slowly respond to a gentle stress, it cannot be rushed. Learning to patiently wait calms the mind and develops the necessary attitude for meditation practices."
~Paul Grilley, Yin Yoga Pinciples and Practices
Yin Yoga is to help us as practitioners with our energy levels, feeling of wholeness, and range of motion (ROM), among other things. Yin is beneficial for all ages, especially those who are going into their Yin years (50+). There are also beneficial times of the day and the year to practice Yin. Yin is a way to get back in tune with nature and Her cycles and as we are a piece of Her we must slow down to listen what She has to say.
Yin also includes the associated meridian/energy channels (just like Hatha yoga from Indian includes Nadis/energy channels). For Spring, it is the Liver and Gall Bladder channel. The channels are energies channels that are associated with the organ, but not limited to the organs. When we do a certain pose like Frog we are activating the liver meridian which can stimulate the physical, emotional, and energetic release of this channel. I will link this article for further reading of Spring Yin Organs.
As I write this in the latter part of the Spring I am fully exploring what Yin yoga asanas that would support not only myself but my students during the seasonal changes that happen during Spring. Here are my top three poses for Spring.
Using a blanket(s) under the knees, open the knees wider than the sticky mat, and rest torso either on a bolster or actively lifting away from the floor on the forearms (as pictured).
Frog activates the Liver meridian channel or the muscles and ligaments in the inner thighs.
Sitting in a butterfly, sit on one hip and allow the opposite knee to fold over/point to the opposite foot (i.e As pictured I sit on my Right hip and bring my left knee to point or connect with my Right foot).
The torso can rest on props like a bolster or a chair. The torso can fold over the front shin, knee or thigh.
This pose opens both the outter, inner, and back-side body. In meridian terms it opens both Liver and Gall Bladder channels.
Shoelace (at the wall):
Setting up your mat at the wall, using props (or not) under your lower back, measure your space from the wall (legs make a right/90 degree angle). Cross right knee over left and begin to walk/wiggle your feet to the sides (pinky toes stay connected to the wall).
This again opens the Liver Gall Bladder channel.
You may feel this stretch in the hips, either outer or inner. As long as there is no pain, you are doing the pose "correctly". If you feel pain come out of the pose.
Spring is a season of drastic/radical shift of energies. As practitioners we must look to nature as our teacher as there is stability and wisdom from her elements and movement. In Spring the element is wood and it can be seen as both the growth of new wood/fruits or old wood dying or breaking off. Emotions associated with the Spring season is Anger. So notice when you feel this emotion and choose how to "sit" with it. Naming it can be sitting with it. Doing some asana can literally be sitting with it as asana can be translated as seat. Or expressing it in a safe manner can be sitting with it. I find the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh very helpful to the expression of emotions in a compassionate way.
There are more variations on just these three poses and more to open the Liver and Gall bladder channel this season. Find some grounding and openness through this asana practice either at home or with me on the mat. Check my schedule to join me on the mat.
Yoga asana is just one way to connect to self and release stuck energy. If you would like to dive deeper into a meditation try some Yin yoga first it may help with stilling the mind to prepare for meditation. These poses can be done safely either first thing in the morning or just before bed. Try it out and let me know what you feel!