Dear Jessica: Today in yoga class we did a form of yoga our instructor called “Yuan.” I’m not positive that I am spelling that correctly but we held poses for an extended period of time. It was GREAT and I am interested in learning more about it. My question is: What are the benefits of this extended yoga pose and how does it differ from that of a regular practice? How can it enhance regular yoga practice?
Jessica: There are a lot of questions in there! Here’s the short answer: I believe you are referring to “Yin” Yoga, which is a form of Yoga that involves practicing the asanas in these 3 steps:
1. Come into the pose to an appropriate depth (that YOUR body is comfortable with).
2. Resolve to remain still – (this includes body AND mind).
3. Hold the pose for a period of time. Yin postures are generally held for a minimum of one minute, and for some people, as long as twenty minutes. This differs from “Yang” postures which may be held for as little as a few breaths, or as long as a minute, depending upon the style of yoga being practiced.
The key to Yin Yoga is to hold a pose under a reasonable, light stress for long periods of time. Slowing down your asana practice is beneficial when you need to counter-balance the busy Yang activities of your day. Or perhaps you started your day with a vigorous set of Sun Salutations so you want to end your day with the other extreme, Yin poses, to balance your energy. This goes both ways, now: if you’ve already had a low-key, “yin” style of day, it is not recommended to add more Yin to your life, but rather, Yang in the form of a more vigorous asana practice.
Yin Yoga is also beneficial because it targets the deeper connective tissues for increasing flexibility on a deeperupavistha kona or Pigeon Pose (EkaPada Rajakapotasana) while reading or talking on the phone, eating at your coffee table or watching television. This will help open the hips as you allow your body to rest in these poses level. For this reason, it’s recommended to practice Yin Yoga first thing in the morning, while the muscles are still cold, to ensure the stretching happens on the deeper level.
For those who love to multi-task, try sitting in a Yin pose such as Seated Angle Pose (Upavistha Kona) or Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana) while reading or talking on the phone, eating at your coffee table or watching television. This will help open the hips as you allow your body to rest in these poses.