I've been practicing yoga for about a year now, but I didn’t begin with yin yoga. I became acquainted with yin long after my first yoga class. Like most people, I began with vinyasa. While vinyasa yoga boasts an enormous number of wonderful health benefits, it can also have some disadvantages depending on the person and their energetic constitution and environmental factors. I want to make a case for the importance of understanding ourselves, including our own unique circumstances and needs, in determining whether we should limit the amount of vinyasa yoga we practice or even replace it with yin yoga entirely.
I remember when I first began taking vinyasa yoga classes. I was living in Los Angeles, an exciting, dynamic, and creative city—a city that was nevertheless a source of continual work, stress, and exhaustion. Constant traffic, billboards, Hollywood, endless possibilities for activities, and people upon people upon people—this environment had me moving without stopping for nearly four straight years.
In my vinyasa class, I would move up and down and all around in quick succession. My heart would beat. My pores would drip with sweat. By the end of the class my shirt was soaked, and I was thoroughly fatigued. And this was all great—at least that’s what I believed. What I didn’t realize is that I was working too hard and too fast. I was out of breath too often, and I was tired too often. I needed something else, something that would bring my body into balance, not out of it.
For me, that was yin yoga—a slow, restorative style of yoga. Yin gives back so much more strength and energy than it takes away. When I began practicing yin yoga, I learned how to relax my body and really feel into each and every part of my body, especially the areas of pain.
As a result, I felt much more balanced and less restless. When you breathe in, you are acknowledging any suffering that either you possess or that exists in the world around you, and you are accepting that suffering totally and unconditionally. When you breathe out you are giving rise to love, compassion, goodwill, kindness, surrender, or any number of positive attitudes you can generate.
Here are five signs that you might need to consider replacing your vinyasa practice with a yin practice:
1. You have a vata dosha.
Vata is one of the three classifications used by the ancient Indian system of ayurveda to determine how to bring the mind and body into balance. Vata corresponds to a specific orientation of the mind and body, which tends to be impulsive and erratic and that needs to be restrained and stabilized. People with vata dosha tend to have lean body types. They lose weight easily and gain weight with great difficulty. As such, vata types need exercises that are gentle and moderate, definitely not fast or rigorous. Yin yoga is a phenomenal activity for people with a vata type.
2. You're too yang.
Yin and yang are two forces underlying everything in the universe. Yin means "passive." Yang means "active." People will naturally gravitate more toward one or the other. While certainly not always the case, men will tend to exert their energy more actively, whereas women will tend to exert their energy more passively.
The problem is not having a slight predominance of one over the other. The problem is when one totally dominates the other. Excess yang is most evident through restlessness. Restlessness manifests when your body resists stillness for any duration of time.
So keep an eye out for environments and lifestyles that incite excess yang. If you have a job that requires you to stand on your feet and move constantly, you will very likely benefit from yin yoga, regardless whether you have a vata dosha.
3. You're an anxious person.
Anxiety manifests through a number of symptoms—the most significant of which may include muscle tightness, heart palpitations, and difficulty breathing.
Yin yoga is a great treatment for anxiety because it emphasizes so much deep breathing, which exerts a calming effect on the body. When we breathe deeply by sucking air into our stomachs, we are tapping into that instinctual aspect of ourselves that reminds us how we breathed when we were babies—relaxed without a single worry in the world.
4. You're inflexible.
Flexibility requires an ample flow of oxygen through the blood and cells. During yin yoga, we breathe into the muscles as we engage them, and this allows them to stretch.
Even some of the most basic postures, such as child’s pose, are a great opportunity to stretch when paired with breathing. When we breathe in deeply while our bodies are outstretched, the fascia, or thin sheaths of fibrous tissues enclosing our muscles and other organs, are able to release their tension.
5. You have trouble meditating.
Meditation, as I mentioned before, has a lot in common with yin yoga. Yin yoga, in many ways, is a gateway for people who want to learn meditation. Yin yoga exists halfway between active exercise and total stillness. After practicing yin yoga for a certain period of time, don’t feel surprised if you begin sliding much more easily into at least 10 minutes of seated meditation.
Intrigued? Here's a guide to yin yoga that will help you deepen your practice.
Henry Bond is the creator of Journey Through Meditation. He has a master’s degree in Health Promotion from the Maryland University of Integrative Health. After studying with a variety of special teachers at unique institutions, most notably Kripalu Yoga Institute, Henry began sharing his own knowledge of meditation, mindfulness, and yoga. He believes that breath holds the secret and power to transform our lives.