When you think of yoga, you may think of an active physical exercise where the intention is to strengthen and increase the flexibility of muscles. This is true for some styles of yoga but there are also styles with different intentions that are less active and have less focus on the muscles.
In Chinese taoist philosophy, yin and yang describe how seemingly opposite forces are connected and can help bring balance. This belief also applies to the practise of yoga. Certain styles of yoga are categorised as Yin and others as Yang based on which tissues of the body they target and how active they are.
“Analysing various yoga techniques from the perspective of yin and yang, the most relevant aspect is the elasticity of the tissues involved. Yang tissues like muscles are more fluid-filled, soft and elastic; yin tissues like connective tissue (ligaments, tendons and fascia) and bones are dryer, harder and stiffer. By extension, exercise that focuses on muscle tissue is yang; exercise that focuses on connective tissue is yin.” Paul Grilley
While both Yin and Yang yoga move energy through the body to improve physical, mental and emotional health, yang styles move quickly and focus on muscle tissue, yin styles move slowly and focuses on connective tissue.
Yang styles such as Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Iyengar and Bikram are more physical, repetitive and rhythmic, working on strengthening and stretching the muscles to make the muscle tissue stronger and longer. These are more active styles of yoga where the muscles are contracted.
Yin styles such as Restorative and Yin (Yes Yin is a category and a style just to confuse you) are slower and more passive where poses are held for longer periods of time working on healing and creating more mobility in the body. These are less active styles of yoga where the muscles are mostly relaxed.
Yin styles target the connect tissues
Yang styles target the muscles
Yin styles are slow and passive
Yang styles are repetitive and rhythmic
Yin styles emphasise holding postures for longer periods
Yang styles emphasise movement
Muscles are relaxed in Yin styles
Muscles are contracted in Yang styles
Both yin and yang are important in life to help create balance. Many of us lead very yang lifestyles, we are busy going from one task to the next, always doing. This is where a yin style of yoga can be very beneficial as it helps us to balance that yang energy.
“Balance requires consciously honouring both the yin and yang energies of life. Yang is about change, movement, passion, climbing great heights, and accomplishing great deeds. Yin is about acceptance, allowing, stillness, enjoying the present moment and doing small everyday tasks as if they were great deeds.” – Bernie Clark