This is an excerpt from Journey Into Yin Yoga, A by Travis Eliot.
The way that we exercise muscle is different from the way that we exercise connective tissue. If you want to strengthen a muscle such as a biceps, then you stress it by doing repetitive, strong, and explosive movements.For example, pick an appropriate weight and do 8 to 12 biceps curls. This exercise will break down the muscle tissue. After rest, the body will repair and rebuild the muscle, assuming you give it proper nutrition. Then the next time you do the exercise after the muscle has recovered, the movement will be more efficient and the weight easier to curl. The natural Tao of the body knows how to adapt. This example describes a yang style of exercise to address the yang nature of the muscles.
The connective tissues however, are characterized by yin and need to be exercised in a yin manner. So, what makes a yin yoga pose? Instead of a fast, dynamic movement, the connective tissues respond to a slow, sustained hold. Practitioners of yin yoga typically hold a relaxed posture for three to five minutes, which exerts a positive stress on the connective tissues as a way to trigger the body's natural repair response. This leads to a stronger, more durable, and supple body. This method then triggers a set of events that makes the connective tissues stronger, longer, and more durable. Because the connective tissue is found in nearly every structure of the body, this is a boon for your overall health and performance capabilities.
No matter what yin pose you do, the following three laws will always be present. Anytime you work with these three guidelines, you know that you are working within the realm of yin. Remember these now and forever.
Find Your Edge
When you enter into a posture, you first look for your edge. This is a wall of resistance that keeps you from proceeding farther. Trying to force and push through this wall isn't yin; it is yang. Imagine yourself gently leaning into that wall. Depending on the situation, the wall could indicate tissue tightness or it could indicate anatomical limitations. If anatomy, rather than tissue tightness, is the limitation then your range of motion has been fully expressed. During the posture, aim for positive discomfort and not bad pain.
Once you find your edge and settle into the sweet spot in the pose, strive for stillness. Stillness is synonymous with yin. Finding stillness doesn't mean that you can't fine-tune and adjust your position. It just means that if you need to move, do it mindfully. Frequently, our movements are unconscious and reactive. If we are in a pose and experience discomfort, many of us try to distract ourselves from what we are feeling. This could arise as an itch, a desire to adjust clothing, or the temptation to pick at our fingernails. You wouldn't believe the number of people I've seen in a yin pose become enamored with their nails. If you need to, make a mental note to set up a mani-pedi appointment, and then come back to yin practice. Eliminate unnecessary, fidgety behavior.
Let Time Flow
Yin yoga is not about quantity; it's about quality. You may not execute nearly as many poses as in a flow class, but that's not the point. The point is to spend a substantial amount of time in each pose in a deep, concentrated way. The strength of yin yoga comes from this flow of time. The longer you hold, the deeper you go. The deeper you go, the deeper you heal. The deeper you heal, the better you will feel. So being patient is to your benefit. Developing patience is an added bonus of your yin yoga practice. The more patience you have, the less stressed and anxious you will be. So how long do you hold? The magic window of time for holding a yin pose is usually three to five minutes.
Learn more about A Journey Into Yin Yoga.