Think of it this way; connective tissue is to animals what cellulose is to plants, the scaffolding around which everything else is built, hung or inserted. Plant cellulose maximizes stability, healthy connective tissues permit a more dynamic mobile stability and our stability requires near constant maintenance. Not as obvious to us as atrophy or weakening of our muscles, but just as undesirable is the slow shortening and stiffening of connective tissues throughout our body due to injuries, abuse,neglect, and aging (beginning around the age of 30!). Shrink wrapped joints hurt. They don’t bend, and they prevent youthful stability, fluidity and range of motion. They kill the fun!
If we want to maintain our joint flexibility we must exercise them, but here is the rub - We cannot exercise them like muscles, we must exercise them very differently, in the Yin Yoga fashion. Why? Because connective tissue does not respond to brief or rhythmical stretches the way muscles do. Fortunately, a mindful practice of Yin Yoga (long held, muscular passive stretches), will, over time, enhance flexibility and circulation in our bound up joints. Connective tissues must be stretched slowly and gently, like taffy. Hard, strenuous activity can injure or snap them like the familiar but dreaded ski or football injury.
The practice of Yin Yoga reaches down into one’s own body and gently stimulates the flow of chi through the meridians of the connective tissue and helps regain youthful range of motion, ROM. Yin Yoga results are first produced mainly in the shoulder, and even the ankles and wrists depending on the choice of yin posture. When these joints become more supple, all activity becomes easier, and less painful…like when we were kids.
The Yin Yoga practice is mindful, precise and best learned under the watchful eye of a trained Yin Yoga practitioner who can guide you into “suggested shapes” safely.
3 Tenets of a Healthy Yin Yoga Practice
1. Come into the suggested shape to an appropriate and personalized, edge, depth, sensation and intensity. Something doable and perhaps assisted by a prop.
2. Build on the pose becoming more and more still and passive. Muscle tissue must NOT be engaged or resisting. Gentle Yoga Long Breath is helpful.
3. Hold for Time maintaining stillness 3-5 minutes (Yin tissues by definition are dull and resistant and it takes time for them to respond effectively). The sensations, depending on the pose, are strong and it is OK to back off a bit if they become sharp, searing or raw.
Yin Yoga is a mindful practice where mind, body and breath learn to be present, quiet, still and let go in spite of discomfort…A very transferable life skill!
Anne Byard teaches Insight Yoga at the Aspen Club with an Inspiring blend of Yin Yoga, Traditional Hatha Yoga, Slow Flow, Restorative Yoga, and guided relaxation. All classes include deep seated emphasis on mindfulness, appropriate positioning, and self-care. This is a feel good class!