These days you hear about all sorts of different types of yoga – power yoga, restorative yoga, vinyasa yoga and so forth. What is yin yoga and how does it uniquely benefit your body and health? The muscular-skeletal system is composed of four basic supporting structures: bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments. If we look a little deeper we understand that ligaments connect bones to bones and tendons connect muscles to bones.
After 18 years experience treating orthopedic injuries as a Nurse Practitioner, I find that muscle, tendon and ligament health is critical to prevent tissue damage. Tissue damage can occur due to trauma, sprain, strain, chronic repetitive use or just performing activities of daily living. The muscular-skeletal system becomes more susceptible to injury when there is weakness and inflexibility. Imagine your body like a brittle, dry, hard tree being bent and twisted by harsh sudden winds, cracking and breaking. Now imaging your body like a supple, flexible, healthy tree bowing and swaying gracefully in the winds. The choice is ours.
Muscle-skeletal health is greatly dependent on muscle strength, however if the ligaments, tendons or fascia are constricted and inflexible, injuries and pain are harder to prevent and treat. Fascia is a critical component in flexibility. In yin yoga the fascia is accessed making the entire system healthier.
Study of the fascia reveals multiple layers called the perimysium, endomysium and epimysium. The perimysium fascia surrounds individual muscles, endomysium fascia encases individual muscle fibers and the epimysium fascia encases muscles bundles. It is fascia that merges and becomes tendon attaching muscle to bone. This myotendon junction can be the weakest point where injuries and detrimental chronic changes take place. This is where yin yoga plays an important role in the health of the entire muscular-skeletal system and fitness.
Yin yoga utilizes the practice of deep gentle stretches to improve the bodies health. Typical static stretches are held for 15-30 seconds, where as yin yoga stretches are sustained safely for several minutes. Then the question is “What if I’m too inflexible to do yin yoga?”. Well, that’s like saying you are to dirty to take a shower. Yin yoga is for EVERY body. Yin yoga must be practiced slowly, gently and in stages, but the benefits are worth it. Here is a list of health benefits –
- Increased flexibility and range of motion
- Improved blood circulation to the muscular-skeletal structures
- Reduced risk of sprains, strains and injuries due to chronic repetitive use
- Release of lactic acid
- Reduced pain
- Improved athletic performance
- Resolution of long held body memories
- Deeper mind body connection
- Recognition of body asymmetry
- Clearing of the lymphatic system
- Stimulation and balance of the marmas
- Stimulation and balancing of the meridians
What are meridians and marmas? In Ayurvedic medicine, marmas are vital points in the body where there is intersection of vital life force (chi, ki, prana), muscles (mamsa), blood vessels (sira) , ligaments, tendons and nerves (snayu) and bones (asthi). In Chinese medicine each meridian has a distinct pathway in the body in which vital energy flows. There are over 100 marmas (7 primary) and hundreds of meridians (12 primary) directly associated with specific organs and body functions. Yin yoga creates a gentle balancing of both marmas and meridians.
So stretching is much more than a few minutes of pre-workout movements or something athletes do. Yin yoga moves beyond basic stretching and accesses health on a whole new level.
As a Doctorate of Ayurvedic Medicine, Master Yoga Teacher Trainer ERYT500 and Nurse Practitioner with over 25 years acute care hospital experience, I strongly encourage yin yoga. I have lectured on medical orthopedics at Loma Linda University for over a decade. In my private hospital medical practice, I have treated acute and chronic orthopedic injuries for 18 years and am a certified Yin Yoga teacher and trainer. All my injured patients are educated on the importance of stretching for recovery and overall health. Give it a try today. Remember that yin yoga should be done gently and with guidance, never forced or performed to the point of pain. For a listing of upcoming classes in Yin yoga, marma and meridian anatomy, visit HealthierVibrations class listing.