Yin's distinguishing feature is that poses are held for long durations. Photo: Stocksy
"This is not a stretch class," my yoga teacher says. Lying on my mat listening to her, I'm puzzled: I thought all yoga was about stretching. But this is a yin session and, as I've learnt, yin yoga's main purpose is to move energy in the body.
It's a gentle practice with a restorative effect that's attracting many followers, from stressed-out office workers to athletes. Many start it because they are recovering from illness or injury and are unable to do vigorous forms of exercise.
I began yin after my physiotherapist – not one to mince words – suggested I try yoga to build my "weak core and floppy muscles". At the time, I wasn't strong enough for a yoga class that included 90 minutes of sun salutations, downward dogs and shoulder stands, so I joined a friend who was raving about a yin yoga class she'd discovered.
Although it didn't do anything to strengthen my core, I noticed the class calmed my frazzled mind, eased the tightness in my back and legs and that I slept really well afterwards.
Yin's distinguishing feature is that poses are held for long durations: from three to 21 minutes, though the average is about six minutes. Most poses are done on the floor and a one-hour class will include around six poses altogether.
Practitioners use as many props as needed – bolsters, blocks and blankets – for support and comfort in a pose. This allows your muscles to relax so you can stimulate your body's soft connective tissue, also known as fascia. Fascia, the latest buzzword in the fitness world, is a web-like substance which surrounds the nerves, organs, blood vessels, muscles and bones. Healthy fascia is vital for overall wellbeing and yin yoga helps keep it supple.
Yin isn't about building strength, it's about letting go and dropping out of your busy mind. This, it seems, is the secret to its current popularity: it's about slowing down in a fast-paced world.
"People are realising that they never stop," says Stella Chambers of Shiny Yoga, "and they need to find some space among all the busy-ness."
"Most of us are used to achieving things all day," explains yin teacher Lis Cancio. "But yin is about letting go of our attachment to an outcome."
The surrender of a yin practice, however, can take some getting used to. "People find the stillness difficult at first," says Amy Johnston of My Asana. As a teacher, she notices new yin students fidgeting and even getting annoyed.
Stella Chambers agrees. "The stillness can be confronting, because we're so used to moving and doing all the time."
Yet it's exactly this stillness which draws me to yin: it's the one hour a week when I get to stop moving. By the time I arrive at my regular Thursday evening class, I'm depleted: I've been running around all week juggling work, kids, washing, cooking and a relentless stream of emails and texts.
My neck, shoulders and hamstrings are stiff from sitting at my computer and all the thinking I've been doing has wreaked havoc on the equilibrium between my mind and body.
But an hour of yin yoga helps to release the tension in my muscles and redistributes my energy, so that I walk out of class feeling just like I do after a session of acupuncture: calm, peaceful and revitalised.
The best way to understand yin is to experience it. "If I explain yin to people," says Chambers, "I don't know if they get it. But then they do a few classes and they feel it. It's life changing."
BENEFITS OF YIN YOGA
• Increases flexibility in the joints.
• Stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (responsible for the "rest and digest" functions of the body).
• Improves the flow of energy in the body.
• Boosts immune function.
• Improves circulation.