5 Ways Yin Yoga Can Transform Your Health & Life

by Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac.

Setareh yin twist.jpg

You may have already heard my story about how practicing Yoga changed my life as a stressed out overachiever at Cal (if you haven't read the story, you can find it here). But you may not know that beginning the practice of Yin Yoga awakened my interest in Chinese Medicine, and led me toward the path that I'm on now.

As I prepare to teach the second (and probably last) live round of my one-of-a-kind Yin Yoga Integration Teacher Training this Fall, I hope to demystify the practice of Yin Yoga so you can better understand how it can transform the way you feel in your body and move through your life—regardless of your practice level or age.

Yin Yoga isn’t the same as gentle Yoga, nor is it necessarily restorative. Rather, Yin Yoga is a deep and sometimes uncomfortable practice.

Understood through the lens of Chinese Medicine, this practice can access the deeper connective tissue of your body to help you release trapped emotions and free you physically to allow for greater freedom of movement.

What is Yin Yoga?

Yin Yoga is a passive practice primarily comprised of seated and supine postures typically held for 3 to 5 minutes. Practicing in this way allows the stretch to go beyond the muscles to the deeper layers of fascia.

Over the years, Yin Yoga has become a practice I come home to when things are difficult, when I’m exhausted and even when I feel great. It’s a comfort for me to sit in the long-held postures, breathe, take in the moment, and let go of the chatter in my mind.

And because your body sits passively to experience the deeper stretch, your mind naturally settles with time, supporting you to let go of the distractions of the day without forcing anything.

Yin Yoga is the passive balance to a daily active, or Yang, lifestyle that’s typical for so many of us.

And since this practice releases the connective tissue and most importantly the illiopsoas (the muscle group in the pelvic region that’s comprised of the illiacus and psoas muscles) where emotional stress and trauma are stored, as your body releases, your mind becomes more free and you can move through your life with far greater ease.

5 Ways Yin Yoga Can Improve Your Health & Life

Butterfly pose in the Yin style.

Here are five important health benefits that can be cultivated through regular Yin Yoga practice:

  1. Reduced Stress, Anxiety and Depression

    In a randomized controlled trial, researchers examined whether participating in a five-week yoga intervention reduces biomarker Adrenomedullin (ADM) and increases psychological health in middle-aged adults who self-report as moderately to highly stressed. ADM is a blood pressure-lowering peptide expressed in cardiovascular tissues including the vascular wall and heart. Plasma levels of ADM are elevated in patients with hypertension, heart failure or arteriosclerosis, as compared with control subjects.

    Compared to the control group, the researchers observed significantly greater pre-post reductions in plasma ADM levels, anxiety, depression, and sleep problems.

    The study concluded that five-week Yin yoga-based interventions appeared to reduce both the physiological and psychological risk factors known to be associated with non communicable diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes.

    The study also suggested incorporating Yin yoga as an easy and low-cost method to limit the negative health effects associated with high stress.[1]

  2. Improved Digestion & Sleep

    The very experience of Yin Yoga is calming and can reduce your stress levels since the poses are held for extended periods, averaging 3-8 minutes each. This calming effect regulates your nervous system and helps to relax your ‘fight or flight’ response.

    Whereas most styles of movement practice emphasize muscular strengthening and stretching, Yin Yoga focuses on stretching the connective tissue that’s more closely associated with the parasympathetic nervous system.

    As a result, you walk away from a Yin Yoga practice feeling calmer, stronger and can often notice improvements in your sleep and digestion—the aspects ruled by your parasympathetic nervous system—right away. (For more on the connection between digestion and sleep, you can read this article ).

    And when you sleep and digest better, you move with greater clarity and focus throughout your life.

  3. Greater Freedom of Movement

    Yin Yoga postures focus primarily on releasing and lengthening the hips, pelvis and lower spine. These areas hold a lot of latency—unresolved physical and emotional trauma that can over time inhibit your range of motion.

    Most books describe the practice of Yin Yoga in relation to the Primary Meridians, which are the main channels that are addressed and treated in Traditional Chinese Medicine. However, from the point of view of Classical Chinese Medicine, movement practice would be insufficient to access or treat the Primary Meridians.

    The classics of Chinese Medicine describe complement channels, which include the Sinew, Luo, Divergent and Eight Extraordinary Channels. Of these, the Sinew Channels control the movement of the Wei, or defensive Qi, and our movement.

    The sinews conduct Wei Qi and are the first to respond to exogenous pathogenic factors, or EPFs, that enter the body from the external environment. As these pathogenic factors internalize, they inhibit movement and therefore the Sinew Channels must be addressed in order to liberate your movement.

    Emotions can also be addressed through the Sinew Channels but the primary benefit of freeing the Sinew Channels is to develop freedom of movement and therefore greater flexibility in both the body and mind.

    So the emphasis in learning about the Sinew Channels in relationship to Yin Yoga practice is to be able to free these channels so you can find greater freedom of movement in all aspects of your life.

  4. Stronger Bones

    Distraction (often called traction) is one of the focuses in Yin Yoga and is the application of a long-held stress that tends to pull bones apart. A study published in Isfahan, Iran found that distraction stimulates both the growth of bones and their associated ligaments.[2]

  5. Greater Mental Clarity & Focus

    Practicing Yin Yoga can be challenging because the poses are held for minutes, releasing layers of tension and latent emotions that are held deep within the body’s fascia.

    The primary tool that helps ease the challenge is breath awareness, which anchors you into the present moment.

    Through breath awareness, you’re guided to ‘play your edge’, or to move to a point that challenges you physically while still taking deep, conscious breaths.

    Consistent practice in this way builds mental focus and clarity and will help you move through each day with both a stronger body and calmer mind.

If you’re interested in delving more deeply into this practice, you can apply to participate in my one-of-a-kind Yin Yoga Integration Teacher Training or attend any of my live retreats.

References
1. Daiva Daukantaitė, Una Tellhed, Rachel E. Maddux, Thomas Svensson, and Olle Melander. Five-week yin yoga-based interventions decreased plasma adrenomedullin and increased psychological health in stressed adults: A randomized controlled trial. PLoS One. 2018; 13(7): e0200518. Published online 2018 Jul 18. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0200518

2. Subodh Shankar Natu, Iqbal Ali, Sarwar Alam, Kolli Yada Giri, Anshita Agarwal, and Vrishali Ajit Kulkarni. The biology of distraction osteogenesis for correction of mandibular and craniomaxillofacial defects: A review. Dent Res J (Isfahan). 2014 Jan-Feb; 11(1): 16–26.


Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac. is Co-Owner and Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California, a health and wellness clinic that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine and Traditional Japanese Acupuncture. Setareh offers clinical services and transformational workshops that blend the ancient practices of Classical Chinese Medicine and Yoga. More information at www.setarehmoafi.com and www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com.

Practices To Ensure a Healthy Seasonal Transition

by Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac.

Dr. Setareh Moafi offers simple step-by-step guidance to do Dragon Pose. This Yin Yoga posture is important to open and release the Stomach Meridian and improve digestion. Benefits of the posture and its relationship to the Earth element and Stomach channel in Chinese Medicine are explained.

While this is a transitional period between Summer and Fall, late Summer is itself a season according to Chinese Medicine. August is the end of the Fire season and moving into the Metal season of Fall. The transitional period, known as late Summer, is Earth.

The Earth element rules the late Summer as well as all seasonal transitions, so it's a most important time to strengthen our Earth - in particular the Spleen and Stomach organs.

The Earth element relates to the digestive system and includes the Spleen, Pancreas and Stomach functions. Restoring health to our digestive system is fundamental to restoring health to our lives. The digestive system creates Qi to support a strong immune function and fluids to support the hormones and healthy endocrine function.

Digestion is about transformation; transformation of food into energy and substance to build the body. Having a strong Earth energy also supports transformation in our lives as well so we can create the life we want to live. And perhaps most importantly, creating a strong Earth energy in our lives helps support having healthy relationships especially within our family.

Weakness in the Earth organs can lead to sweet cravings which then cause the body to accumulate dampness. Dampness is a fungal terrain, often resulting from a diet heavy in carbohydrates, fried foods, dairy and sugar (even in the form of fruits).  

A fungal terrain can also develop from using various drugs such as antibiotics, sulfa drugs, chemotherapy, birth control pills, corticosteroids, antacids and acid blocking medications.

Dampness is reflected in our lives through the feeling of being stuck or lacking clarity.  Dampness is also associated with psychological imbalances such as Obsessive Compulsiveness Disorder and hoarding.

Imbalance in one's Earth can also lead to excess accumulation of heat in the Stomach causing acid reflux, indigestion, excessive appetite and even anxiety as the Stomach dumps the overflow of heat into the Heart. 

The Earth element thrives on a simple diet based on unprocessed foods, a calm mind, and a regular daily rhythm with meals, exercise and rest.  

The following tips will help strengthen the Earth energy to help bring clarity in your life and clear the heat and dampness that causes burnout and creates a sluggish body and mind.

6 Tips for a Healthy Earth:
1) Eat meals at regular times and without distractions. The digestive system thrives on eating with a relaxed state of mind. Try also to not skip meals and eat snacks if low blood sugar is an issue.
2) Cut back on sugar, including fruit. Even 'healthy' Summer fruit have a high sugar content that can create dampness and lead to immune suppression and Fall colds and flus. 
3) Eat more root vegetables. Root veggies such as sweet potatoes, parsnips, carrots and rutabaga help anchor your body's energy and calm your mind. 
4) Take enzymes and probiotics daily. Enzymes taken with meals will help break down food and prevent stagnation and heat accumulation in the Stomach. Along with a balanced probiotic supplement, enzymes are essential for your gut health, which is the core of your immune function and brain health. Not sure what to take? Call us at 408-244-8565 or stop in and pick up a bottle of our favorite probiotics and enzymes. 
5) Exercise to strengthen your Earth. Calming exercises such as Yoga and Qi Gong are especially important to integrate into your routine. Join us for weekly Qi Gong classes Mondays at 11:45am. You can also do the short late Summer Yin Yoga practice with Dr. Setareh Moafi in the video at the top of this article :)
6) Go to bed a little earlier - before 11pm is optimal. It's also helpful to go to bed and wake up around the same time every day.

The transition toward the cooler Autumn season through this late Summer period allows us to harness our energy and create a calmer, more regular rhythm for optimal health during the upcoming Yin seasons of Fall and Winter. 


Setareh Moafi, Ph.D., L.Ac. is Co-Owner and Director of A Center for Natural Healing in Santa Clara, California, a health and wellness clinic that specializes in Classical Chinese Medicine and Traditional Japanese Acupuncture. Setareh offers clinical services and transformational workshops that blend the ancient practices of Classical Chinese Medicine and Yoga. More information at www.setarehmoafi.com and www.acenterfornaturalhealing.com.