One of the greatest benefits of practicing yoga is an increase in balance. The more you practice the stronger you become at being able to balance on one foot or your hands and even on your head! Balance is a key aspect of yoga and it shows up everywhere. As you move on the mat you bring balance to your body by working the left side, right side, front and back. As you learn more and practice more, you may find that overall your balance improves mentally, physically and emotionally.
This idea of balance in yoga gets taken to another level when considering the kind of yoga that you practice. Balance in yoga can be well illustrated with the ubiquitous yin yang symbol. Based in Taoism, it is a circle divided into two equal parts with one part being light and the other being dark, with a dot of the opposite contained in each side. Yin is the dark side of the circle and yang is the light side of the circle.
The concept of yin yang is brought into yoga to illustrate the idea of balance in your practice. Most yoga practiced today can be called yang practice because it is very energetic and seeks to activate the muscles in order to get into and hold the postures. Conversely, a yin style yoga practice looks a bit different because the postures work to get into the connective tissues rather than the muscles. Muscle activation is limited or avoided all together in a yin practice and so movement is slowed down and postures are held for longer periods.
To be clear, the connective tissues are the joints, ligaments and tendons as well as the bones and the blood. The aim of Yin yoga is to get you deeper into your joints and other connective tissues so that opening can happen in the joints and lengthening can happen in the ligaments and tendons. What this does for the body is create greater flexibility.
Another aspect of Yin yoga is a focus on contemplation. As you slowly move into postures and hold them for up to five minutes at a time, you are able to notice what your breath is doing, what you're feeling in your body and what thoughts are racing through your mind. Many come to yoga to learn how to relax. This is completely accessible to you in a Yin yoga practice because you are given the time to actually sink deeply into your postures and to notice what is happening in your body and mind.
As Yin balances Yang, so too can adding a bit of yin yoga bring balance to your yoga practice. Opening into the joints and lengthening the ligaments will bring more stability into your regular yoga practice. There are some very excellent books available on the subject of Yin Yoga. For starters, go to the Yin Yoga website at yinyoga.com. There you will find a large collection of comprehensive links, articles, and videos. Take some time and learn a bit about this amazing style of yoga and perhaps you will discover a new depth and length in your postures never before imagined.