Yin Yoga also sometimes referred to as Daoist Yoga is a system of yoga that works through the lens of meridian theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to support wellbeing. In addition to being effective on the soft tissues of the body Yin Yoga also leans on the wisdom gleaned from TCM approach physical, energetic, and emotional wellbeing holistically with an aim to help the practitioner find more balance.
This understanding of energy being most optimal when in balance is no exclusive to Yin yoga. Where the ancient Yogis, and Indian traditions call this understanding of vital energy Prana, the Daoist tradition refers to it a Qi or Chi. While there is no identical translation in Western medicine (though an argument could be made for heat, nerve impulses, and electricity), as humans, we all have an understanding of what energy is within us.
In Indian Yoga ancient systems of energetic understanding followed the Chakra system with each of the major Chakras holding significance for functions of the body, aspects of human development, and major emotions. In Daoist yoga the governing bodies are organs and each of the meridians is related to an organ. Organs in TCM are also presented in Yin/Yang pairings. It's important to note that there is no preference for yin or yang, but rather that they are partners. The work is to bring energies into balance.
If someone has an ailment or disfunction in an aspect of their physical, mental, or emotional wellbeing TCM would address the meridians and points associated with these aspects. Yin yoga draws upon this wisdom and poses can be designed to support the meridians as well.
In Yin yoga the postures are held in stillness for a long period of time. The postures, for the most part, are not weight bearing and it is not an aim to engage muscle while in them. Rather a practitioner of Yin yoga would seek to relax into the posture and receive it more passively. While this may seem relatively simple the experience of the long holds can create a significant amount of discomfort as soft tissue acclimates to the shape and the pull of gravity. Thus Yin yoga can also become a meditative exercise in discomfort, tolerance and patience.
The Meridians and Yin Yoga poses for them:
Function: Regulates water volume, coordinates respiration, and stores Jing: our essence.
Emotion: Fear and wisdom
When our Kidney/Urinary bladder chi is imbalanced, we cling to things, unable to let go. We might feel a lack of trust and feelings of insecurity or fear for our safety.
Yin Yoga poses for Kidney/Urinary Bladder meridian: Butterfly, Caterpillar, Child’s pose, Dangling, Dragon, Dragonfly, Reclined Twist, Saddle, Seal, Snail Square, Squat, and Swan
Function: Reservoir for food and water, feeds the rest of the organs.
Emotion: Worry, anxiety and overthinking.
When imbalanced, Spleen-Stomach Qi tends to bring disproportion in our interactions with the exterior world. This can be having a literal nervous stomach, as well as an excessive need for approval or anxiety in social settings.
Yin Yoga poses to work on the Stomach/Spleen meridian: Ankle stretch, Child’s pose, Dragon, Dragonfly, Melting Heart, Saddle and Swan
Function: Stores blood, regulates Qi flow, seat of our soul.
Emotion: Anger and kindness
When Liver/Gallbladder Qi is unbalanced, frustration and defensiveness can occur; or we may feel paralyzed, rigid, and have difficulties controlling anger.
Yin Yoga poses for Liver/Gallbladder meridian: Ankle stretch, Bananasana, Butterfly, Dragon, Dragonfly, Frog, Seal, Shoelace, Square and Swan.
Function: Blood circulation and mental functions.
Emotion: Happiness and love
When Heart/Small intestine Qi is unbalanced, feelings of sadness, loneliness or depression can occur.
Yin Yoga poses for the Heart/Small intestine meridian: Bananasana, Melting heart and Reclined Twist, Hug the Earth
Function: Controls respiration regulates water flow.
Emotion: Sadness/grief and sense of beauty
When Lungs/Large intestines Qi is unbalanced we tend to feel unable to express our grief and feel constricting, tight, and unable to express our feelings.
Yin Yoga poses for the Lungs/Large Intestines meridian: Bananasana, Melting heart, Supported Fish, and Reclined Twist
Triple Burner" This meridian describes a function. It is not usually linked to a particular emotion, and relates to intake, transformation and elimination.
Pericardium: Pericardium meridian relates to the function of circulation, and protects the heart. It is not usually linked to a particular emotion.