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Fitness: A Yen for Yin Yoga

by Marilynn Preston

It’s been a rocky week. I’ve been both approaching and avoiding Facebook, and that’s brought on that frazzled feeling of cognitive dissonance. And when I feel tension mounting to that degree, I know where to turn.

The margarita bar at Maria’s? Maybe later. But for deeper stress release, I recommend you do what I did: Take a Yin Yoga class. It’s the ancient pause that truly refreshes, long, 3to 5-minute holds combined with slow stretches, accessible to all, even if you don’t know a tree pose from a real tree.

I took two Yin Yoga classes last week, and at some point, as my constricted chest opened and I imagined warm honey pouring out of my heart, it dawned on me that this little-known form of yoga – this blissful experience of letting go and creating flow – is something everyone ought to know about.

So let’s begin. In all of yoga, you start where you are, but with Yin Yoga, it’s especially true. It’s a class in total relaxation, what some teachers call restorative yoga, but Yin Yoga has its own special twist.

For one thing, it moves very slowly. In an hour or so, you might only get to five or six different postures. Be grateful for these long holds. It’s a wonderful way, perhaps the only way, to release the deep inner structure: the bands of connective tissue that only get tighter and more restrictive as we age, as we sit, as we move too quickly through life.

Most exercise we do– running, biking, even the more dynamic forms of yoga like ashtanga or vinyasa – is yang. Yang exercise works on muscle through rhythm and repetition but does ziltch for your connective tissue, and that’s what you want to access if you want a more fluid and healthy body.

In a Yin Yoga class, you’re given instruction, and permission, to mindfully exercise the connective tissue. Your breath is clearing the way – mentally and physically – for a healing flow of energy into and surrounding hips, knees and spine.

The trick to loving your Yin Yoga class is learning what to do with yourself once you’ve eased into your posture.

First, do not look around and see who is touching their toes and who can’t even see them. Yoga is not a competitive sport.

Second, know and accept the power of your breath. It’s not a religious belief. It’s a way of connecting your body to your mind, creating space, juicing up what is known in yoga as “the subtle body.”

There’s nothing subtle about the benefits of Yin Yoga. To learn more, visit the website of Paul and Suzee Grilley at Paul’s been a master teacher of Yin Yoga since 1980, and if you explore his writings, books and DVDs, you’ll understand why I kept my notes from the Paul Grilley workshop I took a few years ago:


Grilley teaches you that your connective tissue isn’t just some inert gristle that keeps your knees in place and your back from going out.

Your connective tissue is a river of life-giving energy that flows through your entire body, following the meridian pathways described in the ancient texts on acupuncture, a flow of energy (also known as “chi”) that can reach and nourish every cell and organ in your body.


Structural limitation is real, says Grilley, an anatomy expert who wants everyone to understand that the unique angle and shape of your bones ultimately limits what you can do in yoga.

“Your anatomy is yours! Your femur is different than the person next to you! All your good intentions and instruction – relax and let it open! – can’t push you past your compression point.”

Translation? You may never do the splits, no matter how hard you try. And that’s OK, says Grilley. Focus your attention within the pose, not how it looks, but how it feels and your reaction to how it feels.

“Yoga isn’t about imitating a posture, it’s about unblocking energy, moving your chi.”


Go find a good teacher, and let Yin Yoga unfrazzle your brain and let your inner river flow.

Marilynn Preston – fitness expert and Emmy winning producer – is the creator of Energy Express, the longest-running syndicated fitness column in the country. She has a website,, and welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to



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