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Hold it now! Yin yoga helps restore the body and mind

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The health benefits of traditional yoga — or “yang yoga” — have been well-documented and discussed, but not many people know about its other half: yin yoga. Yin yoga is the practice that involves holding poses for extended periods of time, which gets your joints into shape and helps you remain centered. It’s a great way to return to sanity from the hustle and bustle of life.

“Yin yoga increases flexibility and, over time, can amazingly lengthen tendons and ligaments, increasing range of motion,” says Sarah Herrington, yogi, founder of Om Schooled yoga training and author of “Crash Course Yoga,” due out in 2013. This is because holding poses for five minutes or longer works the connective tissue and muscles to condition areas often neglected by other forms of exercise. This can improve your regular yoga practice over time.

Spiritual benefits

Yin yoga also has tremendous emotional and spiritual benefits. Yogi Paul Grilley credits yin yoga with allowing him to “sit in meditation with ease, free from physical distractions.”

Says Herrington, “In yin yoga, you have the chance to really explore impermanence because you're sitting with yourself for a while, the way you sit with yourself in meditation. Sometimes emotions arise, or even memories, since these things are stored in the body. By making space to experience them without judgment, they have a chance to arise and release, in a cleansing kind of way.”

Poses, or Asanas, such as the Happy Baby and Swan, help to increase mindfulness and open up some of the tighter areas of the body, such as the hips.

Yin Yoga is not a cardiovascular or heat-building practice, but it can leave you a bit sore from holding poses for so long. Herrington recommends beginning your practice with a teacher. Warming up your muscles and practicing in a warm room will also reduce the chance of injury.

“You should challenge your body, but always listen to yourself! Nothing should hurt,” she said.

For more information on yin yoga, check out the book "Insight Yoga" by Sarah Powers and the website YinYoga.com, which provides Youtube videos and a wealth of reference material, including where to find a yin yoga teacher in your area.

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