It’s Friday evening in the heart of Cambridge, Massachusetts, just outside of Harvard Square. Inside of Karma, a small yoga studio, thirty people hold themselves in a yoga pose called Shoelace, feeling the muscle tendons and fascia deep within their hip joints.
The only person standing is Joshua Summers, an acupuncturist and mindfulness expert. Summers moves through the packed room, among the mixture of ages and genders that have become regulars to his weekly ninety-minute session. At other studios across the world, yogis are up-dogging and down-dogging to the rhythm of their breath, mopping the sweat from their bodies. In Josh’s class, there is no such vigorous movement, grunting or groaning. Okay, there might be a little groaning. Yin is, after all, perhaps one of the most challenging styles of yoga.
From the outside, Yin actually looks kind of boring. The shapes that people come into are simple. But the intensity from the poses comes from the four-plus minute holds that Summers asks of his students, many of whom are men. He explains, “I think a lot of men are drawn to Yin because it doesn’t matter what the poses look like, it’s virtually impossible to get competitive in a Yin pose. Within the radical simplicity of the practice there is a fierce intensity, which men tend to appreciate.”
The magic within the poses doesn’t come from clenching muscles and hoping for the best. Instead, gravity does most of the work. As students stay in one place for several minutes, the connective tissues between the hip, shoulder, ankle, and knee joints start to release.
According to Summers, Yin is particularly great for athletes:
“Often athletes experience most of their setbacks in their joints. Their training tends to emphasize muscular strength and mobility, but many tend to neglect the connective tissues in and around their joints. Yin Yoga stimulates, strengthens, and rehabilitates connective tissue, and any integral training system would want to include exercises for that layer. I recently heard that one of the top-ranked squash players in the world credits Yin Yoga for keeping him competitive into his late thirties.”
In addition to the physical benefits of the practice, it also brings people into a more meditative mindset. At the end of Summers’ class, students walk into Boston’s Friday night air, something more still and focused in their step. Entering the excitement and noise that will inevitably come with their weekend and the following week, they dive into it with an aliveness that wasn’t there two hours before.
Interested in trying Yin Yoga? Find a teacher in your area.