Video: Managing stress with yin-style yoga therapy

By Tracey Soghrati

At the heart of yoga therapy is the complementary adoption of yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and other techniques for an experience of improved health and well-being. The beauty inherent in this approach is that there are tools for every kind of person using the breath, mind, and body.

One possible tool is the practice of yin yoga, which can serve us during times of stress through potential mechanisms of decreased anxiety and improved mindfulness, interoception, and relaxation. Yin yoga represents the quiet, still side of yogic practice, and its postures are especially accessible because they are mostly done on the floor and can be adapted in any number of ways.

Read more about this therapeutic style of yoga below, and try a general practice for yourself with me in this video.*

Yin principle #1: Find your shape

As you come into each posture or shape, try to do so slowly and carefully, being mindful of your own sensation and internal experience. The purpose is to practice understanding the language of your own body and how it communicates what is safe and therapeutic for you. When yin is used therapeutically, we often incorporate a specific mindfulness attitude of curiosity, compassion, openness, acceptance, and loving kindness toward ourselves (COAL for short). The essence of the posture is yours—there isn’t a “correct” way to do it, and it’s an exploration of your experience at a specific moment in time.

Eventually, cultivating this attitude on your yoga mat may hone your ability to sense when you’re outside your window of tolerance in daily life. This skill is theorized to translate into improved interoception, which is the ability to accurately assess sensations, emotions, feelings, and nervous system arousal (relative stress or relaxation).

Yin principle #2: Settle into stillness

Once you come into a posture, find stillness. This part of the practice is oriented around building awareness of the difference between bracing or rigidity and the organic process of settling into the present moment without reactive fidgeting. At this point, a yoga therapist might introduce breath sensing and body sensing. These practices, in conjunction with the physical postures, may slow respiratory rate, heart rate, and blood pressure and decrease certain stress hormones in the long run.

Yin principle #3: Stay 

This principle is about learning to experience what unfolds in the relationship between your breath, mind, and body over time. Each shape is held for anywhere from 1 to 5 minutes, but the timing truly depends on your experience—listen to your body before any external cues. As you stay in a posture, you practice anchoring your attention to the present moment, which can decrease rumination and anxious apprehension about the future. Think about the role of an anchor for a ship—it keeps the vessel steady in the face of the weather. The anchor of your attention to the present moment works to keep you calm in the face of stress.

Yin principle #4: Integrate

As you come out of the shape, practice doing so with care, taking the time to tune in to what your body needs to digest the experience. You are encouraged to move or find stillness before the next posture so that you can refine your understanding of the language of your body.

Yin-style yoga therapy can be a helpful complementary practice for reducing distress and anxiety through the possible mechanism of reducing hyperarousal in the nervous system. We’re currently experiencing a marathon of political, economic, environmental, and health-related stress. The effects of these stressors are real, yet we can work to process them through the tools of yoga therapy. Enjoy the practice, and contact me with questions or comments!

Tracey Soghrati, RN-Psychotherapist, C-IAYT, has worked clinically for more than 20 years and believes that mindfulness practices provide the sturdy foundation required for evolution. You can find her on Instagram or Facebook.

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*As with any yoga practice, remember that not every pose or exercise is suitable for everyone. Adjust poses as needed to accommodate your comfort and range of motion. Practice listening to your body rather than forcing or trying to achieve a particular shape.

Like the other information provided on this site, this material is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You are encouraged to consult your personal physician with questions or concerns. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 911 or the emergency services number in your area.