23 December 2008
What do people need to know about their connective tissue? What is the relationship between connective tissue and yin yoga?
Usually the only time people think about their connective tissue -- which includes our tendons, ligaments, and fascia that surrounds and intermingles with our muscles -- is when we injure it, like a sprained ankle. However, what people do not realize is that the connective tissue of our bodies is all about our flexibility; our muscles are all about strength. The health of our joints is related to the health of our connective tissue. What will give us a sense of ease and comfort in our old age is not how much weight we can lift, but our flexibility and the health of our joints, like our hips, pelvis, and spine. People do not realize that if our connective tissue is not therapeutically stressed on a daily basis, that is, stretched in slow, long-held floor poses such as what is done in yin yoga, our connective tissue will literally shrink wrap our joints. This should be of great concern to women because the spine is surrounded by about seven layers of connective tissue and when, not if, the connective tissue begins to stiffen due to lack of movement, it can literally crush already thinning vertebra and thereby contribute to that "old lady's hump". It is not so much osteoporosis that causes the rounding of the back, it is the connective tissue of the spine shrink wrapping the vertebra. That is why forward folds with a rounded back and back bends are so important for the health of the spine. Doing paschimottanasana with a more rounded back helps to stretch the spine more, rather than doing it with a flat back.
In yin yoga the connective tissue of the hips, pelvis, and spine is worked slowly in a "yin" way. Other forms of yoga are more muscular and therefore more "yang", that is, moving and rhythmic. The only way connective tissue is stretched is by relaxing the muscles and holding the floor yin poses for three to five minutes minimum. Again, flexibility has nothing to do with our muscles, it has everything to do with our connective tissue.
I believe that the ability to stay still for five minutes at a time has a lot more to do with our minds than our bodies. This is why yin yoga is also mind training, we train ourselves to be still in a world that is rushing out of control, and not that we can control it anyway. If someone values the quality of how they are living each moment, giving themselves time to turn off the movie that constantly plays in their mind and do some yin yoga, then they will begin to find more space in their life.