Stretching is an essential practice for any athlete, particularly for those engaging in martial arts. Flexibility is often an advantage, such as being able to land a perfectly timed head kick. For those wanting to take their flexibility game to the next level, yin yoga could be a secret weapon.
Yin yoga has been a regular practice for me for many years now. I’ve always been familiar with stretching for flexibility thanks to my ballet training growing up, but yin yoga provides something more. Once I started training Muay Thai, I also noticed that the practice greatly assists with recovery. Anecdotally, this has been the case for many athletes and people engaging in high intensity training.
Yin yoga benefits
If you’re not familiar with yin yoga, it’s a slower-paced style of yoga that focuses on holding poses for long periods of time. The poses, which typically see you arranging yourself into a position on the floor, are held for three to five minutes or sometimes longer. Breathing techniques are then employed to allow your body to ‘soften’ into the pose. The aim is to not only stretch out the muscles but to go deeper, softening and stretching the body’s connective tissue. This tissue, including muscle fascia, ligaments and tendons, is less elastic than muscles so it can be more prone to injury when exercising at high intensity. Yin yoga seeks to strengthen and lengthen these tissues to promote recovery and prevent injury.
Dangers of yin yoga?
Some people are of the opinion that lengthening ligaments and tendons is not advisable for athletes because these tissues provide stability for the joints. This may be the case for some. I can’t speak for everyone, but I have personally found that practicing yin yoga has been beneficial to my Muay Thai training. My hips, in particular, get very tight from training. Regular stretching for shorter periods of time never seems to fix it. After an hour of yin yoga focusing on the lower half of the body, I feel so much looser. Then the next day, I can better execute kicks and knees at training. So it has become a regular practice for me.
Most yoga studios hold yin classes, or I often do it at home. You could attend a few classes to learn the poses and then practice in your own time. I like to do it for about an hour in the dark before bed. This way, I find that it also primes you for a deep, restorative sleep.