Hyaluronic Acid and Yin Yoga
By: Julie Peters
If you’ve heard of hyaluronic acid, it’s probably been in the context of your moisturizer. It’s a popular chemical that plumps up the skin, drawing water into the cells, and it works pretty well. But you may not realize that hyaluronic acid also lives in our tissues and works in a similar way deep in our bodies. That's a good thing, not for cosmetic reasons but for the general good functioning of our fascia—and it’s what brings hyaluronic acid and yin yoga together.
Go With the Slow
Yin yoga is a long, slow, passive form of yoga. You get set in a certain posture—say the hip-opening Pigeon pose—and prop up your body so that you can safely relax in the pose rather than holding yourself up. You then stay there for three to five minutes, sometimes even longer.
This practice is quite different from other forms of yoga, where a stretch is usually held actively and rarely for longer than 30 seconds. That’s because most yoga stretches address the muscles, and muscles like to be stretched actively. Gentle, flowing movements where the muscle can contract and release are effective for bringing blood flow into these areas.
Yin yoga instead focuses on the fascia and connective tissue in the body. The fascia is like a wrapping that surrounds the muscle tissue. In many ways, we can think of this as the “smart” tissue of the body, as it sends the message from the brain to the muscle, which can only contract or release. The fascia is slower and stiffer—more like plastic to muscle’s elastic. The long-held postures of yin yoga bypass the blood-loving muscles and instead create space in this quieter, more mysterious tissue in the body.
Hyaluronic Acid & Yin Yoga
When we do stimulate these tissues, we are also likely stimulating the production of hyaluronic acid. Cells that are experiencing stress over a longer period of time eventually change shape, which may mean they are producing hyaluronic acid. This is a water-loving chemical, so when it is present in the fascia, it plumps up the area, making it more flexible, more mobile, more hydrated, and more lubricated. Electricity moves through the water in our bodies, so when an area is hydrated, it is going to be more energized, more flexible, and generally feel better.
If you imagine a very tight area of the body, or even a knot of tissue such as in the back, it’s all constricted and dried out. No energy can get through there. When we gently, softly open these areas through yin yoga, hydration can enter the area and energy can begin to flow through again.
It helps even more if you can gently, softly, breathe into the area that is being gently stretched. This takes time and it takes a degree of gentleness. It’s not about going to the maximum amount of possible stretch—that can actually cause the muscles to contract in order to protect, and this would mean, again, bypassing the benefit for the connective tissue. Simply resting in a pose with a mild amount of stretch is enough.
[Read: “Lessons From Yin Yoga for Managing Chronic Pain.”]
The fascia is very important in our movement practices, and all the stretching in the world (not to mention all the water-drinking!) won’t necessarily release the connective tissue that has scarred, twisted, or seized up due to injury or some other trauma to the tissues. When we can take the time to gently, slowly release the connective tissue, we can invite the area to soften, hydrate, lubricate, and let go. This is the flow of hyaluronic acid and yin yoga.