The Creep Phenomenon

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Nancy Nelson

In the yin yoga practice, we approach the postures differently. Our time in the pose generates deep release through the connective tissues, thereby leading to longer recovery times. Today we will talk about the concept of creep and how we can be mindful of this phenomenon as we end the practice and move into the day.

The nature of the yin yoga experience is created by…

  • Targeting a body area or energy line
  • Arriving into the posture and finding stillness
  • Exiting the posture slowly
  • Rebound time (look out for a post on this in the coming weeks!)
  • Create new movement or counter movement into the new space

Participating in a yin class will reveal that in this particular style of yoga, we spend quality time in the postures. Fun fact: time in a yin yoga posture can extend from three to twenty minutes! This leads to deep shifts and changes in the tissues of the body, energy flow and the mind.

What is C R E E P?

Creep is defined as the lengthening effect of continued stress (think –pressure) on the tissues. After a yoga practice, you might be able to identify the feeling of looseness that is sensed in the body. This is creep! It is caused and influenced by various factors, but primarily – slow, steady pressure (stress), warmth and long amounts of time.

Both yin and yang yoga (and any physical activity) might cause creep, but it will have different effects based on the environment. See below how the tissues are affected by varying environments.

The yellow rubber band represents a tendon and the tan rubber band represents muscle tissue.

Yang Environment: Warm temperature, shorter holds, quick stress applied.
Yin Environment: Cool temperature, longer holds, static stress applied.

This example shows that in a yang environment, the muscle experiences the largest amount of creep. Muscle tissue recovers much quicker than connective tissue. That is why that loosey-goosey feeling may not last all day after an intense yang practice. Whereas in a yin practice, the tendon is also affected. Now, the above photo is obviously just an exaggeration to provide some insight into the different ways environment affects tissues. Tendons will not grow or lengthen quite this much in a literal sense, but will certainly be affected by a yin approach and environment and will lead to longer recovery times as our deeper tissues, require longer to settle and heal. You can learn more about yin tissues in the following webinar…

In an article called “Creep and Counterposes” by Bernie Clark, he uses the example of a piece of silly putty stuck to a wall. The image in his article shows the putty slowly lengthening down the wall over a long period of time with the pressure of gravity. This is a great way to picture how a 75 minute yin practice might affect your tissues for the rest of the day!

How long does it last?

If you’ve read this far, you may be wondering what the implications are of this creep phenomenon on safe movement for healthy recovery of the tissues post-yoga. As we mentioned earlier, exiting the pose should take time. I like to encourage students to approach the entry and exit of the posture as a snail would. Slow, mindful transitions are going to serve you best.

Creep is fairly individualized. This means there’s not a definitive, hard and fast rule on amount of time that you might feel its effects into your day. In general about twenty minutes of yin-like stress to the tissues will lead to several hours of creep recovery time. Of course factors like age, ailments, exercise history, etc. may increase or decrease this amount of time. The best approach is to keep that old, but faithful yoga teacher saying “Listen to your body” with you into your time off the mat. Keep your movements off the mat as mindful as you can so you can pay attention to how you feel.

Benefits of Creep

This lengthening in the tissues is an integral part of what makes our yin yoga practice so impactful. The space created in the tissues helps them to regenerate as stronger and more vibrant than they once were. Just as you break down muscle tissue to rebuild it stronger, the creep effect in our tissues helps our bones, tendons, ligaments and even our skin to improve.

Creep also helps to increase our overall mobility. Every time I practice yin yoga, I feel as though I’m depositing into my body’s retirement fund. This practice will not only affect how you are able to move throughout the next day or two, but for years to come. Our connective tissues play large roles in our long-term mobility. This means, practicing yin yoga and thereby allowing way for the creep phenomenon, will aid in our ability to sit, stand, bend over and move more smoothly as our body’s age. In addition to this, creep helps to work through tough scar tissues and adhesions within the body. This is another big issue when it comes to our mobility. Scar tissue builds in our bodies as we move through the years. Where there is scar tissue, there is little to no blood flow which mean those tissues aren’t getting the blood needed for regeneration. Yin yoga helps with unfolding these adhesions and stimulating the circulatory system to rush in to help!

A Word of Caution

Though creep is a very beneficial thing, it should be taken seriously and approached with mindfulness. Always make sure your doctor has approved you for this type of exercise and that you experience no sharp pain while practicing.

When creep is at its highest level, we are most susceptible to injury in the lengthened tissues. It makes sense that when our tissues are “stretched out”, they are not as protected and stable. Just be mindful of how you structure your day around physical activity that generates high levels of creep. Our tissues do have a protective mechanism that helps us stay aware of how much stress is too much. Always pay close attention to the signals your body is communicating to you as you practice yin yoga.

Learn more about creep, counter poses and rebound in the following webinar!

Connect with Nancy on Instagram @Yogi_Nancy, Facebook @NancyNelsonYoga or on Youtube @NancyNelson

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Titles for Website (38)
Nancy Nelson
Nancy Nelson
Nancy is the fearless leader here at Nancy Nelson Yoga! She has been instructing yoga since 2012 and is certified as a Registered Yoga Teacher (E-RYT 500, YACEP) with Yoga Alliance. She loves guiding yoga classes in all forms – from sweaty vinyasa flows, to slow mindful movement - but her favorite style to practice and teach is yin yoga. She attended a formal 50-hour Yin Yoga training with Bernie Clark and Diana Batts in the fall of 2018 and it truly propelled her into developing her yin focused website, webinars and trainings.

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