Yin Yoga 101

You may have heard of Yin Yoga or maybe seen a class called Restorative Yoga. I wanted to explain the differences, but know that due to branding reasons, some studios may use the term “Restorative” in order to get more students to attend. The name does sound more relaxing than Yin. However, the benefits of both are very much needed. I personally teach and practice a Yin style of yoga regularly. I realize when most students think of Yoga, they want to make it an exercise. They want the fast flows to work on strengthening muscles and improve their balance and core. However, you do need both for a balanced body. Yin and Yang. The body does need to rest and the benefits of Yin are too numerous to ignore. I have seen a vast difference in myself when I began to include my Yin style of yoga in my week.


What is Yin?

Yin is the compliment (not to be thought of as an opposite) to the Yang more active style of Yoga know as a Vinyasa flow. It is also a compliment to our everyday life that is very active and stressful. While a yang (active) style strengthens muscles, yin lengthens muscles and increases range of motion. There is a potential for increasing flexibility in the passive hold, however, it should be noted that not every pose will include a stretch. There is a healthy stress to the tissues though. This type of stress for the body has beneficial impacts, even at the cellular level.

History

It is actually not a new concept. Many of the methods are included in dance, sports and karate. As far as within the history of yoga, getting into a pose for meditation and holding it for a long period of time were the first asanas mentioned and recorded in ancient text. The main teachers who formed it into a separate class include Paul Grilley and Sarah Powers. Bernie Clark (my teacher) learned from Paul and Sarah and has wonderful detailed books and website available along with teacher training.

Poses

The more important thing to remember about each pose is that they do not follow alignment patterns like a flow class would do. The teacher will demo a couple of variations but the student is the captain of their own yin ship. If you include all of the various prop usage, there are more ways to do a pose than can be explained in a single class. The key is to tune inward and notice what you are feeling in areas. A good sensation or healthy stress to the targeted area(s) should be cultivated. Example is sensation in the low back in Sphinx pose. Any sharp or electric pain or position that is too uncomfortable to linger awhile is always a indication to back off slowly. Either use props to help support the shape, take a different variation, or a different pose entirely.

Props

There are not many poses in the yin library. However, with the prop variety, the class can be done in a fresh way each time. In my yoga videos, I offer a wide range of prop usage so students can find what works best for them. This can include yoga blocks, blankets, bolsters, and chair. Even the wall can be used for support.

3 Principles or Tattvas

  1. Come into an appropriate depth in the pose (this is called your edge).
  2. Become still. Both in body and mind.
  3. Stay for time. The duration of how long each pose is held is a large range from 1 to 20 minutes.

Simple, but not easy. It does take multiple classes to figure out the poses and what to actually feel in the shapes. My best advice is when you begin yin, treat it as a completely different way to connect to yourself. Do not use any of the principles or experiences in a flow class as your base for a yin practice.

As a teacher, I know I can give suggestions but I could never look at a student and know internally what their experience is with the pose. Yin is a very individual practice. That is why I think it is perfectly suited for on-demand videos since they can be done with multiple props and you can take your time exploring each shape.

Note, I will dive further into the 3 yin principles in a future post.


Benefits

  • Stretches and restores flexibility to connective tissues and muscles
  • Improves base-line flexibility
  • Health of internal organs
    • Multiple poses massage internal organs, especially the digestive system.
  • Therapeutic stress on joints
  • Develops Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS)
    • This is the rest and digest function when the body can take time to heal and “take out the trash” to refresh and renew the body so it can function properly, including a healthy immune system.
  • Reverses aging process on spine
    • As we age we loose fluid and mobility between spinal discs as well as the natural strong curves from sitting at desks all day. (see link below for more info on the spine, I find this to be the most important benefit to Yin Yoga).
  • Quiets the mind and trains it to remain quiet during times of stress
    • Meaning you have a more calm personality overall and it takes more to generate an internal stressful response (fight/flight/freeze).
  • Lymphatic system drainage & circulation.
  • Rest for the heart with supported inversions.
  • New research is showing that passive stretching in the legs (which yin targets) can be beneficial to heart health. https://www.medpagetoday.com/cardiology/prevention/87396

Side Note…What is Restorative yoga?

What is Restorative? The goal is not to stretch, it is to be open. Multiple props are used to support joints and allow for complete relaxation (flexion in the body). The idea is to stay in a supported pose for around 10 to 20 minutes to allow the rest/digest Parasympathetic nervous system to heal the body. I know I had the thought, doesn’t this just happen automatically when we sleep at night? Actually no because during the night, we unconsciously constrict muscles. This type of yoga allows us to actively rest the body. There is more on restorative yoga in other blog posts on my site.

Yin Resources