What Is Yin Yoga?

Most yoga styles we encounter in the West are considered “yang” yoga. The term yang in yoga describes an active, fast-paced, and dynamic physical practice which primarily activates the muscles. Examples of popular yang yoga styles are Ashtanga, Vinyasa, and Hot yoga.

But there is another yoga type that complements our dynamic practice. And that is Yin yoga. Yin yoga refers to a passive practice, where we hold the poses for much longer and target the joints and connective tissues.

Let’s take a deeper look into what yin yoga is and what benefits we can expect from adding this aspect into our yoga lifestyle.

Yin Yoga Definition

Yin yoga contrasts and balances the classic yang yoga practice style. The teachers who popularized and systematized the style in the West in the late 20th century are Paulie Zink, Paul Grilley, and Sarah Powers.

However…

Yin yoga defines any type of practice where the poses are held for longer than two minutes and which includes deep passive stretches.

If we consider that definition, this style of yoga is much older. It has been practiced for centuries in India, where it was the main type of practice for long before the more vigorous and dynamic styles came in.

The spiritual goal of yin yoga doesn’t differ from any other type of yoga – we are still focused on mind and body connection. However, the physical purpose of the practice is distinctive and can be a bit scary for new students.

Why scary? Yin yoga targets our connective tissues and joints – the parts of our body we thought we should never stretch.

However, what makes yin yoga safe and extremely beneficial is the method used to practice it. We don’t stretch the connective tissues in the same way we stretch our muscles. We’re not forcing anything. In fact, we are using all the props we need to be able to relax fully in the pose. Additionally, we are only going as deep as our “edge”, a place where we feel a gentle stretch but absolutely no pain. Finally, we’re holding a pose statically for 3 minutes or more instead of making any sudden movements.

This method is a safe way to work on your joints and connective tissues, which all respond the best to slow, moderate and steady loads.

Yin yoga is based on ancient Chinese and Taoist principles and uses meridians to categorize yoga postures. Meridians are the energetic pathways of QI, or life energy, that run through our bodies. The classic yin yoga sequences focus on a specific meridian or a group of meridians, each connected to a certain internal organ in our body and each having its own specific benefits and goals.

Benefits of Yin Yoga

So, what exactly is Yin Yoga good for? The benefits of Yin yoga may include:

  • A calmer mind and reduced stress, anxiety, and mild depression
  • Increased circulation
  • Improved flexibility and joint mobility
  • Released tension in the fascia and other connective tissues
  • Longer connective tissues (with continuous practice)
  • Improved flow of Prana or Chi
  • Aids in meditation and mindfulness

Yin Yoga Poses

Unlike most other yoga styles, yin yoga doesn’t have hundreds of yoga poses. Here is a list of the most common yin yoga poses:

How to Practice Yin Yoga

There are three main principles, also called tattvas, that every yin yoga session is built upon. These principles are:

  1. Find Your Edge – When you come into a pose, go into an appropriate depth. The appropriate depth is where you feel resistance and stretch but no pain. Never go as deep as you can right away. Allow your body at least 30 seconds to open up and melt into the pose. It’s critical not to force anything in yin, as that could lead to injury. Listen to your body, and respect what it tells you. It’s normal to go much less deep into poses in yin yoga practice than you would in yang yoga because you’re holding them for much longer, and your muscles are not warmed up.
  2. Resolve to Be Still – The second principle of yin yoga is stillness. Once you find an appropriate depth, you should settle into the pose and remain still. The stillness refers to your entire being. First, you’re keeping your body completely still. Then, make your breath quiet, gentle, and natural. Finally, try to still your mind with the help of your breath. It’s normal to have many thoughts when you first begin your practice. Observe them, and then let them go.
  3. Hold For Time – Once you’ve found your edge and become still, it’s time to hold the pose for time. This principle makes yin yoga so beneficial for our yin tissues. They respond well to moderate stress, which is held still for at least 3 minutes. You can also start with 2 minutes and work your way up as yin yoga becomes more comfortable. Traditionally, each pose is held for 5 minutes, some even longer than that.

There are two more things to consider when you practice yin yoga. First, make sure you perform unilateral poses (e.g., Lunge Pose) on both sides for the same amount of time. Also, always use counterposes – for example, following a front bend with a backbend and a back hip stretch (like Pigeon pose) with a front hip stretch (like Butterfly pose).

The second thing to consider is when you practice. Our muscles should be cool when we practice yin yoga. Therefore, it’s best to do it sometime after you wake up, or after you’ve relaxed in the evening. Also, don’t do yin yoga immediately after yang yoga or any other activity which warms up your muscles. Since your muscles are cool, make sure you dress warmly during colder weather.

The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga: The Philosophy and Practice of Yin Yoga

The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga: The Philosophy and Practice of Yin Yoga

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Yin Yoga Props

The last thing you’ll need to know and have when you practice yin yoga are props. Similar to restorative yoga, nearly every yin yoga class uses props. Props help your body to be passive in the poses since your muscles aren’t able to hold it as they usually would.

For example, you can place blocks under your knees in butterfly pose, so you don’t have to engage your thighs, and a bolster beneath your back in Bridge pose, allowing your core muscles to completely relax.

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The good news is you don’t have to invest a ton of money into yoga props when you’re just starting yoga. Use books or a rolled-up blanket instead of blocks, a large pillow instead of a bolster, and a belt instead of the yoga strap. Make sure you have as many props as possible before you sit on your mat, so you can adjust each pose in the way that suits you best.

Start Yin Yoga at Home

Check out these follow-along videos if you can’t make it to a Yin Yoga studio or simply want to try it out at home.

Related: Yin Yang Yoga Sequence for Beginners

Yin Yoga Without Props

Yin Yoga For Chest & Shoulders

Deep Yin With Background Music

Yin Yoga FAQs

Is Yin Yoga Good for Beginners?

No, Yin yoga is deceptively easy and is not intended for those who never practiced yoga before. Start with restorative yoga if you’re a complete beginner. This style also incorporates props and longer holds but much less challenging poses. If you still want to practice yin yoga as a beginner, make sure you start with a lot of props and hold the poses for shorter periods of time to allow your body to adapt to the new way of exercise.

Who Should Avoid Yin Yoga?

Everyone can practice yin yoga, but some should be more careful. If you have damaged joints or weak bones, you will need to take extra care if you practice yin yoga because it’s easy to go too deep too soon. The same is true for those who have osteoporosis – restorative yoga is a better choice in this case. Finally, yin can be extremely beneficial for pregnant women, but they shouldn’t go too deep into the pose and avoid any pose that puts weight on their belly.

What Is the Difference Between Yin Yoga and Restorative Yoga?

The main difference between yin yoga and restorative yoga is the goal of the practice. They’re both slow and passive practices, but yin is about stretching the yin tissues and can be quite challenging. In contrast, restorative yoga allows you to completely relax in gentle positions and is designed to accelerate healing after injury or illness.

Important: Check with your doctor before trying Yin Yoga for the first time if you have any type of injury, illness, pain, or you are pregnant.

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