Whether on 90s-style chokers or old-school graphic tees, you’ve probably witnessed or heard of the concept of yin and yang. Two sides of the same coin, yang is characterized by high-energy, movement, and warmth, while yin is characterized by relaxation, tranquility, and repose.
A significant portion of the yoga practiced in the Western world, including Hatha, Vinyasa, Power, and Kundalini, falls under the category of yang yoga. These styles are active, vigorous, and sometimes heated, undoubtedly offering numerous benefits for strength, mobility, and overall health and fitness. However, there’s another style of yoga that deserves to be incorporated into your routine: Yin yoga.
Unlike focusing solely on engaging your muscles and elevating your heart rate, the slower-paced practice of Yin yoga is centered around calming your mind and elongating your fascia, according to yin yoga instructor Kelly Aguilera, the lead teacher of Sacred Roots Teacher Training. “All positions are seated or lying down and are held for an extended period, typically ranging from 3 to 10 minutes,” she explains.
If you’re intrigued, continue reading for a comprehensive guide on yin yoga, which includes information on the benefits of incorporating it into your exercise and wellness routine, how to get started, and more.
What Is Yin Yoga?
In essence, Yin yoga is a laid-back form of yoga. Rachel Hirsch, a yin yoga instructor and co-founder of Empowered Yoga, a yoga studio in Los Angeles, California, describes it as “a yoga practice that draws inspiration from Chinese and Taoist principles.” It is a “relaxing style of yoga,” she states.
Unlike the (yang) yoga you may practice at Y7, CorePowerYoga, or any other go-to local studio that emphasizes fluid transitions between poses with speed, grace, and control, stillness takes center stage in yin yoga. “In yin yoga, you settle into a pose and hold it,” Aguilera explains.
By maintaining poses for longer durations, you can effectively stretch your deeper connective tissues, such as fascia, ligaments, and tendons, more profoundly compared to simply passing through a pose. “Stretching and elongating your connective tissue is possible by holding poses for extended periods, which is a distinctive feature of yin yoga,” clarifies Hirsch. Additionally, the stillness in each pose aids in quieting your mind, she adds.
Fundamental Principles of Yin Yoga
There are three primary principles to the practice of Yin Yoga. The objective of these principles is simply to assist you in maximizing the benefits of your yin yoga practice.
Discover Your Limit
Fact: No one and no physical body are formed identically. Well, this principle takes that into consideration. “The concept is that each practitioner should enter a pose at a depth that is suitable for them on that specific day,” clarifies Aguilera. Indeed, attempting to delve deeper into a pose (simply because the person on the mat beside you is executing astonishing contortionist maneuvers) can result in overstretching, which may lead to injury. This principle also recognizes that our range of motion can vary based on various factors that change from day to day, such as hydration levels, recent physical activity, and more, she adds.
Frankly, if you find yourself panting and trembling in the midst of a yin yoga session, you’re not adhering to this principle.
Determine to Stay Motionless
The goal of yin yoga is the same as the goal during the frozen phase of freeze tag: to remain still. “When we stay still and passive in a pose, we can more effectively impact the body’s connective tissues,” says Aguilera.
Don’t be surprised if this principle proves challenging to follow initially, says Hirsch. “Overcoming the urge to fidget, move, or adjust can be extremely difficult for both the body and mind,” she says. But with practice, it becomes easier.
Sustain for a Duration
Once again, in a yin yoga class, you’ll hold each pose for a minimum of 3 to 5 minutes, says Aguilera. “That’s because your fascia requires more than a minute to respond,” she explains.
As you maintain the pose, the sensation will intensify in your muscles and you may feel the inclination to alleviate it [by moving or fidgeting], says Hirsch. Here, concentrating on your breath can be incredibly advantageous, she says.
Advantages of Yin Yoga
During most other (yang) yoga classes, the focus is on simultaneously strengthening your muscles and accessing the deepest range of motion possible. However, during yin yoga, the emphasis is not necessarily on strengthening your muscles or attaining the deepest stretch, says Hirsch. Instead, the goal is to stretch and lengthen your connective tissues (fascia, tendons, and ligaments).
“Fascia is the thin layer of connective tissue that surrounds all of the body’s muscles and organs,” explains Hirsch. This fascia can become tense due to factors such as dehydration, lack of movement, stress, and everyday wear and tear, she says. When your fascia becomes tight, you may experience difficulties in performing daily activities without pain, such as reaching into a cabinet or lifting your dog.
“When you allow the fascia to relax and stretch through practices like yin yoga, you create space for everything else within the fascia and body,” explains Hirsch.
In reverse, this enhances movability and pliability, diminishes the feeling of inflexibility, and amplifies the freedom of motion.
How Yin Yoga Differs from Other Yoga Styles
In addition to the physical advantages of yin yoga, there are also mental and emotional perks, too. “We move swiftly in this world, always transitioning from one thing to the next,” asserts Hirsch. “Engaging in yin demands that you decelerate, inhale deeply through discomfort, [and] persevere through thoughts of desiring to surrender.” Collectively, this aids in reducing stress, fostering relaxation, and supporting your capacity to move attentively, she affirms.
How Yin Yoga Differs from Other Yoga Styles
To put it simply, yin yoga is gentler compared to other widely practiced styles of yoga, such as Vinyasa, Hatha, or Power yoga.
“In Vinyasa yoga, for instance, you’re synchronizing breath with movement, typically at a faster pace, to generate and release heat,” asserts Hirsch. (Here, heat refers to core body temperature). In yin, you’re neither moving swiftly nor generating heat. Yin yoga won’t elevate your heart rate or raise your core temperature in the same way Vinyasa does, she explains. Nevertheless, you will be “concentrating on enduring discomfort,” clarifies Hirsch.
To be transparent: Although yin is a gentle form of yoga, it’s *not* identical to hatha yoga, which is occasionally referred to informally as gentle yoga. During a Hatha yoga session, you’re moving deliberately, with an intentional focus on the breath. While you move more slowly through the poses in a Hatha yoga class compared to Vinyasa, you’re not holding the poses like you do in a yin yoga class, she elucidates.
“Yin yoga is most frequently compared to restorative yoga, which is a yoga practice centered on relaxing the mind and body, and calming the central nervous system,” explains Hirsch. While there are indeed significant similarities — both styles entail lower intensity and may incorporate props, for example — they are distinct. “Yin isn’t fixated on healing the body by pacifying the mind the way restorative yoga does,” she states. “Instead, its primary focus lies in elongating your connective tissues.”
Yin Yoga Poses and Sequences
You may be accustomed to yoga classes that prompt you to position your buttocks in the air (downward dog) or balance on one leg (tree pose). However, during yin yoga, you’ll remain on the ground the entire time. “All yin yoga poses are executed from a seated or reclining position,” explains Aguilera.
Some of the most prevalent yin yoga poses include:
- Pose of the Child
- Corpse Pose
- Butterfly Pose
- Dragon Pose
- Sphinx Pose
- Supine Twist
UnlikeAshtangayoga, which follows the same specific sequence each time, in yin yoga, the sequence of poses can be tailored to your specific intention, timeframe, and level of experience.
If, for instance, you’re experiencing lower back pain, your yin yoga sequence will encompass a variety of decompression exercises such as savasana, seated forward fold, and sphinx pose.
Meanwhile, should you possess constricted hips, your series may encompass butterfly posture, dragon posture, and recumbent rotation, alternatively.
Safety Measures and Adjustments
The workout technique often referred to as scalable is CrossFit — but yin yoga can also be scaled. In other words, it is a practice that can be customized to suit your current abilities without any risk. “Any proficient yin yoga instructor will be capable of assisting you in finding a variation of the poses that suits you and your body the best,” says Aguilera.
With that being said, yin yoga primarily focuses on extending your connective tissues. Therefore, individuals with particular connective tissue conditions, joint hypermobility, and existing muscle strains should consult a healthcare professional before incorporating yin yoga into their regular routine. Pregnant individuals and those with any underlying conditions or diseases should also consult their doctor before adding any new fitness regimen to their routine, including yin yoga.
When you do begin, Hirsch advises listening to your body and working within your comfort zone. Remember: one of the fundamental principles of yin yoga is to identify your personal ‘limit’ and avoid surpassing it. So, if you feel uncomfortable or the practice does not make your body feel good, try decreasing the intensity of the pose or modifying it. If the discomfort persists, stop and consult your healthcare provider.
Integration of Yin Yoga into a Routine
Are you ready to give yin yoga a try? Hirsch suggests starting with an in-person class, especially if you have no previous experience with yoga.
“Attending an in-person class often provides more individualized recommendations, feedback, and solutions for your body,” she explains. Each body is unique, so what may be beneficial for one person and their body might be detrimental to another. A knowledgeable in-person instructor can offer personalized feedback specifically tailored to your body, allowing you to practice yin yoga safely.
“Once you become more comfortable, you can continue practicing this on your own or even online from the comfort of your home,” says Hirsch. While studios usually provide the necessary props, if you are practicing at home, you will likely need a yoga mat, according to Aguilera. (However, she mentions that it is not essential if you have another soft surface to practice on). “Bolsters, blocks, and blankets can also enhance your experience, but if they are not readily available, you can roll up blankets to create larger props or use pillows instead,” she suggests.
Whether you attend an in-person or online class, most yin yoga sessions last for 60 to 75 minutes. “The majority of students practice yin yoga once or twice a week,” says Aguilera. The frequency at which you practice will depend on your current fitness goals and your ability to allocate time for yin yoga. Naturally, the more often you practice, the faster you will notice improvements in your mobility and mental well-being.
Discovering Yin Yoga Classes and Resources
When it comes to finding a yoga class, Google is your ultimate ally.
To locate a yin yoga class in your vicinity, simply enter ‘yin yoga class near me’ or ‘yin yoga studio’ into the search bar. Conducting a similar search with the term ‘video’ instead of ‘studio’ will yield results for complimentary online options. Alternatively, you can explore various online fitness platforms such as MyYogaTeacher, GloYoga, and Alo Moves, which grant you access to yin yoga classes, typically requiring a monthly subscription fee.
Soothing, recuperative, and invigorating for your connective tissues, yin yoga serves as an excellent enhancement to your well-being if you experience rigidity, anxiety, or discomfort.
While it is significantly less dynamic and perspiring compared to alternative (yang) yoga exercises, yin yoga is within reach for individuals with diverse levels of fitness, ages, and proficiencies.