In Taoist teachings this would be described as being in a yang state, and with everything in life we need balance. This is where yin comes in.
What is Yin Yoga
Yin yoga is a very passive approach to yoga where you perform the majority of the poses seated on the floor or laying down. The poses are held for longer periods of time, sometimes 3 - 5 minutes and in some cases up to 20 minutes.
Yin yoga offers deeper access to the body targeting our connective tissues, fascia and ligaments with the aim of lubricating and protecting our joints. These are areas of the body often not reached with a typical yang style of yoga practice or fitness regime.
Where Does Yin Yoga Come From?
Like most yoga practices, the origin of yin yoga dates back thousands of years and has developed out of a yoga style called Taoist Yoga. Taoist yoga includes stretches and static postures combined with breath work.
It was a man named Paulie Zink (1) who founded the style and introduced it to the west in the late 70’s. Since then the practice has been developed into what we know today as yin yoga by teachers Sarah Powers (2) and Paul Grilley. (3)
When Yoga was founded the practice would have been more yin based because the original intention of yoga was to prepare the body for long periods of seated meditation. As the years went on and popularity of yoga has grown, it has developed in style and pace.
What Is The Difference Between Yin Yoga And Other Styles Of Yoga?
The main difference is that yin yoga is very passive with poses being held for longer periods of time.
Another important difference is that in yin yoga your muscles need to be relaxed as opposed to engaged, this is so you can work into the deeper layers of the body and move closer to the bone, an area often missed in a yang yoga practice.
With a yang practice there is much emphasis on building heat and strength in the body whereas this is not the case in yin. Yin is practiced cold with no warm up and with more of a focus on flexibility and lubrication.
Both yin and yang styles should be practiced to invite balance into your yoga regime.
Yin Yoga vs Yang Yoga
- Yin is a passive yoga practice.
- Poses are held for 3 - 5 minutes, sometimes longer, to work into the deeper layers of the body.
- The muscles need to be relaxed in a Yin practice to allow the body to move closer to the bone and the connective tissue.
- Yin is a cooling and calm practice.
- Slow transitions between poses.
- Natural or down regulating breathing is encouraged.
- Yang is an active yoga practice.
- Poses are held for a few breaths with each pose linking to the next in a fluid movement to create heat in the body.
- The muscles will be engaged in a yang practice to build strength in the body.
- Yang is warming and energizing practice.
- Faster transitions often linked with a vinyasa.
- Ujjayi breath is predominantly used to retain the heat you have created in the body.
What Are The Benefits Of Yin Yoga?
Being a more meditative form of yoga the benefits affect both body and mind. The act of holding postures for an extended time can cause discomfort.
Being able to breathe through this area of unease, connect with your body and remain strong and focused in your mind can improve inner strength and the ability to work through difficult situations that may arise in life.
Here are some of the incredible benefits of practicing yin yoga: (4)
- Lubrication and protection of joints.
- Deeper access to the body through the relaxation of muscles.
- Regulates energy in the body.
- Calming and balancing for the mind.
- Stress reduction and ability to release anxiety.
- Improves flexibility.
- Release of fascia throughout the body.
There are many benefits to practicing all styles of yoga and meditation. But the benefit that stands out to me the most is the ability a regular practice can have on your brain.
In a study done by neuroscientist Sara Lazar (5) about the effects of Yoga and meditation on the brain, research found that regular practice increased the thickness of the cerebral cortex in the brain.
This is the area associated with attention, memory and emotion. The research also found the amygdala, the area associated with our ‘fight or flight response’ to have reduced in size, creating a reduction in stress levels.
Top 5 Yin Yoga Poses
A lot of yin yoga poses, or asanas as you would say in Sanskrit, are similar to poses you would find in a yang style of class, such as vinyasa, hatha or power, but have different names.
Here are 5 popular asanas you would find in a yin yoga class.
#1 Swan Pose - Variation of Hamsasana
- Start in a tabletop position, hands under shoulders and knees under hips.
- Slide your right leg forward, taking your knee towards the right side of the mat and your foot towards the left side.
- Keep your hips square to the top edge of the mat and place your hands down just in front of your hips.
- You have the option to stay here in an upright position or you can bring your forearms onto the mat or extend the arms in front of you and rest your forehead on the floor.
Swan pose is a strong and deep hip opener allowing external rotation of the front hip and a nice stretch for the hip flexor muscles. Opening the hips is beneficial for any lower back pain and helps to release stress and tension.
#2 Seal Pose - Variation of Bhujangasana
- Start by laying on your front, keeping your head and neck in line with your spine.
- Bring your elbows just in front of your shoulders and lift your head and chest up off the floor.
- Then begin to push through your hands and extend the arms.
This is a fantastic pose for the spine, offering a deep compression to the lower back and toning the spine. Prolonged sitting in chairs can cause us to lose the natural curve of our lower spine, practicing seal is a lovely way to reestablish this.
#3 Dragon Pose
- Come into a low lunge with your back knee on the floor and the toes released.
- Walk your front foot out to the side, making sure your foot is facing the same direction as your knee.
- Take your arms to the inside of your front leg and lower onto your forearms. If this feels too strong you can always lift up onto your hands or use a block to rest the forearms on.
This pose is another great hip opener and also stretches the back of the leg, the hip flexor muscles and the quadriceps. The hips can be a storage ground for tension and emotional stress, so practicing these deep hip openers are a beneficial way of releasing this built up tension.
#4 Caterpillar Pose - Variation of Paschimottanasana
- In this pose either sit on a cushion with your legs extended forward and gently fold over them. Or you can rest a bolster on your legs and fold forward, resting your head on the bolster.
- As opposed to a yang style forward fold you want your muscles to be relaxed. Curve the back as you fold forward and allow the body to soften.
Caterpillar pose is very beneficial for anyone who has a compressed spine from sitting all day. This pose lengthens the spine and compresses the stomach organs which stimulates your digestive system.
#5 Butterfly Pose - Variation of Badhakonasana
- From a seated position, bring your feet together in front of you and slide them forwards slightly.
- Take your hands onto your feet or gently rest them on the floor.
Butterfly pose is a gentle stretch for the hamstrings and the hips and improves the flexibility in the groin region. Practicing this pose relieves fatigue from a long day on your feet and can ease the discomfort from menstrual cramps and menopause.
Top Youtube Videos On Yin Yoga
1. For an introduction to yin yoga, try this class with yoga teacher Adriene Mishler (6). This is a great class for those new to the practice of yin yoga.
2. Practice a full and in depth yin yoga class with Travis Eliot (7)
3. A deep stretch yin yoga class with the popular yoga teacher Lesley Fightmaster (8)
4. Enjoy a gentle 30 minute yin yoga practice for easing stress and anxiety.
We need balance in all areas of our life. If you take a look at the Yin and Yang symbol it clearly shows that in both states you need a little of the other.
In yin yoga we have a greater and deeper connection to our body, allowing us to really let go in the situation.
Balance is the key to living a more peaceful life, so introducing yin yoga to your regular yoga routine can have a positive impact on the way you live. So find a yin yoga class near you (or join an online studio) and bring balance to your yoga practice and to your body and mind.