What is Yin Yoga?

I recently created a social media campaign to spread the word about Yin Yoga, which consisted of 8 days of posts all about Yin. If you missed it or would like to read more about Yin, I've combined all the information for you below!

I don't cover any specific Yin poses below (stay tuned for some videos!), rather this is more background & general information on the practice itself.

The Yin Elevator Pitch

Yin is a passive practice focused on the connective tissues of the body. This includes fascia, tendons, ligaments & joints. Yin is an excellent counter practice to more active forms of yoga that tend to only target the muscles. Yin postures are typically held for 3-5 minutes each. The key with is to relax the muscles to reach the deeper tissues of the body. This is a great way to calm the active mind and accept what is.

Yin vs Yang

Yin & Yang are two relative terms of existence. They complement each other, and one cannot exist without the other. Generally, Yin is dark, cold, passive, solid, mysterious, moon, night and plastic. Yang is light, hot, active, hollow, obvious, sun, day and elastic. Ideally, we should strive to balance living between Yin & Yang states of being. In terms of yoga, Yin requires relaxing the muscles, transitioning slowly and practicing in a cool room. Yang involves strengthening and stretching the muscles, active movement and sometimes practicing in a heated room. If you find yourself practicing one style of yoga over the other, see if you can switch it up. Try giving your body the balance it might be looking for.

How to Practice

  1. Find the appropriate depth of the pose. We tend to be sensation junkies and want to immediately find the deepest stretch we can possibly feel. Keep in mind that fascia is more plastic than elastic, so it takes about 90 seconds on average to fully relax into each pose. You'll notice your body begin to open up after the first minute and will be able to go a little deeper. Once you reach your edge, be honest with yourself and try to stay there. Around 75-85% is a good depth to target. Going past this edge is typically following your ego, which isn't embracing the Yin state of mind.
  2. Remain still in the pose. Stillness usually means the muscles are inactive. Each time we move, we engage our muscles and therefore make the pose more yang by taking the pose away from the joints & fascia. The only way to work the connective tissue is to completely allow gravity to do the work.
  3. Hold the pose for some time. Yin postures are held anywhere from 3-5 minutes on average. Sometimes longer - up to 20 minutes! Yin tissues require Yin exercise, which requires steady & gentle pressure. Listen to your body when you practice. Some poses you'll need to come out early - some you could stay in for much longer! Every body is different.

When to Practice

This depends on your purpose for practicing & what you'd like to get out of practicing that day. For physical benefits of working the fascia, it's best to practice when the muscles are cool so that they don't take stress off the connective tissues. Early in the morning tends to be a great time for this.

Yin can also be very calming to the mind. If this is your intention, try practicing at night right before bed or during any hectic time when you feel unbalanced or ungrounded in order to find balance.

Yin isn't recommended after being in a yin state for several hours, such as coming from a full day at a desk job. In this instance, a yang practice might be more what you need that day. Bottom line - listen to your body & it will usually tell you what it needs.

Practicing with Intention

Because Yin is a more passive, meditative practice it's natural when starting out to tend to zone out and think about other things while in each pose. Often when taking the mind out of the body, it lessens the overall experience of the practice and can leave a feeling of boredom with anyone not allowing themselves to stay fully immersed in the experience. Instead, try coming up with a specific reason for practice that day and use that intention during your practice to keep yourself focused and in the moment.

A few examples of good Yin intentions: overall health, recovery from injury, balance, calming of the mind, or a dedication to someone/something other than yourself. By keeping these intentions in mind, you're more likely to achieve your goal for practicing in the first place.

Directed Breathing

In addition to practicing along with our intention, it can also be helpful to use mindful breathing techniques to keep ourselves focused and improve the overall outcome of what we intend to achieve through our Yin practice. Breathing affects our entire body, whether it's something we're doing consciously or unconsciously. Try breathing consciously in a way that fits with your intention.

For example, if you're trying to heal a certain part of your body, try inhaling your breath into that area of the body and exhaling anything negative out of the body. If you're working on a more emotional intention, such as finding stress relief, work on some balancing pranayama practices such as Nadi Shodhana or Sama Vritti.

You could also try matching your breath up with a mantra that you like. For example, inhale confidence, exhale self doubt.

Or to make it more related to your physical body, inhale to find space in the body, exhale to completely let go.

Finally, you could use your breath to focus in on specific emotions. For example, inhale love into the heart center and exhale to feel that love extend across your whole body and beyond. Go ahead and give some of these techniques a try! 

The Physical Benefits

Even though Yin is a passive practice, there are still tons of benefits for your body without breaking a sweat .

  • Improve range of motion
  • Passive stretch through the muscles
  • Stronger connective tissue: ligaments, joints, tendons -increased hydration & lubrication for the joints
  • Restore balance to the body, specifically evening out the natural curves of the spine
  • Turn off an overactive fight-or-flight response (sympathetic nervous system) and returns the body to the rest-and-digest state (parasympathetic nervous system)

The People Behind Yin & More Resources

There are several people that helped create and define what we know as Yin yoga today. If you've enjoyed learning a bit about Yin from this post and are interested in learning more on your own, I highly suggest checking out the books and websites of these four individuals!

  • Paulie Zink: he has a yoga & martial arts background + discovered the benefits of holding one pose for an extended period of time. He currently holds workshops that cover Yin and Daoist yoga. Here's his website. 
  • Paul Grilley: Paul's specialty is linking yoga with anatomy. He was introduced to the Yin style via Paulie. He has a book entitled Yin Yoga and also holds trainings and workshops, which you can learn more about here
  • Sarah Powers: Sarah used to teach at the same studio as Paul and eventually discovered Yin through one of his classes. She coined the term "Yin" that we use today and her classes focus heavily on combining yoga + a focus on prana (energy). She has a book called Insight Yoga and also teaches workshops. Here's her website.
  • Bernie Clark: Bernie has a detailed website on Yin and also has a book that I personally use often called The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga.