Yin Yoga 101: What You Need to Know
By Hope Zvara
Yin Yoga, a less popular styles of yoga
in the west is an approach that some may have never even heard of. One
that in my experience, takes many a few times to really warm up to and
even understand. Initially called “Daoist" yoga”
this style of yoga targets the deep connective tissues of the body (vs.
the superficial tissues) and the fascia that covers the body; this
Daoist yoga is to help regulate the flow of energy in the body. Paul
Grilley, who brought this concept to the forefront, accredits three main
teachers for this concept, one of which is Paulie Zink, who taught him
Daoist Yoga. Many teach Yin Yoga today, one of which is Sarah Powers, a
student of Paul’s; although she teaches very different than Paul, while
taking a Yin Yoga training from him in Chicago, he noted her credit for
aligning the name “Yin Yoga” with this style.
Yin Yoga postures are more passive postures,
mainly on the floor and the majority of postures equal only about three
dozen or so, much less than the more popular yang like practices. Yin
Yoga is unique in that you are asked to relax in the posture, soften the
muscle and move closer to the bone. While yang-like yoga practices are
more superficial, Yin offers a much deeper access to the body. It is not
uncommon to see postures held for three to five minutes, even 20
minutes at a time. The time spent in these postures is much like time
spent in meditation,
and I often talk students through the postures as if they were trying
to meditate. While in a Yin class you might notice similar postures to a
yang class except they are called something else, on a basic level this
is to help the students mind shift form yang to yin, active to passive.
concept of Yin yoga has been around for thousands of years and some of
the older text, such as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika notes only sixteen
postures in its text, which is far less than the millions of postures
practiced in today’s yoga. In addition, having read much of these text
and also cliff notes from various teachers it would appear that these
“postures” were more yin like to help promote meditation and long
periods of pranayama and sitting. Now I am not claiming to be an ancient
text yoga guru, but this is just an observation I have made.
So what exactly is Yin yoga?
It is a more meditative approach with a physical focus much deeper than
Yang like practices. Here the practitioner is trying to access the
deeper tissues such as the connective tissue and fascia and many of the
postures focus on areas that encompass a joint (hips, sacrum, spine). As
one ages flexibility in the joints decreases and Yin yoga is a
wonderful way to maintain that flexibility, something that for many
don’t seem to be too concerned about until they notice it is gone.
intimate practice of yoga requires students to be ready to get intimate
with the self, with feelings, sensations, and emotions, something of
which I have noticed can be easy to avoid in a fast paced yoga practice.
Yin yoga is often used in programs that deal with
addictions, eating disorders, anxiety and deep pain or trauma. For me
my first experience with yoga was when I was knee deep in an eating
disorder. Not familiar with the difference in practices I did notice
that yoga helped me, and I often equate my practice to saving my life.
Now that being said, several years later I stumbled across Yin yoga and
found that the recovery process I had been going through apparently
needed some more work and WOW did Yin point that out to me. I often
struggled with being alone, sitting with feelings and sensations
(something addicts struggle with) and found it challenging to face
myself and the rawness of what I was doing and who I was in that moment.
This concept in practice, allowed me a greater mental stability
something much of which is a benefit of meditation, basically “learning
to sit still.”
Now if you’ve never practiced
Yin yoga you might not quite understand how this is so different, but
for me Yin has dug deeper than I could have ever gotten otherwise. For
my students I often tell them when they are about to try a Yin class
that they need to try it three or four times to really make a decision
about the practice. Many find immediate benefits like more open hips, a
more relaxed body and centered mind. To me, I don’t think one practice
is better than the other, but what I would see as beneficial is for the
practitioner to see the benefit in each and that there is a need for
both. Possibly one benefiting more than the other at times in your life,
but a need none-the-less.
Some of the benefits of Yin yoga are:
Calming and balancing to the mind and body
Regulates energy in the body
Increases mobility in the body, especially the joints and hips
Lowering of stress levels (no one needs that)
Better lubrication and protection of joints
More flexibility in joints & connective tissue
Release of fascia throughout the body
Help with TMJ and migraines
A great coping for anxiety and stress
Better ability to sit for meditation
Ultimately you will have a better Yang practice
really do believe that if you incorporate a little of both will create a
more well-rounded practice as well as a better-rounded version of the
If you take a peek at a Yin-Yang
symbol, it is suggesting that no matter what, we should take a “tiny
bit” and put it in the heart of its opposite. Knowing both practices,
and having struggled with a wide variety of eating disorders, addiction,
depression and anxiety, I get that too much of something is simply too
much. Yin yoga as taught me to truly be still, to really come face to
face with myself, even more than my past practice has; and because of
this I am now able to bring what Yin has taught me into my more Yang
like practices and ultimately my life as a whole.
yoga teaches you how to really listen, you don’t get the opportunity to
go in and out, jump around and find a distracted version of stillness
within your practice. Yin is such a great compliment to other styles and
your own personal life, because it brings long periods of time in an
uncomfortable position, which then asks you to learn to “be” to “accept
what is” in that given moment. Something we can all benefit from daily.
For me, I did not know how to be in my own company, I did not like to
feel or be or anything that required me to have an emotion. There is
something so deep about Yin that will tap into a part of you in a way
only unique to Yin. And for me a healthy Yin practice has poured over
into a healthier Yang practice and a healthier life as a whole. And I
wish that for everyone.