Is this the best kept secret in yoga?

I am sure you have seen the term YIN Yoga pop up on your yoga studio timetable but do you REALLY know what to expect in a Yin class and are you making the most of your YIN practice? Let me extinguish some myths and shed some light on this unassuming and petite term.


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Yin and Yang Yoga. What’s the difference?

Yin is a much slower practice. Poses are typically held for a longer period of time. Anywhere from three to ten minutes. Sometimes even twenty. Yin yoga works on and nourishes the deeper, more hidden tissues, our ligaments, fascia, joints and bones.

More props such as pillows, blankets and bolsters might be used to support yourself during a yin class. Yin Yoga is focused more on time in order to go deeper not intensity. There is much more movement and change in Yang, otherwise known as dynamic, flow or active yoga and a typical hold may be anywhere from five breaths to a couple of minutes. Yang tissues are mainly muscle which enjoy constant movement and at times maximum stresses held for short periods of time.


We play our edges

In Yin we go only to the point where the most resistance is felt. We don’t rush into the deepest position straight away. We find our “first” edge, then wait for our body to open up further and invite us in deeper. It is common to move into greater depth after thirty seconds to a minute, however sometimes this range is not available.

Again we pause and wait for another invitation. If an opening is available, we drop deeper with a soft, flowing breath. We “play” our edges. Yin is about paying attention to what the body needs and respecting its requests. The essence of yin is one of yielding, surrendering and acceptance.

With every edge, we go inside and pay attention to how it feels. If we feel a significant sensation we know the pose is working. Staying with these significant sensations is enough. In fact the art of stillness in this discomfort and avoiding muscling into more depth is embracing yin. Once we have found our final edge, we commit to being still in mind, body and breath. By stillness in breath I mean having a soft, unlaboured and calm breath.

Bare in mind that we have emotional edges too. Sometimes your resistance will be emotional. You may be unconsciously holding back and not ready to venture into painful memories, feelings or thoughts. Yin honours what is offered and accepts where you are at in that present moment.

We need both Yin and Yang. Sometimes it is appropriate and even necessary to move and make things happen (yang), at other times we benefit more from allowing things to unfold (yin). A regular yin/yang yoga practice can stimulate the flow of energy throughout your body enhancing each organs function, relieving energetic and emotional blockages and generating a fresh aliveness in how we think and feel.


A random fact

Yin can be carried out everywhere, its portable. While you will not receive the full benefits of the pose, you can still physically affect your tissues by sitting in yin poses when you are on the phone, eating a meal or even watching TV.


Yin is boring and not challenging enough.

This can not be further from the truth. Playing with your edge and holding a pose for five to ten minutes can be a huge challenge. Yin yoga is NOT comfortable, in fact it will take you far beyond your comfort zone. You are often met with many emotions and sensations, such as frustration, resistance, denial, annoyance, tension, dullness and aches.

Often these feelings and thoughts are extremely uncomfortable. Most of the rewards from a yin practice comes from remaining in a significant level of discomfort, despite your minds desperate urge to leave.

As long as no pain sensations are felt such as sharp stabbing, burning or tingling you remain in the pose for a significant period of time. If pain is present you must come out of the pose immediately.


It should only be done in the evening

Nonsense! Try yin in the morning, midday and evening. Yin can be a powerful way to start your day. With presence, breath, clarity of mind and the ability to make clear decisions without clouded thought. Lord knows that decisions based on anxiety and stress rarely run smoothly.

When you choose to take a yin class really depends on your intention for the practice. For example, do you want to increase energy flow and remove any blockages, improve joint and connective tissue health or awaken yourself to presence/mindfulness.Yin is certainly not limited to evenings.

You can benefit from Yin at various times of the day such as

  • Early morning when you have a stressful day ahead that requires focus and attention.
  • In the evening to quieten and calm the mind before sleep.
  • Any time during the day to balance your busy (yang) energy and let go of unwanted drama.
  • After traveling, especially when your body have been in the same position for some time.
  • To conserve energy during menstruation.

Practicing with intention, paying attention and accepting how you feel and think during will see you reaching your purpose for your practice.


Yin is only for the elderly or beginners

Again so far from the truth it hurts. Yin is for everyone. From the yogi beginner, the yogi dabbler, to the elderly and advanced yogi/yogini. We all have different “edges” to play with regardless of where we come from. There are many modifications to a pose and there is no right or wrong way to look. Any expectations or personal judgements on where you should be are left at the studio door thank you very much.


Yin is the same as restorative yoga

This common thought is a bit of a grey one and is hotly debated out there in the yoga sphere. Personally I believe there are some clear differences between Yin and Restorative yoga. Restorative yoga is a very gentle practice which is specific to those who are injured or ill. Those who want to restore the quality of life that they may have lost. Restoring a somewhat “unhealthy” body to health. Long holds are held that address concerns specific to the person. Restorative yoga does not deeply stress the tissues or move people beyond their zone of comfort.


Yin yoga on the other hand involves long holds and steady stresses of connective tissues, giving them the opportunity to rebuild and is more about encouraging a healthy body to be its best version.

Having said this, when very carefully applied, yin may help with the recovery of damaged tissues. The key here is for you, the student to pay close attention to your practice as your teacher can not experience what you experience. I would suggest those who have severe injuries or illness to seek advice and go for the gentler, more restorative class.

I hope that I have nourished your curiosity of Yin yoga. Enough for you to dabble in a few classes and fill up on the juice Yin breathes. I also hope that aside from my palpable love of Yin that you have also understood the importance of nourishing both Yin and Yang practice in your life.

Enough said really now go forth and frolick in all things YIN.

A mantra to adopt when in a Yin class “We don't use our body to get into a pose, we use the pose to get into our body”. Bernie Clark


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