A walk on the Yin side

Yin Yoga is becoming increasingly popular in the Yoga world, but people often are often unclear about what it really is, and how yin Yoga differs from restorative Yoga. 

Yin and Yang

Literally translated yin and yang mean bright and dark. More generally, yang attributes are energetic, rapid and dynamic things, whereas yin attributes are calm, slow and steady.

Yin Yoga

Modern Yoga has come a long way from its origin as few seated poses designed to prepare the body and mind for long periods of meditation. Over the years more and more athletic practices with an emphasis on ‘yang’ elements (muscular strength/ flexibility and an elevated heart rate) have become the norm.

Yin Yoga emerged to bridge the gap between the modern yang forms of Yoga and seated meditation. In a yin practice the aim is to gently stress the connective tissue (fascia/ tendons/ ligaments) and joints so they acclimatize to stillness.  These yin tissues adapt much more slowly to change. Hence, yin poses are held for much longer than you would in a regular Yoga class, typically 3-5 mins, to give the body time to respond.

Yin postures mainly target the big stiff joints of the body involved in sitting e.g. hips, pelvis and lower back.  They often stem from traditional Yoga poses but are given alternate names to delineate the different emphasis e.g. pigeon is re-named swan.

How deep someone can go into, and how they experience a yin pose varies widely from student to student but there are a few key points that everyone should keep in mind:

  • Start at an appropriate depth – especially when new to the practice it is important to be kind to the body. Go to a point where you feel a gentle stretch, stop and wait. The long holds can significantly change the sensations experienced during the pose.
  • Breath with your whole body. Use your breath to help you soften into the poses.
  • Be mindful of the sensations happening in your body as you hold the pose. Notice if they change in intensity or if they travel, and make adjustments accordingly.
  • Cultivate stillness in mind and body. This can be the hardest part! Yin teaches you how to stay with something even if it not totally comfortable,  it helps train the mind to be more focused and allows a deeper awareness of the body to develop.
Yin Yoga also works on the subtle energy channels within the body. These energy channels, called meridians in the Chinese system or nadis in the yogic system are believed to run throughout the electrically conductive fascia of the body (see research by Dr Motoyama or Daniel Keown). Stretching the fascia as we do in yin poses stimulates the meridians, helping to clear blockages and promote healing within the body.

Edge and Time:  The Yin – Restorative Spectrum

There have been lots of discussions about yin vs. restorative Yoga. Is one better than the other? Should you use props in yin? Where is the line drawn between the two? 

Personally, I feel the difference simply comes down to ‘edge’, ‘time’ and emphasis. The emphasis in yin is a gentle stretching of the connective tissue while softening the muscles, whereas, in restorative Yoga the emphasis is deep relaxation with no strain in body or mind.  Edge is used to describe the amount of sensation/stretch felt in the pose, and time is the duration of the pose.  For example, in a yin pose you might feel quite a strong edge in the target area of the pose and hold it for 3-5minuites, in a restorative pose you might feel little or no edge and hold for 5-10 minutes.

Props may be used to help the body stretch, strengthen, balance, relax or improve body alignment. Restorative Yoga poses tend to involve a lot of props (see restorative childs pose below) to ensure the body is completely supported and thus feels safe to completely relax. It also means the poses are comfortable for extended periods of time.

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While fewer props are used in yin, (see yin child’s below) they can still be very important in helping students experience a pose more comfortably and safely. They allow students to hold an appropriate edge without overstretching (e.g. placing a rolled up blanket under the knees to protect tight hamstrings in a forward fold.) Props can also be used to help relax other parts of the body not directly involved, in particular supporting the head and neck so they are not dangling and adding additional strain to the shoulder girdle.

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In short, yin and restorative Yoga are a wonderful compliment to a traditional Yoga practice. Why not come to class and give them a try?

By Kate
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Kate teaches Yin Yoga on Fridays at 11.30am & Sundays at 12pm and Hot Power Yoga on Thursdays at 7am


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