There’s a procession of bolsters and blankets causing a traffic jam on the stairs. It must be time for Restorative...or maybe Yin. Have you ever wondered about the difference between the two and why people choose to go to classes where, as far as you can see, they just lounge around on props?
I often get asked to explain the difference between Yin and Restorative Yoga and I’m not surprised. On the surface, both practices can look very similar: postures are floor based, supported by props and held for minutes rather than a few breaths. So why do I include both in my own practice and encourage others to do the same? Well, while there are undoubtedly overlaps between the two, at their heart, Yin and Restorative are distinct styles of Yoga with their own unique histories, intentions and benefits.
The practice of Yin Yoga as we know it was developed as recently as the 1990s; its roots, however, are centuries old, stemming from ancient Chinese philosophy. Daoism observes the interconnected concepts of yin (dark, cool, soft, slow etc) and yang (hot, light, hard, quick etc), teaching that all things contain both elements and that harmony and health arise from equilibrium between the two. Recognising that today’s world is increasingly yang and that many modern postural Yoga practices are dynamic and heating, the practice of Yin Yoga seeks to bring students to a state of balance by promoting a slower, softer yogic experience.
In a Yin class you can expect to hold floor-based postures for between 2 to 6 minutes, enabling deeper work into connective tissue. Targeting the lower ‘yin’ body (think legs, hips, pelvis and lower back), you’ll be encouraged to use props for support and guided to work kindly towards your ‘edge’ while maintaining a quality of softness. Yin sequences also work into the subtle energy body of Traditional Chinese Medicine, seeking to stimulate channels of energy (meridians) to promote health and balance.
Like Yin, Restorative Yoga as we practise it at YogaVenue, is a relatively recent phenomenon but its essence is deeply rooted in the ancient yogic tradition of India. B.K.S Iyengar is credited as first experimenting with props to allow students, particularly those with illnesses or injuries, to practise Yoga postures without excessive strain. Judith Hanson Lasater, my teacher and a student of Iyengar, was inspired by his teachings to develop the practice we’re familiar with today.
Judith defines Restorative Yoga as “active relaxation” using “props to create positions of ease and comfort that facilitate relaxation and health”. Similarly to Yin, Restorative postures are floor based but instead of working into feelings of stretch you’ll be guided to use props to hold your body away from strong sensations. Instead, you’ll be encouraged to explore feelings of opening and release with the aim of bringing the parasympathetic nervous system (our ‘rest and digest’ system) into dominance. It’s helpful to think of receiving rather than doing the postures which are typically held for between 5 and 20 minutes and are deeply therapeutic.
Believe it or not, even Yoga teachers have to work at maintaining balance in their lives! In a society that reveres productivity and achievement and is quick to label anything else as laziness, it’s easy to get caught up in the cult of busyness. How often have we equated how busy someone is with how successful they are? I love both practices of Yin and Restorative Yoga because, in their own way, they help to bring me back to earth and towards balance. By slowing down and moving towards stillness I get to really listen in, open up and become more receptive to anything that the practices have to teach me moment by moment.
So, my answer to the question ‘to Yin or to Restore?’ Both, of course!
By Katie Phelps