Last updated on November 28th, 2023.
I’m an experienced yoga practitioner as well as a yoga teacher, and I suspect a bit of a showoff. I tend to go for vigorous yoga, like Ashtanga, or a fast yoga that’s almost like a dance, Jivamukti. I like the energy, I like the workout and I like pushing my body. But, that’s not necessarily what my body needs at any given time. Sometimes, it’s good to slow down. To not worry about winning (i.e., being the most proficient in class). Sometimes, your body and your mind need stillness and peace and Yin Yoga is that practice.
Perhaps you’re recovering from an injury or are stressed at work or in your life. You may not be able to sleep; there is a lot of stress in the world these days so insomnia wouldn’t be a surprise. But, what if there was something you could do about your stress, your insomnia, or your injuries? Well, maybe there is. There’s a slower, more deliberate form of yoga called Yin. It’s a yoga that stresses taking care of yourself, listening to your muscles and checking in with your breathing.
Now, I’m not saying that other types of yoga won’t give you a meditative feeling. I know that when I really know a sequence of poses in Ashtanga or Jivamukti, I may become mindful of my mind, body and breathing, and I may move from pose to pose effortlessly.
But there are times when we all need to take inventory of our body, mind and breathing. It becomes imperative for our inner health that we seek stillness. Especially when going through stress. So, when I have a student who may need to work on their mindfulness, I suggest that they try Yin yoga.
Yin is an extremely slow and restorative yoga. You may only practice five poses in one class. And the poses may last for minutes. Those minutes allow practitioners to be more mindful. To listen to their breathing. To feel their muscles stretching, becoming more pliant and long.
As a yoga practitioner, I value Yin yoga. I find it very calming and I hope you do, too. Please keep reading to learn all about this quiet, meditative form of yoga.
What is Yin Yoga?
As you read above, Yin yoga is a slow, meditative yoga that stretches your connective tissues to make them stronger and longer. It’s a mix of traditional Chinese medicine and very slow yoga that’s said to help practitioners’ flexibility and joint circulation. Paulie Zink, a yoga teacher and martial arts practitioner, developed Yin yoga in the 1970; it’s intended to bring about inner silence and a connectivity with the world. It’s also restorative and said to be good for people recovering from injuries and sufferers of arthritis.
Yin is also meant to complement active yoga styles. It’s not meant to be the only yoga practice one does. Yin Yoga is a great compliment to your your practice. You can always sign up for and jump into a class anywhere in your practice and if you want to become a Yin Yoga Teacher you can add it as continuing education after you’ve completed your 200 hour Yoga Teacher Certification. And, Yin mainly focuses on the parts of the body below the navel. See, our lower limbs age rapidly; so Yin can help keep our lower joints active and healthy.
You’ll notice at your first Yin yoga class that the teacher will hand out large pillows, rubber exercise bands, and foam blocks. These are for your use and safety. If you can’t bend forward very far when seated, then by all means, lean on a pillow. If you can’t touch your toes, then hook your foot into the exercise band and hold onto the band instead. Or, if you cannot hold your hips up while lying on the floor, then prop them up with a block. There are so many uses for Yin yoga equipment; your teacher will show you the healthy and helpful ways to use it all. Again, I’ll stress it throughout this article, and I know your teacher will stress it throughout your class, but treat your body kindly and listen to it. Don’t try to push yourself beyond your limit. Use the equipment if you need to. And, even if you can do a stretch without discomfort, you still may find that using a pillow, band or block will allow you to reach a more meditative place. You should do what you need to do to be mindful of your body and your practice.
Teachers and practitioners believe that Yin yoga doesn’t only strengthen and help your physical body. They believe that Yin yoga can address blockages in the meridians, as they are the channels through which your energy flows. And, by alleviating the blockages, energy will successfully flow through different channels. Furthermore, Yin concentrates on the five elements (Fire, Water, Metal, Earth and Wood.) And specific poses concentrate on a specific element, which in turn, affects a specific part of the body. For instance, Butterfly pose puts focus on the wood element, which affects the gallbladder and liver. On a side note, in western medicine, this pose would be considered a hip opener (It’s my personal favorite pose. I feel so much looser after a Yin class with Butterfly pose.).
So read on as we discuss how Yin yoga can help a student, if Yin yoga is right for beginners, how frequently you can practice Yin, what can you expect from a Yin yoga class and how Yin teachers sequence their classes. It’s one of the most helpful yoga styles because it will aid your body and your mind, and will help you achieve a calmer life.
What is Yin yoga Good For?
Yin is great if you sit a lot at a desk for work as it will alleviate sciatica and back pain. It’s also great if you are a runner. Some Yin poses are akin to runner’s stretches and will really loosen you up for a successful run. But Yin can also help with emotional or mental issues. There are sequences for stress and relaxation, and even ones for insomnia.
Plus, if you’re a believer in traditional Chinese medicine, Yin yoga can help with energy blockages that could lead to problems with the internal organs. Some even think of Yin as a type of acupressure.
Here are a few reasons Yin yoga is good for you:
- Yin yoga reduces stress – the length of the poses allows you to practice mindfulness through meditation and breathing. You have time to clear your mind. You may find that you can even feel your muscles stretching or your warm breath exhaling or even the oxygen filling your lungs. Being centered in your practice will allow all thoughts of the stresses in your life to fall away, at least for the moment, decreasing anxiety and giving you a sense of calmness.
- Yin yoga allows you to build perseverance – You’ll learn the difference between giving up before you reach your edge or easing off after you’ve passed your point of endurance. You’ll learn not to push your body too far, but instead, push it far enough. And that mindset can be used in all aspects of your life, from school to work.
- Yin yoga will stretch and lengthen your muscles – You may find that you can reach farther, which would be great for your tennis game. You may mind that you can run without cramping up because you’ve stretched your muscles. You may even find that you feel stronger; your muscles feel healthier and more oxygenated.
- Yin yoga will allow you to explore meditation – The stillness in a Yin yoga class will allow you to still your mind and focus on one point, allowing you to enter a meditative state.
- Yin yoga will allow you to feel fantastic once the class is over. You’ve exhaled all the impurities in your muscles and mind, and you’ve inhaled oxygen and peace throughout your body. You’ll end up feeling lighter – in both your mind and body.
Is Yin yoga good for beginners?
Yes! Yin yoga is great for beginners. Learning a slower type of yoga will allow you to become full acquainted with the poses. You’ll learn about optional additions to the poses and you’ll be more familiar with adjustments to the pose. Yin yoga will allow you to pay more attention to your breaths, your mind and your movement.
Yin yoga will also allow you to find your edge. You’ll be more be more in tune with your body and will be more able to notice when you need to back off of a pose or when you still have room for more. Through guidance from your teacher, you’ll recognize how a pose is supposed to feel, what sensations you should be experiencing. They’ll teach you the warning signs and what to look out for and what to do if a pose is too intense or painful.
Your teacher will also teach you alternate yoga poses. They give you instructions on how to adjust your pose so that it is easier on your body or harder, if you need something more difficult. The teacher will also show you that if you need to take a rest, child’s pose is always available to you. That is true in any yoga class, whether it is Yin or not.
When you become familiar and comfortable with Yin, then move into a form of yoga with more movement. Hatha yoga is a perfect complement to Yin. It’s still slow but allows for more moving around and will allow you to try trickier sequences. And, thankfully, you’ll have the basics down pat. You’ll know how to protect your body and you’ll be able to work more on movement and transitioning through different, more difficult sequences.
Just remember that in Hatha or a faster or more complicated yoga, like Jivamukti or Ashtanga, you won’t be holding poses nearly as long as you do in Yin.
What should I expect in a Yin yoga class?
You generally don’t work up a sweat in a Yin yoga class, so if you run cold like me, you may want to wear a little more than you would for a vigorous yoga class. You will find that after class, your muscles feel warm, even though you haven’t moved very much at all. Not only do my muscles feel refreshed; my mind does as well.
Here what to expect from a Yin yoga class:
- The yoga studio space will be darker than usual. The music will be slow and meditative or there may not be any music at all. You’ll be provided with cushions, pillows and other equipment for your use.
- You’ll be given detailed instructions on how to breathe and move. Remember, you could be in one pose from a minute to even five minutes.
- Besides directing you into a pose, your teacher will offer substitutions, adjustments or options for the pose.
- The teacher will keep checking in with the class while you’re in the pose. They’ll remind you to breathe, clear your mind, relax your face, etc.
- Don’t expect to move through many poses. An entire hour-long class may only go through five poses
- Do go into child’s pose if you need a break.
- Do revel in a clear mind and a feeling of weightlessness after the class is over.
Can you be sore after Yin yoga?
You may feel a bit sore after a Yin yoga class. You’ve stretched your muscles deeply and they may complain if they aren’t used to it. But you shouldn’t feel any pain. As a yoga teacher and Yin student, I need to remind you that no matter the yoga class, you need to listen to your body. Don’t attempt a pose that makes you feel uncomfortable or hurt just because the person on the mat next to you can do it. I run into this a lot when teaching. Your body is unique, and you may not be able to achieve the same stretch as someone else.
I for one cannot stand on my head. I’ve tried a million times and it just isn’t happening. Just because everyone else in the class is balancing beautifully on their head doesn’t mean I have to. Same with Yin stretches. Some are very intense and may just not be right for you. There’s no shame in going into child’s pose. I tell my students this all the time. A lot of people do not follow this direction, though. Students need to remember that they could hurt themselves if they try to work through the pain or they ignore the pain.
How often should you do Yin yoga?
Just as long as you remain mindful of your body and its limits, doing Yin yoga every day is fine, say Yin yoga teachers. Thankfully, strain injuries won’t be a risk, as they would in a more vigorous practice. And, again, if you find that doing a particular pose causes you pain, it’s smart to stop. You could talk to your teacher to find out more comfortable pose options; yoga teachers are always taught options to a pose.
Yin yoga can be beneficial every day to allow yourself to enter a meditative space in your mind. After all the stress of the day, from work, traffic, etc., release stress in your mind and muscles could help you sleep better and have a better outlook. “But even if you do only an occasional Yin practice, your body will thank you for the opportunity to release,” says Yin yoga teacher, Summer Berman.
What are the poses for Yin yoga?
Not all the poses you do in a typical Hatha yoga class will be used in your Yin yoga class. But, there are seven primary Yin poses, many with optional adjustments for deeper stretches. And the poses affect or help not only the practitioner’s anatomy as classified by Western medicine. They also affect the anatomy based on Eastern medicine. A pose could open your hips for greater flexibility but could also address the liver meridian (the channel for energy flows), for instance, enhancing a person’s mood.
Saddle Pose is great for your quadriceps, hip flexors and rectus abdominis and sacrum. Saddle is helpful to those who stand or walk a lot. And, it can even stimulate your thyroid. In traditional Chinese belief, it will help the spleen and stomach channels.
Caterpillar will give you a good stretch in the spine and hamstrings. And it’s said to massage your digestive organs and stimulate your kidneys and adrenal glands. In Chinese tradition, it will target your Urinary Bladder channel.
For me, Shoelace is a difficult post. Especially when you add in the optional forward fold. But, with the fold, your digestion could improve. The pose can also reduce stress in your shoulders and upper back and can stretch your lumbar spine to alleviate back pain. In terms of Eastern medicine, it targets the Urinary Bladder and Gall Bladder channels.
Another difficult pose for me. I’m just not built that way. But, the wide-legged forward fold will open your hips, groins and hamstrings and will stimulate many of your internal organs. Your Urinary Bladder and Liver channels will also be targeted.
Dragon pose is similar to a runner’s lunge. It will stimulate your internal organs, open your hips and enhance endurance. And, it will target your Stomach-Spleen channel. And it feels great to do!
I love teaching twists when leading a yoga class. There are many different variations of the twist pose, but I really like a reclining twist; you keep your back flat and move both legs from side to side. You’ll massage your stomach and release tension in your spine. The pose may also alleviate sciatica. There are many different twists; some may target different channels.
The dog pose, or more correctly known at the quarter dog pose will benefit your back, arms and upper chest, as well as your internal organs. And, it’s a very meditative pose, allowing stillness to bloom. It targets numerous channels: lung, heart, bladder, spleen and stomach.
One of the earliest Yin yoga teachers, Paul Grilley, believes that only 20 poses in total are necessary for a Yin yoga practice. And, you don’t even have to do all 20 poses in one session as poses, or “postures,” as Grilley calls them, are held for a long period, sometimes up to five minutes.
So, don’t be surprised if your yoga classes do not feature all of the poses from above. There are more poses to choose from. Plus, there are variations to the main poses that your teacher may prefer.
And, rest assured. If you’re taking a Yin yoga class for the first time, the teacher will explain how to get into the poses and will even give you extra help if you need it.
How do you sequence a Yin yoga class?
Different Yin yoga classes may have different themes. You may see a hip-opening Yin class on your favorite yoga studio’s website. Or perhaps you may notice a Yin yoga class for better sleep. And, stress-busting Yin yoga classes are always popular. A hip opening Yin yoga class will have poses such as Butterfly, which will work extensively on your hips. You will also have a counterpose that will bring both legs together after stretching your hips in Butterfly. Child’s pose is a good counterpose.
A restorative Yin yoga class will employ props and cushions and feature seated forward folds, light backbends and gentle twists. You’re trying to be kind to your body in yoga, and a class like this will give comfort while restoring movement.
A Yin yoga class to reduce stress will include forward folks to work your connective tissues. Yoga teachers believe that when you release stress in your muscles, you’ll release stress in your mind, and you feel so much better afterward. A stress-reducing Yin yoga class could have Butterfly pose, Child’s pose, Melting Heart pose which is in between Child’s pose and being on your hands and knees, Prone Shoulder Stretch, which is a twist, and then another pose you can do while lying down, Supine Bound Angle pose, which is like Butterfly except that you’re lying on your back.
There are so many different sequences; I’m sure you will be able to find a class or online instruction for one that will help you with whatever issue you may be going through.
So, now you know the ins and outs of Yin yoga, including how Yin will help you and if it is good for you as a newbie. We hope that sparks you into trying a Yin yoga class. And, it’ll will be helpful to you as a new student to know it’s safe to practice Yin yoga every day, just as long as you are careful and listen to your body. Also, this is a great add on to your practice as a teacher after you start down the journey of first getting your Yoga Certification. And, now that you’ve learned what to expect from a Yin yoga class, including how the classes are sequenced, you’ve got a bit more insight to take with you to your first class. I cannot stress enough that Yin is a wonderful practice. I hope you think so too.