Woman with eyes closed, black hair and dark clothing in a dragon yin yoga pose, hands on a bolster, back knee on a blanket. Purple yoga block by front foot and plants in the background

About yin yoga


Yin yoga invites you to give your muscles a rest whilst placing gentle stress on fascia (tissues that connect and run through muscles) and joints. The gentle nature of the practice and long holds of the poses result in it often being confused with restorative yoga, which is designed to place no stress on the body. Unlike restorative yoga, yin yoga benefits come through finding the right level of sensation, usually some discomfort but not sharp pain, and then staying still for an extended period of time. Yin yoga classes will usually ask you to hold a pose with your muscles relaxed for 2-5 minutes but more experienced students may wish to occasionally try classes or a home practice involving 10 minute holds.  

One of my favourite aspects of my yin yoga teacher training was the emphasis placed on variable anatomy. Each of us has different proportions, shapes and angles to our bones, which means how we look when we practise physical aspects of yoga is also likely to be variable. It is also perfectly normal to have some asymmetry so our left side of the body might not be able to move in the same way as our right side. We can often get away with this in yang styles of yoga as we are using our muscles much more and moving in and out of poses quite quickly but in yin yoga, if we do not respect the natural limitations of our bodies and push to our end range of motion, at best we will be wasting our time, and at worst, we will be risking injury.

My view is that if everyone looks the same in a yin yoga class, at least some people are not in the pose. In my opinion, "progress" in yoga, including yin yoga, is determined by what it enables you to do differently in your life. We can't measure it very well and there is not an end point, just living a life that is meaningful for you based on your circumstances and values.

You will get the most out of your yin yoga practice if you:
  • Focus on how it feels, not how it looks
  • Let go of comparing how your pose looks with how other people's poses look
  • Let go of comparing one side of your body with the other
  • Challenge your belief that more is always better in yoga.
Woman with black hair and dark clothing lying down on a yoga mat in half saddle yin yoga pose, left leg bend, eyes closed and purple block by left leg.
On a psychological level, this practice also has plenty of challenges. Being still without tensing your muscles is not something many of us are used to so it can feel uncomfortable and even "wrong". This can also lead to us being faced with tricky thoughts and feelings, especially if we are used to using yoga or other physical practices as a way of distracting ourselves from what we find challenging internally and in our lives. The more you practise, the easier it will get but remember that you are in control of your practice and you are free to opt out of any aspects of the class that you do not feel ready for. If you have experienced trauma and / or are feeling very disconnected from your emotions, please consider what you need to feel safe whilst joining in with a class. This may involve keeping your eyes open or focusing on your senses (touch, sound etc) if the internal sensations feel too much for you on that day.

As well as it feeling challenging to be still, it can come with many rewards, including helping us practise sticking to what feels right for us, learning to hold back or move deeper, and to start noticing other thoughts and feelings which may arise once our habitual ones have been allowed to come and go. When we slow down enough to observe sensation, we can rebuild our connection with emotion and listen to the thoughts that help us understand what we might need, want and value. We may start to see life a bit differently and question (or stop questioning) our behaviour in certain areas of our lives. And these are the aspects that I hope to encourage you to be curious about within my classes.

Whilst yin yoga is suitable for most people, I would encourage anyone who is pregnant to work with a yoga teacher who is trained in pregnancy yoga, which I cannot offer at this time. I would also suggest that my classes may not be suitable for anyone who is at an acute phase of illness or in the early stages of recovery from trauma or a significant illness, such as cancer. If that applies to you, a restorative yoga class or other forms of relaxation may suit you better. You would be very welcome to join my classes further into your recovery journey.
Further reading and listening

I think this is a nice description of the benefits of yin yoga:

https://www.yogajournal.com/lifestyle/10-reasons-make-time-yin-yoga

If you are interested in learning more about yin yoga in detail and from reliable sources, I would recommend information from Paul Grilley, whose style of yin yoga is the type I teach, as well as Bernie Clark who has written widely about this practice:

https://paulgrilley.com/
https://yinyoga.com/

https://www.yogajournal.com/yoga-101/yin-yoga-2
https://triyoga.co.uk/blog/podcasts/paul-grilley-yin-yoga-podcast/

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© Yin Yoga with Davina 2021