Yin Yoga: A Practice for Those New to Yoga


When thinking of the Ying/Yang symbol from Taoism/Daoism we readily identify with concepts of light and dark and the deep connection of opposing forces. There is no up without a down, in without the out, death without life, they all bring us to a place to put things into perspective.

Expanding this awareness to different levels in our bodies, our relationships, our lives and yes, even our yoga practice can help to find that sense of intuitive balance. If you find your life is a little too “Yang” then consider what would provide you with a little more “Yin”?  Maybe Yin Yoga!

A Yin Yoga practice is noticeably slower paced than a practiced centered on vinyasa,  poses center on movements of the spine (see previous blog) and finding release around the hips and pelvis. Poses are held for longer periods of time, perhaps 3-5 minutes and the use of props is strongly encouraged to help the practitioner support their body where and when needed.

Most important to note isthat Yin Yoga is not Restorative Yoga, although the practice can have a high restorative quality about. In Restorative Yoga, postures are held much longer, sometimes up to 20 minutes with a strong emphasis of supporting the body with many props to allow the practitioner to ground and release. As with Restorative Yoga, Yin Yoga does not have standing balance poses, indeed poses from standing are not commonly used, but there are a few goodies in the repertoire like Mountain Pose and Dangling.

As a practice, Yin Yoga was developed in the 1970s by Paulie Zink who practiced Kung Ku, Qigong and Taoist Yoga when at college. He had a history of practicing Hatha Yoga when he was younger and it is from this foundation that his yoga style developed. From there he instructed students such as Paul Grilley, Bernie Clark and Sarah Powers, who gave it the name “Yin Yoga”.

As an FYI to those who’s practice is rooted in traditional Hatha asana, poses in Yin Yoga are not given Sanskrit names, poses are called by their English names it part to differentiate the nature of the pose, emphasis on deeper release of fascial connections (stronger Yin) rather than the muscles themselves (stronger Yang). This really confused me when I began taking classes!

So, what to expect in your first Yin class:

1.      Arrive at the studio early to meet the instructor, let him/her know that this is your first class. If you are new to the studio you may need to sign papers, sign in for class and have a tour of the space.

2.      Set up your mat in the room; many instructors and locations have the luxury of using the wall for practice (the best prop ever!). So, ask you instructor how she/he would like you to place your mat.

3.      What props will you need? The instructor will have a rough game plan and will recommend certain props for specific poses they have in mind, but may also offer other props to have nearby to assist. You may never need them, but it is fun to have them there to try and see if they work for you. After a few classes you will get to know your body, it’s needs and become familiar with the teaching style of the instructor.

4.      Listen carefully to the names of the poses, how the instructor cues you into the shape. Please do not stress if you do not know what to do, or do not “look” right. The instructor’s job is to take care of YOU! And quite frankly, if you do not feel this supportive connection, perhaps look for another instructor that you feel more comfortable with.

5.      Enjoy savasana, final relaxation. Many of those new to yoga struggle to keep their eyes closed or fidget to find something to do. Prepare to surrender!

Lastly, there are 4 Principles to the practice to bring with you to a class. See if you can stay attuned to your breath, your body, your energy, and if the mind needs something to do, review these principles:

1.      Come to your edge: find the pose, work to your level of comfort without causing pain.

2.      Find Stillness: Allow yourself to stay in the pose for the allotted length of time, avoiding fidgeting or unnecessary movement.

3.      Hold the Pose: Stay with the pose

4.      Release the Pose Carefully: Come out of the pose mindfully with minimal movement.

After reading this, it is my sincerest wish that you consider trying a class at a studio, or look for a practice sequence online to try yourself at home.

Update: This hour long sequence was recently released by one of my favorite instructors, Melissa West, a practice for home, designed for those new to Yin. Hope you enjoy!