Passive, dark, introspective, soft, contracting inward – these are all characteristics of Yin Yoga, a style of yoga that is designed to help you sit more comfortably for longer periods of time and stretch the connective tissues around your joints. Yin poses are done seated or lying on your back, but some instructors add in standing postures, breaks for down dog or dynamic movements between longer holds.

This article explores the 3 principles of Yin Yoga, the difference between Yin and Restorative Yoga and a surprising benefit of Yin that is contrary to why most people practice.

The 3 Principles of Yin:
1. Hold the pose for time – Yin classes feature anywhere from 7 to 15 poses depending on the length of the class. Poses are held for 3-7 minutes but can be held for as little as 2 minutes for “beginner” classes. Holding for time is important in a Yin class because it allows the body to settle into the shape with less resistance over time. This time is needed so that the body can release tension and increase flexibility in the ligaments, tendons and fascia. Additionally, holding for time helps activate our parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes relaxation and a sense of calm. Aside from the physical benefits, the longer holds in Yin help us cultivate patience and mindfulness so that we can truly tune into how we’re feeling and what our body needs in that moment. When a pose isn’t help long enough, we often miss the subtle cues our body is trying to tell us that help us stay safe and mindful without judgement or distraction.

2. Resolve to remain still – This is arguably the most challenging principle of Yin. As Bernie Clark, Yin teacher and author, wrote, “It’s a simple practice, but it’s not easy.” Many people think that laying in a pose is the simplest form of yoga and they aren’t truly prepared for what it means to be still in body and in mind. The goal is to find your position for the pose and then…well…remain still. This means that your body must be completely satisfied of movement early on so that you can get the full benefit of the stillness for the entire 2-7 minutes. Some Yin poses are not immediately the most comfortable, so being still helps you focus on your breath more than you’re focusing on resisting the discomfort.

3. Come into the pose at the appropriate depth – Find your edge, but don’t push past it. Starting the pose at the deepest end range can be dangerous and painful – simply put, don’t grin and bear it. Although stillness is a principle of Yin, some teachers will tell you when you’re at the halfway mark and offer you an opportunity to go deeper into the pose. Regardless, your body will soften and take itself exactly where it needs to go as time passes as long as you give it time to settle.

Take caution when practicing Yin.
As with all physical activity, consult your physician if you have a history of joint pain or have had previous injuries. Be mindful of your limitations when coming to your edge of each pose and don’t approach both sides of your body with the same depth. Anyone with osteoporosis is cautioned against forward folds or twisting that could put pressure on the spine.

Yin Versus Restorative Yoga – What’s the difference?
Yin and Restorative are both slow-paced styles and are often confused as being the same. However, they are different in that Yin involves holding postures for time to access the deeper layers of connective tissue and improve flexibility. Yin is not always recommended for beginners and can sometimes be too strenuous for those who don’t typically stretch that deeply or hold poses for that long. Conversely, Restorative focuses on complete relaxation without the stretch sensations or really feeling anything other than the support of props and the breath. The poses are held for longer, sometimes as long as 20 minutes. Yin is about joint mobility while Restorative is about total relaxation.

Props are optional in Yin while the majority of Restorative poses are based on the use of many props including bolsters, straps, sandbags, eye pillows and blocks (to name a few!) sometimes using all of them for a single pose.

Can Yin help boost your energy?
Lately, I’ve been curious about how the physical practice of yoga supports energy levels during the day and the sleep cycle at night. Vinyasa yoga is a typical go-to practice when someone needs a pick me up and Yin is a top choice when someone wants to unwind after a long day. But, can Yin provide an energy boost? The answer is yes! When our bodies are stiff, achy and misaligned, they can feel heavy and that heaviness can weigh down our energy – it takes a lot of energy to power a body that isn’t functioning properly.

Think of your Yin practice as an essential source of nourishment to get your body moving optimally. Sometimes a vigorous practice is exactly what we need when we’re feeling sluggish but other times it can further delete our reserves, leaving us more exhausted and even more sore after. Try Yin the next time you’re in need of a boost, especially if you had a meeting heavy day with your attention pulled in many directions.

Unlike more dynamic styles of yoga, Yin involves long-held poses that allow the body to release tension in the ligaments, tendons and fascia. Yin encourages stillness, which can be challenging at first but is necessary for the relaxation of mind and body. Yin complements and balances more active forms of yoga and physical activities. Through regular practice, Yin yoga can help reduce stress, improve flexibility, enhance body awareness, and promote a deep sense of relaxation and inner peace.