- Calms and balances the mind and body
- Reduces stress and anxiety
- Increases circulation
- Improves flexibility
What is Yin Yoga?
Yin Yoga is a slow-paced yoga practice embedded with principles of traditional Chinese medicine, with yoga poses held for 45 seconds to upwards of five minutes or more. The sequences of postures stimulate the channels of the subtle body known as meridians in Chinese medicine and as nadis in Hatha yoga.
Yin Yoga poses apply moderate stress to the connective tissues of the body—the tendons, fasciae, and ligaments—with the aim of increasing circulation in the joints and improving flexibility. A more meditative approach to yoga, its goals are awareness of inner silence, and bringing to light a universal, interconnecting quality.
Where Did it Start?
Long-held postures have been used both in India’s Hatha yoga and in China’s Tao yin (Taoist yoga). For example, B. K. S. Iyengar recommended holding Supta Virasana (reclining hero pose) for 10–15 minutes. Long-held stretches are similarly recommended in Western physical disciplines, such as gymnastics and ballet, to increase flexibility. Tao yin also included poses like those of yin yoga in the system of Neidan (internal alchemy), intended to improve health and longevity. Taoist priests taught long-held poses, along with breathing techniques, to Kung Fu practitioners beginning 2000 years ago, to help them fully develop their martial arts skills.
Yin Yoga was founded in the late 1970s by martial arts expert and yoga teacher Paulie Zink Taoist yoga (Tao Yin). Yin Yoga is taught across North America and Europe, encouraged by its teachers Paul Grilley and Sarah Powers. As taught by Grilley and Powers, it is not intended as a complete practice in itself, but as a complement to more active forms of yoga and exercise. However, Zink’s approach includes the full range of Taoist yoga, both yin and conventional.
Yin and Yang
Yin Yoga is based on the Taoist concepts of yin and yang, opposite and complementary principles in nature. Yin could be described as stable, immobile, feminine, passive, cold, and downward moving. Yang is understood to be changing, mobile, masculine, active, hot, and upward moving. The sun is considered yang, the moon yin. In the body, the relatively stiff connective tissues (tendons, ligaments, fascia) are considered yin, while the more mobile and pliable muscles and blood are called yang. More passive asanas in yoga are considered yin, whereas the more active, dynamic asanas are described as yang.
Yin Yoga employs specific sequences of poses to stimulate particular meridians, or subtle channels, as understood in Traditional Chinese Medicine; these are the equivalent of the nadi channels in hatha yoga.
In keeping with its roots in Taoist Yoga, Zink says that Yin Yoga has a deeper purpose: to “open the heart and invoke the primal self.” Powers says one of the primary objectives of yin practice is the cultivation of inner stillness.
Distinction from Conventional Yoga
Although many Yin Yoga poses closely resemble the asanas of conventional or “yang” yoga, they have different names, in part to alert those familiar with conventional yoga not to perform them in the same way. In general, the poses of Yin Yoga are performed with little muscular exertion. For example, in Seal pose, in which a practitioner lies face down and raises the trunk, the upward movement is gradual and entirely supported by the arms, while the legs are relaxed, whereas in Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose), the practitioner actively curves the spine upward in an arc using arms and lower back muscles, and reaches back with the legs strongly. Because Yin Yoga does not make practitioners hot, the temperature of the room is kept a little higher than usual.
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