Complete Guide to Yin Yoga (All You Need to Know)


Yoga is a powerful way to build your fitness, improve flexibility, and work on your posture. There are just so many types of yoga to choose from, and it’s common to get confused about your options. Just which one should you use?

Yin yoga is one of those types that you may not have heard of. While it’s popular, it’s not as popular as many other types that are used in gyms and fitness centers around the world. However, it is one of the most effective, especially for those who need something low intensity and light. It’s perfect for those who want to connect spiritually to their exercise and need something mild to build up their fitness capabilities.

Here’s a look at everything you need to know about yin yoga to decide if this is something for you.

A Focus on Holding Positions for Long Periods of Time

Some types of yoga will focus on moving between positions, feeling stretches, and improve flexibility. Yin yoga focuses on relieving stress, and this is done through the holding of positions for longer periods of time compared to other types. There will be some who hold the positions for five minutes, feeling the stretch and focusing on their breathing.

Even beginners will hold positions for a longer than normal period of time. Instructors encourage the positions to be held for one or two minutes to gain the full benefits of this form of yoga.

It’s one of the newer types of yoga, only introduced in the western world in the 1970s. It was founded by a martial arts expert and is designed to be a complementarytype of exercise. The focus is on the stretches to improve muscle strength and flexibility. Circulation around the joints is boosted to help reduce lactic acid build-up and prevent cramping after exercise.

A moderate stress is placed on the tendons and ligaments to help improve the flexibility and strength in these areas of the body. The aim is to improve overall health.

Holding the poses for longer periods of time has been linked to various health benefits. Those in certain sports have found new found discipline, as well as flexibility and strength. This is very common in dancing and gymnastics, where there is a need to be as flexible as possible. Some people will hold a few of the positions for 10 or 15 minutes to improve their abilities.

The practice of holding positions is nothing new. More than 2000 years monks and priests would meditate in yoga positions because it was excellent discipline. There were beliefs that holding the positions and connecting deep within would help to improve longevity and health. This practice would help to improve the “inner alchemy” to boost lifespan.

An Adaptation of Taoist Yoga

You may have heard of a type of yoga called Taoist Yoga. This was taught by Paulie Zink in the 1970s, who developed the yoga into the yin yoga that is used today. He originally called it yin and yang yoga but was shortened to yin yoga for ease. It certainly brings in elements of yin and yang to focus on overall health. The teaching methods were further developed by Paul Grilley and Sarah Powers to create what it has become today.

Yin yoga is not the only type of yoga that focuses on holding the positions. Hatha yoga is one of the most popular taught yoga types in gyms and fitness centers around the world and focuses on the holding of positions. However, the stress on the ligaments and tendons isn’t usually for as long. Hatha yoga is also a type of yoga in its own right. It’s a standalone type of exercise.

The yin yoga taught by Grilley and Powers was developed to be a complimentary exercise. This means it is used before or after other exercises, especially martial arts. The focus is on building the overall strength while developing a deeper spiritual connection to improve mindset and abilities in other exercises.

There is an element of meditation in yin yoga while holding the positions. Those exercising are encouraged to look inwards and connect with their bodies. When following the exercises, you’ll be focused on listening to everything that your body is trying to tell you and find inner strength. It’s a way to calm the mind and body, relieving the stress felt throughout the day.

Traditional yin and yang yoga involved both sitting/lying positions (yin) and active postures (yang) to develop the overall strength and abilities. The focus was on smooth transitions between the positions to focus on stretching and getting the positions just right. There was also a focus on connecting to the five Chinese medicine elements: Earth, Water, Fire, Wood, and Metal. These were later connected to body qualities: calm, springiness, strength, lightness, and fluidity.

Yin yoga now tends to avoid the yang style of poses. The exercises were mixed with some of the hatha yoga qualities to create a new type of yoga. Grilley wanted to focus on the spirituality side of yoga, and Powers further developed that with her understanding of psychology and meditation. There was a focus more on the mind, body, and soul connection rather than doing the yoga to improve flexibility and fitness.

Powers also further developed the breathing aspect of yin yoga.

There are now two types of yin yoga due to the changes. Grilley and Powers focused on their meditative style with afocus on the holding of positions, while Zink continues to work with the yin and yang approach. Zink’s Yin yoga includes more strenuous positions for those who want to get their heart rate going.

If you just want to focus on pure yin yoga, you’ll want to follow Grilley and Powers’ approach. It’s all about the passive positions and the focus on the meditative postures. There isn’t anything strenuous, but there is a discipline required to hold the positions for long periods of time.

Helping to Deal with Anxiety and Depression

Yoga is one of the best exercises for those with mental health problems, especially depression and anxiety. This is certainly the case when it comes to yin yoga. Remember that this is about meditation and connecting deep within.

With yin yoga, there is a major focus on connecting with yourself and finding deeper meaning. There is this method of connecting the mind, body, and soul together. This is more than just getting the body fit. Yin yoga focuses on improving the mental state.

Those who suffer from depression can find a deeper connection with life. They focus on how they are and the goodness in their lives. It’s possible to find time to escape the problems making depression worse.

There’s the ability to calm the whole body. Yin yoga focuses on fluidity and mental calmness. Stresses of the day no longer become a major issue and anxiety can be controlled. In fact, there are many herbal remedy fans who will encourage those with anxiety to take up a yin style yoga practice because it helps to calm the body and mind.

Some yin yoga practices have been developed to help those with other mental health disorders. People with eating disorders have found some treatments through yin yoga. The meditative state helps those with eating disorders connect deeper within. They can focus on the reasons for their disorders and find new ways to gain control in their life – after all, the majority of people with eating disorders do it to gain control in life that they can’t connect with.

Those who have suffered some sort of trauma in their life can also find yin yoga benefits them. They can connect deep within and find a solution to their problems. They’ll find that their past trauma no longer takes over their thoughts or causes other mental illnesses.

Many people with various mental health problems find it hard to be alone. There are various thoughts that will affect them, whether they start to worry about events happening, get flashbacks from traumatic events, or struggle to deal with the silence around them. Yin yoga gives them a way to deal with the silence and alone time. They learn to enjoy the quiet around them, as it gives them time to connect with themselves further.

Some describe yin yoga as the ability to learn how to sit still. They don’t feel like they need to use up the time by doing something. They don’t need to take control through other methods because they can control their thoughts and functions by taking up a position and looking deeper. There’s the ability to calm the whole body, removing agitation felt throughout the day.

Develop a Coping Strategy for Stress

There are just so many benefits to doing yin yoga. While it helps with mental disorders, it can also help people in everyday life. Stress affects everyone in different ways. It causes major hormonal imbalances and can lead to alack of sleep and other health issues. People then start to stress that they can’t control their stress and it’s a nasty cycle that doesn’t seem to have an end to it.

You can change that through the use of yin yoga. Remember that this is all about connecting deep within you. It offers a new way to cope with stress and let the worries and difficulties of the day wash over you.

Yin yoga is a meditative style. You have the chance to focus on your breathing and getting rid of the cortisol from the body. There’s a focus on releasing the happy hormones in the body. You get to counteract the stress hormones and find balance.

There’s the ability to relax deeper than you ever before. It’s not just your mind that feels the ease from the stress, but your whole body. Your muscles don’t need to carry the weight, and your bodily functions will return to normal.

The best thing about this coping strategy is that you can develop it to work whenever you need it. You may be on the train home from work or stuck at the office desk. While you may not be able to do your stretches, you can use the meditative abilities to help relax the whole body. You’ll find it easier to keep yourself contained until you get somewhere that you can perform the full stretches to get all the benefits.

Not only do you get rid of the stress, but you do it in a healthy way. Too many people reach for food or drink to help deal with the stress they feel. They end up gaining weight and causing more damage to their bodies – and they don’t usually get rid of the stress that they do feel on a daily basis! People struggle to sleep, and this makes them feel worse on a daily basis. These issues will become a thing of the past.

The best thing about yin yoga is that it still applies some stress to the body. The muscles and tissues need some stress to avoid muscles degenerating and atrophy. We need to do something to help build on the strength and yin yoga follows the practice of just putting enough stresson them to improve them, without going too far and damaging them!

Help to Regulate Your Energy Levels

Did you know that yin yoga can also regulate your energy levels? This doesn’t just help you get through a long day at work but can also help your weight loss efforts.

When you meditate, you can avoid using up all your energy throughout the day. You work on boosting your metabolic rate when you need it and keep the cortisol levels to a minimum. Your body uses up calories evenly throughout the day, so there’s no need for you to find the energy from other places.

You’ll be more connected with the food that you eat. You don’t want to consume food that just causes your body to burn off energy as quickly as possible. You don’t want to be left hungry an hour or so later. With yin yoga, you’ll understand what your body needs more.

This can also help to control your cravings. You’ll understand more about your cravings and why they’re happening. It’s much easier to combat them when you understand them deeper.

People who meditate often say that they boost their energy levels to the point where they feel like they’ve had a power nap. They revitalize themselves and are ready to tackle the next issue of the day. The regulation of the energy levels instantly helps to keep stress and anxiety to a minimum.

Improve Your Fitness Levels

Remember when I said that Yin yoga is a complimentary type of yoga. This means that it isn’t designed to do on its own. It’s something to add to other forms of exercise.

Dancers, gymnasts and martial artists are among the most common people who will choose to do yin yoga on a regular basis. The poses focus on developing the connective tissues, both in flexibility and strength. It’s not just about building muscle but improving overall tissue health. This is important for stretching out the hips, back, and shoulders to perform moves in the sports mentioned.

But you don’t need to be a dancer, gymnast, or martial artist to gain all the benefits of yin yoga.

Remember that you regulate your energy better when you do this. You’ll find that you feel like you’ve napped after your meditative state. This will help you improve your fitness levels, as you feel like you have more strength to push yourself during your exercises.

You’ll have more motivation when it comes to your exercises. At the same time, you reduce the lactic acid build-up afterward, so will find the recovery period much easier.

Yin yoga is definitely a complimentary exercise to other types of yoga. You’ll find that other types of yoga will seem deeper and more spiritual. You connect to exercise and yoga in a completely new way.

Yin Yoga Can Certainly Seem Boring

When most people start yin yoga, they can get the misconception of doing something boring. You don’t break a sweat, and it can feel like you’ve done nothing at all. There are plenty of people who question if they’re in the right classes when they initially start, especially when they find out they have to sit still for 5 or 10 minutes at a time.

It’s only after the first session that they realize that the yoga is more powerful than they ever realized. While they don’t feel like they’ve done anything physically, their hips and backs tell a different tale. They feel a stretch that they’ve never experienced before.

They also realize that the Yang practices aren’t necessarily the best options. Sure, Yang practices boost the heart rate and help to increase endurance, but they can be mentally and physically draining. Yin yoga focuses on building that mental energy back. There is the focus on putting the energy back into the whole system and fuelling the body and spirit.

Yin yoga is more about connecting with yourself. Initially, it may seem boring, but you start to learn more about yourself. You will start to listen to what your body is trying to tell you and what you’re doing.

It’s possible to do yin yoga while completely other tasks. There are individuals who will hold the yin poses while they read or watch TV – the types of activities that involve bad posture. While you don’t get the full spirituality connection, you start to gain the ability to hold positions for long periods of time. You build on the strength of the body and the flexibility of the joints. This will make moving onto full yin yoga much easier.

Yin Yoga Is Not Going to Be Comfortable

There is one thing for certain when you start yin yoga; you will not find it comfortable. This is the case both mentally and physically.

Most people when they start aren’t used to sitting still for long periods of time. The idea of holding a position for just one or two minutes is hard enough. When they then move up to five minute and 10 minute holds, they start to struggle. They’re pushed out of their comfort zone.

This isn’t a bad thing. In fact, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is good for you. This is a chance to experience something new and find out something new about yourself. It’s a chance to challenge who you are and what you usually do.

The positions that you hold aren’t going to be comfortable either. We spend all our days sitting on the couch or at the computer that our connective tissues have shrunk. Our hips lose their flexibility, and this is something that you need to get back to the positions. You will certainly feel the pull, especially around your hips and lower back when you first start.

Feeling the pull is one of the reasons beginners will only hold the positions for one or two minutes. You need to help your body get used to this extra strain without causing damage. As your body develops the flexibility, you will be able to hold the positions for longer. The discomfort will become negligible, as you feel more of the benefits of flexibility and discipline.

Mentally, you won’t just feel uncomfortable because of the length of time you hold the stretches. Remember that there is a spiritual side to this yoga. It’s all about looking deep within yourself and finding out who you are. You’ll learn ways to cope with stress and trauma, and you need to start being comfortable being on your own and in silence.

I know I was never that comfortable with this. There are still times that I need noise around me to feel like I’m not alone. Those with mental health problems like anxiety or trauma can find this silence element even more uncomfortable than most.

The great news is you will get past the discomfort. You’ll get past some of the pain and worries of what you will find when you look deep within. In fact, those who use yin yoga on a daily basis come to love the silence and ways to find out who they are and what their body really needs. They enjoy the benefits that they gain and forget all about the discomfort they once felt.

You’ll Become More Aware of Past Feelings and Stresses

There’s no denying that there will be a lot of souls searching. You’re connecting every part of your being while you do yin yoga, especially during the position holds. This is a chance to reflect back and connect with the past experiences that make you who you are.

Some beginners have noted how they connected with darker moments of their past. Feelings and stresses that they tried to push down and forget about rose to the surface. This is an element that makes the start of practicing yin yoga difficult for many. There are thoughts, feelings, and memories that they don’t want to remember.

However, it is important to get through this initial stage. Use the memories to fuel your healing and focus on becoming more connected with your spiritual nature.

Being more connecting to your past feelings and stresses will help you in the future. You remember how far you were pushed and will develop new methods of coping – healthier methods of coping.

While being more aware of your past, you’re aware of the amount your body and mind can take. You can balance your hormones and boost your energy levels. You’ll find that connecting deep within becomes second nature and is something enjoyable.

Common Yin Yoga Positions to Try Today

Now that you know more about yin yoga and the benefits you can gain, it’s time to focus on the right positions. The yin positions will involve either sitting or laying. Try to hold the for a minute at first and build your stamina up to five minutes and longer. You can hold them while watching TV if that helps to keep your mind on the length of time that you’re holding the positions, to begin with. Eventually, you will want to do the positions without the aid of the TV. Nature sounds can help with the reflection process.

Start With the Downward Facing Dog. Get yourself in the all fours position and then walk your hands forward. You want to keep your butt in the air, but your back sloped down, so your chest is on the floor. Your arms are stretch out in front of you.

You’ll feel the stretch along your back, stomach, chest, shoulders, and arms. If you find the position uncomfortable, use a cushion to place your arms and to place your forehead on.

Take deep breaths while you hold this position. Relax your legs and focus on that stretch that you feel.

When you have finished the position, push forward onto your arms and gently lower yourself to a laying down position. This will help you stretch out the legs before you move onto your next yin yoga pose.

Move Into the Seal Pose. From the position on your front, push yourself up onto your arms, keeping your hips and legs on the floor. You’ll want to lift your head up to look at the ceiling, arching the back and allowing the stomach muscles to stretch out. You should feel this stretch all the way into your hips.

You can slowly build on the arch in your back. Start off until you just feel a slight stretch and hold that position. When that becomes comfortable, you can push yourself slightly further up. It may take thetime to be able to look up to the ceiling fully, but you don’t want to push yourself too much instantly in case you pull muscles or damage your spine.

If you find that the position becomes too much, lower yourself slightly closer to the floor. Don’t come out of the position right away, as you will gain some benefit just in the beginnings of the stretch.

Sit up Into the Caterpillar. The caterpillar is one of the most common stretches performed by gymnasts and dancers. It’s also one of those that you will need to develop, as your hamstrings gain more flexibility slowly. While you will want to feel some strain, you shouldn’t be in pain during this exercise.

Start by sitting with your legs straight out in front of you. Bend your upper body over your legs, stretching your arms out to touch your toes. You want to get your chest as flat along the tops of your legs as possible. You’ll feel the stretch in your hamstrings and back.

Don’t worry if you can’t get all the way down. Go as close as possible and hold the stretch. As you feel a little more give, you can lower yourself down further. If you start to feel pain rather than stretching, pull yourself slightly back up into a sitting position – but not all the way into a sitting position.

If you can, avoid grabbing your toes or your ankles to pull yourself down. You want your arms to relax, which they can only do if they’re by the sides of your legs.

Lay Back Into the Corpse Position. This is the easiest of all the positions to do regarding physically. You won’t feel much pain but will feel a stretch on your back. If you have a high arch in your back, you may need a rolled up blanket underneath to give yourself a little support.

The idea is to just lay with your legs out in front of you and your arms by your side. Let your whole body relax and just escape into your own mind. Since you don’t have to focus on stretching any part of your body or keeping yourself upright in a position, you’ll find the spirituality side of yin yoga is easier in this position.

If you’ve tried other types of yoga, you’re likely used to this pose. It’s one that you’ll be able to hold for five minutes from the very beginning, so try working your way up to 10 or 15 minutes at a time. Just allow your mind to look deep within yourself and focus on everything that your body is trying to tell you.

You can take this position one step further with the right-hand positions. Place one hand on your heart and the other on your stomach. This helps to connect with your inner body and the motions it is going through. You connect to important chakras within you.

Pull the Knees up to Your Chest. Still on your back, slowly raise the knees up to your chest. You will need to pull the core muscles in to keep the stability during this position.

Wrap your arms around the legs, so you hug your legs into your chest. You’ll feel the stretch along your back and the contraction of your stomach muscles. This is an excellent position if you struggle with menstrual cramps or pore digestion.

As you develop your ability to hold the pose, you may find that rocking side to side is helpful for the meditative state. Others find releasing the legs lightly and then pulling them back in help. It’s all about connecting with yourself.

Use Props for the Backward Butterfly. It’s time to add a little extra stretch to your stomach and back. You’ll need support for your shoulders and your head for this position, as you’ll need to arch your back with your arms out to the side. Place a prop directly in the middle of your shoulders, with a cushion for your head to rest on.

The aim is to get your props positioned, so you are comfortable. You shouldn’t feel the need to adjust the props in the middle of the exercise.

Keep the legs bent and relaxed them inwards. The knees will likely touch. However, you get them is perfectly fine, as long as you’re comfortable and can actually fully relax into this stretching pose. Some people will find that keeping the legs straight is better for them!

Move Into the Child Pose. It’s time to carefully roll back onto your front and curl up into a ball. It’s called the child pose because it’s very much like the fetal position.

This is another very easy pose to hold physically. You’ll feel some stretching in the back and thighs, but you’ll find overall that you’re not in much discomfort. What you will find is that you have more time to seek within yourself and develop a deeper connection.

Because it’s an easier pose, you’ll want to start with a 5-minute hold instead of the one or two minutes. You can then build your way up to 10 or 15 minute holds, like you would with the corpse position.

Slide Back Into the Swan Position. This is one of those positions that will really open your hips. You will feel it when you’ve finished, even though you won’t break a sweat while doing it. This is a pose that you may find you can only hold for a minute when you first start but you want to build your way to five or 10 minutes to benefit the tendons within the hips.

Sit on your butt, with one leg bent in front of you and tucked into your body. The other leg is straight out behind you. It’s almost like you’re doing the half splits. Place your hands on the floor for some support and focus on opening the hips out.

Keep the back straight with your shoulders forward throughout this exercise. Feel the way your hips and stomach area stretch out and up.

You can do this exercise on both sides for symmetry.

Lay Into the Sleeping Swan. While in the Swan position, lay your body over your front leg with your arms straight out in front of you. You may not be able to get all the way to the floor at first, but get as close as possible. Pull out the front leg slightly if you find it is more comfortable.

This will add more of a stretch to your thighs. You may find that you can only hold it for a minute at first.

Work Into the Half Butterfly Position. Sit back up and pull the back leg in front of you, keeping it straight. The other leg needs to stay bent and tucked into your body. Lay forward over your outstretched foot, similarly to the caterpillar.

Like with the sleeping swan and caterpillar positions, you may not be able to lay down flat along the leg. Just get yourself as close as possible.

It is possible to add to this position as you gain more flexibility. Pull that front leg in so the soles of your feet are touching, almost like a frog-leg position. Now lean forward, stretching your arms out in front of you. This will open both your hips at the same time, so you don’t need to switch the outstretched leg over.

Become One in Body, Mind, and Soul

If you want to feel more like one body, mind, and soul, it’s time to add some yin yoga to your exercise regime. This is an excellent option for those who want more flexibility and improved posture.

This is a low-intensity workout but will involve determination and discipline. It is certainly not comfortable holding all the yin positions – many of which you will be used to if you have done other types of yoga. The focus is on the meditative state and connection yourself deep within. It takes thetime to develop this skill, so don’t give up after the first attempt.

You will feel a benefit to your energy levels. At the same time, you handle stress better, and anxiety will become a thing of the past.

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