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What is Yin Yoga?

Updated: Nov 5, 2023

Today we delve into Yin Yoga, what it is, how it differs to other types of yoga and what benefits it could bring. To understand yin we need to understand the concept of yin and yang, the yin yang symbol has roots in Taoism a Chinese philosophy. Yin is the dark swirl and represents shadows and feminity referring to elements that are harder to see. Yang is the light swirl and represents brightness, passion & growth showing the more obvious part of reality.

Yin Yang symbol made out of rocks on the beach
Yin & Yang

A yoga pose on its own is neither yin or yang but the way we practise it will determine whether we target the yin or yang tissues. The Yin/Yang symbol shows a sweeping curved line between the two which represents how they are intertwined, they complement each other and you can't have one without the other.

Yin yoga - how did it come about?

It can be said that yin yoga has been around as long as yoga itself as there have always been certain asanas (poses) that have been practised with longer holds but traditionally were included along with the more yang style poses. However yin yoga as we know it now has been around since the late 1970s and was originated by a martial arts champion and Taoist yoga teacher called Paulie Zink. The style was then developed by Paul Grilley, who used his knowledge of anatomy and chinese medicine to adjust the practise of yin yoga. Yin yoga was further developed by a student of Paul Grilley's - Sarah Powers, who used her knowledge of the meridian systems used in Chinese medicine to stimulate different energy channels. In Zink's yin yoga there are both moments of activity and passiveness whereas the yin yoga of Grilley & Powers focuses much more on passive holds, held for 3-5 minutes or longer. This is the yin yoga that is generally practised today and the style of yin that you will do if you come along to one of my yin yoga classes on a Thursday evening at the Buddhist centre in Scarborough.

How does yin yoga differ to other styles of yoga?

As we have already mentioned the poses in yin yoga are held for much longer. These long holds apply moderate stress to the connective tissues (ligaments, tendons & fascia), the aim being to increase circulation to the joints and ultimately improve flexibility.

Yin is a much slower form of yoga but don't let that fool you into thinking that it will be easier, it can be quite challenging as we have to allow ourselves to be still and sit with whatever sensations arise. The longer holds create a more meditative approach to yoga encouraging the student to turn inwards and cultivate an awareness of inner silence.

Yang styles of yoga tend to be more mobile and dynamic often building to a peak before calming down. With Yin yoga the practise is slow, steady and often stationary with a sense of surrender. Yin yoga focuses mainly on the lower half of the body, with most poses taking place either seated or lying down.

What are the benefits of yin yoga?

A regular yin yoga practise can

  • reduce stress and anxiety

  • help to promote mindfulness

  • improve flexibility

  • increase circulation to the joints

  • stretch tight muscles

  • improve joint mobility

What do I need to be able to do yin yoga?

Due to holding poses for a long time we need to be able to settle comfortably into stillness with each pose, to do this we use props such as bolsters, cushions, blankets, bricks and blocks to provide the stability our bodies may lack.

Who is yin yoga for?

In a nutshell, nearly everyone. Yin yoga is great whether you are tired and are craving energy or are over stimulated and have too much energy. It complements more yang yoga styles such as vinyasa or ashtanga, so even if you regularly practise other forms of yoga then yin is a great way to find a balance in your body between those more dynamic forms of yoga with slow, still & mindful movement. Anyone who regularly does a lot of sport of any kind will find that yin yoga works as a great counterbalance to keep the body and joints healthy.

If you want to explore yin yoga why not join us for a one hour class on Wednesday evenings at the Buddhist centre in Scarborough at 19:30.


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