Yoga Styles 101: An Introduction to Yin Yoga
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Looking for the best yoga style to relax, be in the present moment and let go of the need to keep yourself busy? Yin Yoga is the ideal style to enter a state of mind that will provide you with all the balance and relaxation you need in your life.
Yin is all about opening the heart, invoking the primal self and cultivating inner stillness. Unlike other popular styles such as Vinyasa, Ashtanga or Power, Yin is a slow and steady practice that almost merges with meditation. Its intention is to release tension from the deepest tissues of your body while maintaining complete mindfulness.
To truly understand Yin, you must experience it firsthand. There are hundreds of Yin Yoga retreats where you can immerse yourself in this fascinating style along with the help of experienced teachers and surrounded by beautiful landscapes.
In this article, you’ll learn more about its benefits, get to know the history of Yin Yoga, what makes it different from other styles, its specific elements and other styles that derived from Yin.
What is Yin Yoga
Generally speaking, Yin Yoga is a slow-paced style that integrates asanas with Chinese medicine. It’s based on the Taoist concepts of yin and yang. Yin is the stable, passive and feminine downward movement of energy; while Yang is the changing, active and masculine upward movement of energy.
During a Yin yoga class, you work on the lower part of the body – hips, pelvis, inner thighs and lower spine – performing a series of long-held passive floor poses. This allows you to release tension in all these areas that are particularly rich in connective tissues like joints, bones, ligaments and deep fascia networks.
There are three main principles to the practice. The first one is to find your edge by knowing how to achieve the perfect balance between no sensation and too much sensation during a pose.
The second principle is to be still; once you find your edge, you should remain still trying to accomplish a meditative state while listening to your body.
And third, holding the pose. Beginners normally start from 45 seconds to two minutes, and more advanced practitioners can go up to five minutes or more in each pose.
History of Yin Yoga
Yin Yoga has its roots both in India and China. Long-held postures have been used in India's Hatha since the beginning of the practice thousands of years ago. However, in China, about 2,000 years ago, Taoist priests also started teaching long poses along with breathing techniques.
That said, the practice of Yin Yoga itself wasn’t introduced in North America until the late 1970s by martial arts champion, Paulie Zink. He began to teach a fusion of Hatha Yoga with Taoist Yoga, developing a new style he later called Yin.
Zink was followed by Paul Grilley, an anatomist who studied with him and brought new concepts to the practice. Later on, he met Hiroshi Motoyama, a Japanese scholar and yoga practitioner who was fascinated by the physiology of the meridians.
Grilley created a fusion of the Yin poses he had learned from Zink, the teachings of Motoyama and his own knowledge in anatomy to build his own Yin Yoga sequences. These aimed to achieve a similar effect to what Acupuncture has on the energy of the body.
A few years later, one of Grilley's students, Sarah Powers, incorporated Buddhist psychology within the practice and put more emphasis on the meridian systems in order to accomplish health and enlightenment. Hence, completing all the principles and elements of this captivating style of yoga.
Elements of Yin Yoga
Similar to other yoga styles, Yin Yoga has three elements: physical poses (asanas), breathing techniques (Pranayama) and meditation (dyana). However, the way these elements are implemented in a Yin Yoga class is very unique.
Asanas during a Yin practice are passive floor poses that are long-held and are focused on the lower part of the body. There are about 18 to 24 different poses in total and although most of them are similar to Vinyasa asanas, some use different names. While in most yoga styles asanas are meant to stretch the muscles, in Yin it’s all about releasing tension and letting gravity do the work for you.
Breathing. In Yin, you breathe from your diaphragm, filling your belly with every inhale and letting your ribs expand. Then, with every exhale, you pull your navel into your spine. You’re encouraged to keep your exhales twice as long as your inhales and to do it at your own pace.
Meditation. Yin Yoga allows you to meditate throughout the practice. You start with the intention of being gently receptive to your experience, exactly as it is, allowing all feelings to be there, without trying to change anything one way or another. You observe whatever sensations may arise but without identifying yourself with any of them.
Something very common in a Yin Yoga class is having the teacher explaining the meridian lines that are being affected, the physiology and anatomy of the pose, telling traditional Buddhist stories, reciting poetry, singing songs, or reflecting on their own experience during the class.
Benefits of Yin Yoga
The practice of Yin offers wonderful health benefits, both emotional and mental. Physically, it releases fascia, improves joint mobility, increases circulation, improves digestion and helps you sleep better.
Energetically, Yin Yoga enhances the healthy flow of chi (energy) in the organs by stimulating particular meridians (which are the equivalent of the Nadi channels in Hatha Yoga). It also melts stress and anxiety away, balances the mind and body, and provides you with a deeper relaxation than any other form of yoga.
Since a Yin session requires you to work extensively with your internal energy, it’s very common to experience feelings such as sadness, excitement, or anger during or after the practice. Don’t be frightened if this happens to you; it’s perfectly normal and it actually has a healthy effect on your body.
Finally, as you’ll feel totally relaxed, lighter and deeply calm after a Yin class, you may question the real effects of the practice because you probably won’t even break a sweat. But rest assured that your mind, body and spirit have been working on a much deeper level than you can imagine.
Yoga styles based on Yin
There are three yoga styles based on Yin: Yin Yang Yoga, Zen-Yoga and Tibetan yoga. In case you’re interested in adding a twist to your practice, here’s what they’re all about:
Yin Yang Yoga blends restorative postures and meditative moments with more heart-racing, strength-building and challenging sequences. If you’re familiar with Vinyasa or other flow yoga styles, but find it too challenging, Yin Yang might be the perfect middle point to start.
Zen Yoga is a merge of Confucianism, Taoism and Hindu philosophy. It’s about being mindfully aware of the present moment and acknowledging the inseparability of body and mind. It follows the basic principle that simple breathing, movement and stretching exercises are available to anyone.
Tibetan Yoga is all about continuous movement combined with breath and the integration of internal and external energies. There are two paths in Tibetan yoga - the first is Yantra Yoga (distinct from Indian Yantra) and the second is the Bon school of the Dzogchen meditative tradition. Both are designed to foster a state of ‘natural mind’, which is similar to mindfulness, or contemplative self-observance.
Who should practice Yin Yoga?
Yin Yoga has something to offer to everyone, especially those who live very actively, or those who are dealing with injuries or chronic conditions like arthritis and osteoporosis. So, whether you feel tired all the time or you’re over-stimulated, Yin Yoga can help you balance your energy.
It also makes the perfect complement to intense exercises such as running, biking or any Yang yoga style – Ashtanga, Power, Vinyasa, Iyengar, Hatha, Kundalini, etc. – by providing a slower and more meditative counterpart. Plus, it can be a great starting point for anyone who is interested in meditation.
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