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Yin Yoga: Why It's a Great Yoga Style to Teach

by Cris Puscas

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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?

Introducing Yin Yoga, the ideal style to enter a state of mind that will provide you with all the balance and relaxation you need in your life. Whether you want to become a yoga teacher or want to enhance your practice, give Yin Yoga a try.

Unlike other popular styles, such as Vinyasa or Ashtanga, Yin is a slow and steady practice that almost merges with meditation. It intends to release tension from the deepest tissues of your body while maintaining complete mindfulness.

If you are interested in deepening your knowledge about this style of yoga or want to start teaching it, here, we’ll take a closer look at Yin Yoga. Find out what makes it different from other styles, what are its benefits, and why you should be teaching it.


But First, What Is Yin Yoga?

yin yoga class

Photo credit: Yin Yoga Therapy Teacher Training

Based on the Taoist concepts of Yin & Yang, Yin Yoga is a slow-paced style that integrates asanas with Chinese medicine.

Yin is the stable, passive, and feminine downward movement of energy; while Yang is the changing, active, and masculine upward movement of energy.

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 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 to accomplish health and enlightenment. Hence, completing all the principles and elements of this captivating style of yoga.


Qi & Yin Yoga


In traditional Chinese philosophy, Qi is the fundamental life source or the vital energy of the universe.

The concept of Yin & Yan is at the base of traditional martial arts such as Tai Chi and Qigong, both situated at the crossroads between martial arts and meditation.

In Yin Yoga, the poses are designed to improve the flow of Qi. In Yin Yoga philosophy, it is suggested that the energy meridians are created by the connecting tissues, which are directly targeted by the Yin Yoga poses.


Elements of Yin Yoga

asanas in yin yoga class

Photo credit: Yin Yoga Therapy Teacher Training

Like 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.


What to Expect from a Yin Yoga Class

yin yoga class

Photo credit: Sampoorna Yoga

Yin Yoga is almost entirely passive. However, some Yin asanas include Yang elements.

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.

The poses are held for up to five minutes, sometimes longer, depending on your level of practice. During the asanas, the muscles are relaxed to avoid muscle spasms.

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

child pose

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 Qi (energy) in the organs by stimulating certain 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 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

during yin yoga class

Photo credit: Sampoorna 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.

If you feel tired all the time or you are over-stimulated, Yin Yoga can help you balance your energy.

Anxious persons should also give Yin Yoga a try. Because it emphasizes deep breathing, Yin has a calming effect on the body. Also, if you are not flexible, this style offers a great starting point as even the most basic poses are a great opportunity to stretch.

Having trouble meditating? Try Yin Yoga. While they do have much in common, it might be easier to find your path to meditation by way of Ying Yoga. After you practice Yin for a while, try meditation again and chances are a 10-minute session won’t feel as daunting as before.

Yin 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 interested in meditation.


Why Should You Teach Yin Yoga

teaching yin yoga class

Photo credit: Yin Yoga Therapy Teacher Training

A new style, Yin Yoga has become popular in the past decades.

As a teacher, you’ll have a very satisfying experience. Your classes will vary a lot as a variety of students can attend them, regardless of age or fitness level.

To start teaching it, you need to acknowledge that everything about Yin is different that the Yang yoga styles. For example, in Vinyasa the room is heated but in Yin, you want a cooler room that would allow the deeper connective tissue to take the stretch.

If you are more of a spiritual than a physical person, Yin Yoga is the right one for you, as the classes are spiritually oriented. They are also philosophical, as you get to talk about the purpose of yoga and yoga philosophy.

Because the style is gentle, soothing, slow, and meditative, you can teach throughout your life. You don’t need to be very flexible nor in top physical condition to teach Yin Yoga.

In Yin Yoga, students can use props to align in a pose properly. And most importantly, as a teacher, focus on the function and not on the form. It doesn’t matter how the pose looks as long as its objective is achieved.

Teachers may use music or sounds to create ambiance. However, the sounds should be played in the background so that they won’t interfere with your voice, guiding the students.

New practitioners might find Yin Yoga too slow or boring. It’s your job as a teacher to explain that their feelings are normal. If they stick with it, they’ll become calmer and experience all the great benefits that come with the practice.  

HERO photo credit: Yin Yoga Therapy Teacher Training

Are you looking to learn how to teach a more dynamic yoga style? Then join a Vinyasa Yoga Teacher Training and take your practice to a new level.

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