What is Yin Yoga?


The yin tissues of the body are the deeper, more hidden fascia, connective tissues and their joints.  These delicate tissues require a safe form of conditioning such as stretching/ stillness.

The so-called “Yang” tissues, a more common focus in Western exercise, are the larger, more external and visible muscles and ligaments that are best conditioned by stronger, more rapid, repetitive movement.


The given name “Yin yoga,” is after the female side of the Tao, the opposite of Yang which is the male side of the Tao.  (The Tao is the symbol of “the way,” in harmony with the natural order of the Universe, as defined by Chinese Taoist philosophy. In some ways similar to “Dharma” in Buddhism.)

The founder is said to be a man named Paulie Zink (pictured above, left) who had been practicing solo for decades.  The name “Yin” is usually considered to be the idea of Paul Grilley, who helped popularize the style.


Experientially, the yin practice is characterized by passive, relaxed poses held for 3 to 5 minutes each, or up to 20 minutes.

We move into them through a gentle “move, soften, and wait” approach.  Muscles are relaxed to avoid tetany (muscle spasms) which result from engaging muscles for longer durations.

During the longer process of a yin stretch, the more elastic yang tissues (such as muscles) stretch first. Once the yang tissue is fully stretched, the nearby yin tissues (such as fascia) which are less elastic, begin to lengthen and open.  The Yin approach uses precise, therapeutic ‘stresses’ that hone into these connective tissues that would otherwise become brittle, dry, tight and shrunken.

Yin practice targets the parts usually left out of active exercise and tend to be overused and/or misused in the everyday movement of an active person.

Or, in the sedentary lifestyle of an inactive person, they are the first to degenerate.  Studies involving the yin style have found that as the joints open, the production of Hyaluronic Acid (the body’s lubricant for the joints) is stimulated.


So, yin is similar to restorative yoga in that poses are held longer, passively and patiently.  Restorative can be considered generally yin in nature.  Both practices  are great for self-inquiry.

The differences are that:

  1.  yin is still “exercise”
  2.  the poses use much less or no support at all and
  3.  all kinds of sensation and intensity (though pain is avoided) can be experienced as the joints are pulled open, no matter how cautious we are.  Restorative does much to decrease intensity of any kind.

When we are really injured, traumatized or depleted, physically or mentally, yin can be too much.  Restorative, with it’s attempt to “bring the benefits of exercise without exercise” is more called for.

One does not need to be physically flexible to do yin. But inner flexibility and a more mature yogic outlook are most helpful.   It is a practice to evolve into from a more comfortable place. A practice to be “ready for.”



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