Discover Yin yoga, the restorative practice that targets deeply held tension and trauma.
The word “yoga” is over 2,000 years old, as old as the Sanskrit language itself. Though the practice is based on an ancient treatise (The Yoga Sutra), yoga lives on in modern times, and its popularity only continues to grow.
Over 36 million self-proclaimed yogis live in the U.S. today, comprising an industry worth $80 billion. From the ancient schools of Vinyasa and Bikram, modern yogis have developed Westernized yoga traditions like power yoga and hot yoga. But lately, more and more yogis are favoring relaxation over perspiration, leading to a surge in the popularity of Yin yoga classes.
Slower than Vinyasa and softer than Hatha, Yin yoga emphasizes meditation, breathwork (or Pranayama) and slow, deliberate movement. The Sanskrit word “yin” refers to the introspective, feminine energy within all of us. You may also recognize its twin, “yang,” signifying the masculine, active forces of nature. “We tend to live in a very Yang culture,” says Bernie Clark, Yin yoga teacher and founder of YinYoga.com. “Very rarely do we sit back and just accept what’s happening in life…. [But] you can’t have one and not the other. Life requires balance.”
In a typical Yin yoga class, yogis often hold poses for anywhere from three to 20 minutes at a time, allowing access to deeper tissues such as the fascia. According to Clark, targeting the fascia activates the cells that make up this tissue, prompting them to regenerate and become longer, stronger and even, in some cases, younger.
Yin yoga teacher Paul Grilley uses the 14-10-7 sutra to explain the foundations of Yin in his teacher trainings. This mnemonic stands for the 14 skeletal segments, 10 myofascial groups and seven archetypal poses targeted by a typical Yin yoga practice. “There are two aspects to health: to build up the body, make it stronger, make it more resilient; and to relax and restore the body,” Grilley says. “After you stress a muscle and it gets sore, Yin yoga can speed up the rehabilitation of the muscle so you can go back to your Yang yoga sooner.”
In addition to its physiological benefits, multiple studies have found Yin yoga helps relieve stress, worry and anxiety. Perhaps most profoundly, however, Yin yoga harnesses the power to release deeply held trauma and pain in the body, making it a popular clinical intervention for the treatment of depression, anxiety and even eating disorders. “Yin yoga is very simple, but simple doesn’t mean easy,” says Clark. “It is challenging to be still; to pay attention to what’s happening [in the body].”
And that is where the power of Yin yoga lies: Unlike other yoga styles, Yin doesn’t ask us to contort our body into pretzel-like shapes or sweat out half our body weight in a humid 90-degree studio. Instead, Yin yoga frees us from the perfectionistic demands of the modern world, asking us, for only 75 to 90 minutes, to do nothing but breathe and be present on the mat.
“After you do a pose for five minutes, take time to be completely calm and relax and feel what’s going on inside your body as you rebound,” says Grilley. “If you feel good after a pose, if you enjoy the spreading sensation of ease, then you did that pose correctly.”
In a culture dominated by the pressure to be thinner, richer, more successful, Yin yoga stands alone as the one fitness modality that doesn’t ask us to change our bodies—or ourselves. Whether tall or short, big or small, disabled or able-bodied, Yin yoga offers us the opportunity to celebrate our unique selves, and to be present just as we are.