The Yin yoga movement has gained momentum and widespread popularity in recent years, thanks to teachers like Sarah Powers and Paul Grilley who have championed Yin alongside more dynamic yoga styles. With reports of burnout, exhaustion and stress on the rise, a yoga practice that could help ground you, calm your nervous system and stretch out tight muscle tissue might just be the ticket to a happier life.

What is Yin yoga?

Yin is a slow-paced style of yoga, where postures are held for between three and five minutes. A modern interpretation of ancient Yoga practices, Yin was pioneered in 1980s California (more on this later) and typically features poses held for anywhere between three and twenty minutes each.

To help you sink into the poses, your body is supported with props to allow you to relax, breathe into the stretch and allow gravity to do its thang. The aim is to bring about mental, physical, and as it stimulates our ‘Nadis’. Similar to meridians in Chinese medicine, Nadis are considered to be pathways in the body that carry energy, water, air, blood and bodily fluids around. You might also hear them referred to as ‘energy lines’.

Yin has something for everyone, but ‘if you’re hypermobile in certain areas of your body and already have plenty of space around your joints, Yin must be practised with caution,’ says Louise de Menthon, yoga teacher and founder of Loup Yoga. ‘There’s no need to go to your full range in order to experience the energetic benefits. Prop yourself with whatever you need to keep your body safe.’

The benefits of Yin yoga

  • Reduces stress and anxiety- one study showed it reduced the stress chemical Adrenomedullin
  • Helps to promote mindfulness
  • Improves joint mobility
  • Improves flexibility
  • Elongates and stretches tight muscles
  • Can promote feelings of deep calm

‘Yin is an incredible amalgamation of yoga postures and Chinese medical theory of energy channels (meridians)’, says de Menthon. ‘The benefits stem from the stimulation of certain energetic pathways that run through our bodies. Due to the intensity of our modern lives, we tend to disrupt the fluidity of our energy which, in Chinese medicine, is explained as “stagnant” energy or “depleted” energy.

‘It can manifest in many ways from insomnia, lethargy, exhaustion, racing thoughts, body pain and so on. When we rebalance our energy by targeting these channels, we start to bring much more equilibrium into our daily lives.’

It’s also a surprisingly meditative practice that teaches you to overcome discomfort through breath and positive thinking, reducing stress and anxiety.

preview for Yoga For Relaxation & Chill - Deep, Dope, Dynamic Flow With Jessica Skye

As well as the necessary breathwork that is involved in keeping intense postures for a considerable length of time, Yin greatly improves flexibility and joint mobility that will see you progress in all areas of your yoga practices.

This makes it hugely beneficial alongside cycling, running and other exercises that shorten the muscles.

‘If you feel tight and stuck in your body, yin will be transformative as you’re not working with just muscular stretches, you’re targeting the fascia. If this is super stuck, you can stretch your muscle as much as you like but your flexibility may not change all that much. It requires targeting and slowly opening the fascia to give your muscles space to move and elongate’, explains de Menthon.

Due to the pace, it teaches you a lot about the body; not just how small movements can change postures, but about how everything’s put together.

How does Yin yoga calm you down?

Famed for its ability to take us from reactive to relaxed, Yin is lauded for how calm it makes people feel afterwards. But what’s actually happening in our bodies?

‘Yoga activates the parasympathetic nervous system (the “rest and digest” response to life) through breath work and postures like child’s pose and savasana,’ explains yoga instructor and founder of The Human Method, Nahid de Belgeonne.

‘When you are stressed out, your body pumps out the hormone cortisol. This hormone is what helps you keep going in a crisis (it’s the key to the “fight or flight” response). Unfortunately, when it comes to stress levels, your body can’t distinguish between a lion giving chase and your boss sending a snarky email, which means many of us are flooded with cortisol on a daily basis. This leads to an overworked nervous system, fatigue and ill health.’

Making time for Yin Yoga amongst our busy schedules can be the tonic we need to switch from stressed out to chilled out.

Lions Non-Slip Yoga Mat
Eco Friendly Yoga Mat
Sweaty Betty Eco Yoga Mat
Sweaty Betty Eco Yoga Mat
Yogi Bare Natural rubber extreme grip yoga mat
Yogi Bare Natural rubber extreme grip yoga mat

Now 15% Off

What parts of the body does Yin focus on?

Yin is mainly centred on the bottom half of the body, with variations of supine (flat on your back) and seated poses. As a fairly static style of yoga, it’s intended to be practised alongside more dynamic practices such as Vinyasa, Ashtanga and Hatha.

‘Yin yoga is a still and meditative practice that moves us deeply into body and breath awareness’, explains de Menthon.

‘By bringing the physical body into specific poses, in stillness and for a prolonged time, we are able to create a significant autonomic shift not otherwise possible in our busy modern lives. We move out of that frustrating place of being both tired and wired, and start to enter the space of restoration and rejuvenation.’

Is Yin yoga the same as restorative yoga?

Not quite. Unlike restorative, it’s not focused on helping injured bodies back to health, but stretching into the fascia; the sheet of connective tissue below the skin that encases the muscles.

While both focus on relaxation and breathing, Yin can be uncomfortable — requiring exhaling into intense stretches (though it should never be painful; if that happens, you should pull back or come out of the posture immediately).

What are the origins of Yin yoga?

While you can trace other schools back thousands of years, Yin started in 1980s California. Though the inventor is generally thought to be Paulie Zink, some say his style was more like Taoist yoga or even martial arts. Yin, as it is today, was in fact created by Paul Grilley.

It’s based on the Taoist concepts of yin and yang; two opposing concepts in nature. While Yin is slow, stable and feminine, yang is hot, active and masculine — like Vinyasa, Ashtanga and more dynamic styles.

In the body, the tendons, ligaments and fascia are yin, while the muscles and blood are yang; hence yin practices focus on stretching into the fascia.

5 things to expect from a Yin yoga class

‘The fascinating thing about a Yin class is that it is incredibly challenging!’, says de Menthon.

1. You might feel a little uncomfortable

‘I believe it is one of the hardest physical yoga practices out there. Although you should never feel pain, it’s likely you will experience some discomfort as the poses are designed to target areas of tension and holding, so can feel super intense. It’s not about the strength of muscles, it’s about sitting with sensation and learning to let go. Surrender.’

2. There’s a fair few props involved

As well as fewer postures, it’s not a particularly flowy form of yoga as it requires getting yourself set up with a lot of props — including blocks, blankets and bolsters (which are like a long, tubular cushion).

3. The poses have different names

No Sun Salutations (Aurya Namaskars), here; and there’s also no Sanskrit. Remember, this type of yoga came from California. Instead, the postures are called by illustrative English names like Butterfly, Cat Tail and Dragon.

4. You won’t get as warm, so wear more layers

Typically people wear more clothes than in faster classes – opting to layer long sleeve and short sleeve layers. This is due to the still nature of the practice, as staying in poses for extended periods of time will cause your body temperature to drop. Socks, long leggings and a jumper are advisable.

5. You won’t want to schedule anything intense afterwards

One thing we have to let you know is that you may feel a little spacy post-practice. Sometimes dubbed ‘Yin brain’, you’ll most likely be at peak relaxation, so try not to plan anything too strenuous post-practice.

‘Yin will leave you feeling totally zen – and as you get more accustomed to it, you’ll start to really feel the shift in your nervous system’, says de Menthon.

Yin mistakes to avoid

As with most practices, yoga or otherwise, people often push themselves to be “good” at Yin – thinking that the deeper you go into a pose, the better.

However, ‘as long as we can feel sensation, we don’t need to force our bodies anywhere they’re not ready to go’, says de Menthon. ‘Yin is a slow and steady process towards finding space in your body and mind.’

Just because the classes are slow, they’re not easy and that can come as a surprise. You need to be ready to breathe through the postures, rather than tensing up.

‘Holding your breath and stressing out your body won’t help in yin, I’m afraid’, says de Menthon. ‘Part of the great learning in the practice is that of letting go, so keeping the breath fluid and the mind calm is key! Try not to get too caught up in the idea that sensation is ‘bad’, rather get a bit curious and start exploring what you feel.’

10 Yin yoga classes to try on YouTube

Get around these virtual classes from the comfort of your own home. Whether you’re om-ing out in your bedroom, living room, or kitchen (we see you making it work!), follow these teachers to a state of pure relaxation.

12-minute Yin yoga class for hip mobility

Join yoga teacher Faith Hunter for a short, stretchy class that works to open tight hips.

15-minute Yin yoga class for anxiety

Feeling fluttery? This grounding anxiety and stress relief Yin Yoga class uses a wall to promote feelings of calm.

25-minute Yin yoga class to stretch and chill

Chill out with a Yin Yoga class that’s short enough to fit into your lunch break or while dinner’s in the oven.

25-minute introduction to Yin yoga with Adriene Mishler

Adriene Mishler, aka Yoga with Adriene, has a brilliant intro to Yin Yoga class to get beginners comfortable with the style.

30-minute Yin yoga class for self-care with Koya Webb

Self-care isn’t just a buzzword – it’s how you look after yourself mind, body and spirit. Koya Webb’s 30-minute Yoga class is exactly how we like to look after ours.

35-minute stretch the day away Yin yoga class

Let got off the day with this relaxing Yin Yoga class. Laura van Ree’s voice is just as relaxing as the session, too.

45-minute deep stretch Yin yoga with Kassandra

With a focus on deep stretches that work towards your edge – the place you can feel the stretch, without going too far – Kassandra will help you (and your nervous system) chill out.

50-minute full-body Yin yoga class

A longer Yin Yoga class, this class uses traditional Yin styles of longer held poses, gentle poses and slow transition.

57-minute Surrender Yin yoga class with Michelle Goldstein

    Complement your active workout routine with this grounding and relaxing Yin Yoga class, lead by Michelle Goldstein.

    60-minute Yin with Maris Aylward

    This Yin class has a little bit of everything – backbends, forward folds, side bends, twists, to help you relax and release the tight fascia. If you don’t have or are choosing not to use props, Maris will give you options for how to perform each pose.

    Cut through the noise and get practical, expert advice, home workouts, easy nutrition and more direct to your inbox. Sign up to the WOMEN’S HEALTH NEWSLETTER


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *