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woman doing butterfly pose yin yoga

What Is Yin Yoga? Here’s The Benefits, How-To & More

Every day, we experience good and bad stress. One challenges us to function, while the other challenges our function. Many of us have taken up yoga practice, especially forms like Ashtanga and Vinyasa, to channel our stress, but what style works best when life still feels out-of-balance? 

Yin yoga can benefit anybody in this position, including practitioners of other yoga styles. Because it’s S-L-O-W, there’s time to really experience changes as they occur in your tissues. Yin yoga balances meridians, releases adhesions, and dissolves stress. Interested? Read on to see how it leaves you feeling indescribably, light-as-a-feather fantastic.


young woman doing yin yoga pose

Yin yoga is a deep, meditative practice that targets your connective tissues, which includes your ligaments and tendons. 

Poses are held for long enough to give the connective tissues time to respond to the steady, gentle stress that’s slowly pulling them into release. 

The resulting changes come with a profound relaxation that’s very powerful and healing.

Yin yoga was developed by Paul Grilley, who’s been a certified yoga instructor for many years, and his wife, Suzee.

After twenty years of yoga practice failed to alleviate long-term hip and knee pain that he was experiencing in his seated meditation practice, Paul started intensive studies into how yoga worked on the body. 

He learned that most of the forms of yoga that we practice here in the West primarily focus on the muscular system. 

His pain felt deeper than muscle-level, so he began to approach the problem from a more myofascial perspective, and incorporated his training from his days as a student of anatomy and physiology.

While yin yoga is similar to restorative yoga, the two are different. 

Yin yoga uses stress to the edge of slight discomfort in the belief that the connective tissues need some stress to become stronger and more resilient. 

Restorative yoga, being about comfort, avoids stress, which explains its liberal use of props to support the body during poses. When supported, the muscles don’t have to be activated. 

Yin yoga can use props, but more often uses just a yoga mat.

woman using yoga block

Grilley synthesized what he’d learned with his experience as a yoga teacher. His research led to an understanding that all yoga poses could be simplified down to a system of 14 skeletal groups, 10 myofascial groups, and seven archetypal poses

The items in these groups could all be mixed and matched in any order, and all yoga poses from every style fell under some combination of the items within these groups.

What resulted was a passive form of yoga that was slow and very effective in healing his pain.

He called it “yin” yoga because it was much less active than the other forms of yoga, which seemed relatively “yang” in comparison. 

Its long poses, the technique of breathing deeply into the center of the body, and the expansion of time during poses to actually “feel into” the connective tissues’ response to the gentle, sustained stress of the poses: all spoke to him of “yin.”

As mentioned, yin yoga targets the connective tissue rather than the muscles. 

Also known as fascia, this particular tissue is very reactive to our emotions and to what we eat, how we think, and what we experience internally and externally.

Fascia is intelligent and incredibly strong. 

It’s like a web that covers every structure in your body, inside, outside, everywhere. It communicates faster than the central nervous system. 

That, unfortunately, means that if it’s in any kind of distress, it can wreak greater havoc on your system in less time.

When injured or traumatized, fascia fortifies itself to the point at which it can withstand 2,000 pounds of pull per square-inch. Imagine that kind of tightness all over your body. 

The resulting distortion crushes cells and alters your basic underlying structure, not to mention restricts the circulation of oxygen and other essentials. 

Whether it be skeletal, muscular, or ligamental: it’s all packing nearly a ton of tensile strength.

What’s the goal of yin yoga?

Yoga addresses us where we are. We get so caught up in the fast pace of life that we begin to adopt a frenetic approach, even to self-care. 

Yoga is no exception.

In India, where it’s been practice for thousands of years, the term yoga actually refers to a lifestyle that includes the physical forms we practice today as part of a much more comprehensive universe. 

That universe deeply respects time and space as part of our own timeless existence.

In the Western world, it often gets squeezed into a busy schedule. 

With all the go-go-go, we tend to be so “up” that we automatically gravitate toward managing our personal energies on an equally compressed level. 

Even with the benefits experienced through most forms of yoga, we’re usually not spending enough time in the poses to really be able to sit with our sensations and emotions and see them through to resolution, or to learn the deepest lessons that they have for us.

All you need is the patience to wait for 90 seconds for the process to start. Your body will tell you how long it needs for release.


young woman doing yin yoga to stretch hamstring

Yin yoga has several unique health benefits:

  • It targets the hips, legs, and torso. Some of the muscles this includes are: the glutes, quads, abdominals, thoracolumbar and lumbar muscles. One of the interesting side benefits of this is stronger legs. Why is that so interesting? Because recent studies have shown that strong legs are connected to greater brain tissue surface area. This especially has implications for older women, because it counteracts the process of brain shrinkage at a time when it is most likely to be happening.
  • It hydrates tissues on a deeper level. Due to the combination of long holds with just the right amount of stress, hydration enhances the conditions needed to release adhesions, which are generally tissue fibers that have gotten dehydrated and stuck together.
  • It balances internal organs more deeply than other forms. This also has to do with the length of the holds, which allows the unwinding of the fascia to go to greater depths within the body.
  • It also frees up the meridians, the energy channels that circulate life force throughout the various systems of the body. The meridians are located within the connective tissue, which is one of the main areas that yin yoga targets.

Other benefits include

  • Calms mind and body
  • Mobilizes and increases range of motion in joints
  • Cultivates a sense of competence over stress and anxiety
  • Makes you more flexible
  • Fine-tunes your ability to listen


woman doing yoga pose with yoga bolster

When you practice yin yoga, you should be going for long, deep stretches that bring you just to the edge of discomfort. 

Yin yoga requires little more than a yoga mat. Choose a pose and settle in, breathing deeply into the center of your body. 

Make sure to hold the stretch at a level of mild discomfort and never progress into pain.

Breathe slowly, gently, and deeply into the core of your body and hold your pose anywhere between 90 seconds and 3 minutes, gradually increasing the length over practice sessions to up to 20 minutes per pose if you choose.

Yin yoga has four main practice principles:

  • Hold an appropriate stretch intensity, but not to the point of pain. Gentle, steady load on the area you want to target.
  • Release the pose and stay quiet throughout each release. There will probably be more than one, going deeper each time.
  • It takes at least 90 seconds before the fascia even begins to soften. Once it does, it will continue to soften so try to stay in the stretch for as long as you can to get the maximum release.
  • Exit each pose slowly and gently.

Poses are done on the floor, either seated or reclining. Some common seated poses that focus on the hips are: the frog, butterfly, dragonfly, seal, and shoelace poses.


older woman doing yin yoga with husband

Yin yoga can benefit almost anyone, regardless of age, as long as they’re in good health. However, it may not be a good idea for anyone who:

  • Is under a doctor’s care for a serious condition like cancer
  • Has just had surgery
  • Has a serious injury
  • Has difficulty finding their “edge”

Yin yoga is probably best for beginners, senior athletes, and people who have stiff muscles or difficulty with balance.


Even though many yang yoga poses can be adapted for yin yoga, not all poses should be. 

Standing poses or any positions that require muscular support to protect your body’s structural integrity would be dangerous to attempt as yin techniques.

 In order to get sufficient stretch to bring about the release, the muscles surrounding the tissue you’re trying to release have to relax. If they don’t, then yin yoga doesn’t work.


yoga class for yin yoga

You’ll probably feel some emotions — maybe even strong ones. As you hold poses, your fascial tissues will start to change state and literally release the emotions that your body has stored in those tissues. 

Yin yoga teaches you the patience to be with your feelings and wait for the fascial tensions to dissolve. 

With that also comes the courage to hold the position anyway until the tension and any discomfort attached to it have dissipated.

A typical class lasts one hour. To get the full benefit, it would probably be best to start with a live class. An experienced instructor can help you calibrate your stretches to the right degree for the right things to happen without injury. 

If a live class isn’t possible, then you can practice on your own, keeping in mind that the fascia needs time to change state, and this can’t be hurried without risk of injury. You can always check with your doctor before you begin.

Hopefully, this article has given you a better understanding of yin yoga: how it differs from other forms, what it targets, what are its benefits and contraindications, and what general logistics are involved. 

If you choose to practice this form, you will start to experience the remodeling of your fascia and the benefits of this from the first time you feel that fascial release. Just remember, the longer you hold the pose, the more time you allow for additional releases within each pose.

As you can see, the overall effect that yin yoga can have on your life is impressive. How often do you find such a sweet spot between work and relaxation?

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