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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