Yin Yoga Explained – 8 Yin Yoga Poses to Soothe the Soul

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The name ‘yin yoga’ comes from the Chinese yin-yang concept, representing two connected, yet opposing energetic states of equilibrium and duality.

Yin is said to represent: the internal, the moon, dark, cold, stillness, and slowing down, while Yang represents: the external, the sun, heat, light, and dynamic movement. 

From this perspective, much of the yoga practiced in the west could be described as yang, with its focus on strength and stamina. Therefore, yin yoga is a wonderful compliment to a regular yoga practice for achieving balance and well-being.

Practicing yin yoga is also a great way to learn new tools and techniques to be able to adapt your yoga practice around your body’s needs.

This article will explain:

  • The Benefits Of Yin Yoga?
  • How Is Yin Yoga Different From Other Yoga Styles?
  • 5 Props For Yin Yoga Poses
  • Plus, 8 Yin Yoga Poses To Try
a woman doing yoga in front of a yin yang symbol

What are the benefits of yin yoga?

Calms The Nervous System

Yin yoga can be relaxing and restorative for the nervous system. Like other yoga styles, there is a wide range of benefits to be gained both physically and mentally.

Emotional Release

In a yin yoga class postures will often be held for a prolonged period of time with the muscles relaxed, usually ranging from 1-3 minutes, sometimes longer.

The nature of these held positions allows the practice of yin yoga to access our deeper layers, this intentional stillness and focus on physical experience can often ‘stir up’ held emotions, or as some yin yoga teachers call it “the issues in our tissues”.

This can make yin yoga a deeply introspective experience which some students consider an insightful meditational practice.

Supports You Through Stress, Burnout, Illness

It may be especially beneficial if you are needing additional support for your nervous system and to counteract stress, burnout, or mild illness.

With these benefits in mind, it makes sense for yin yoga to be most suitable for an evening practice to wind down from the day. However, yin yoga can be practiced at any time of the day.

a woman in plow pose in her bedroom

How is Yin Yoga different from other styles of yoga?

As described above, a significant difference between yin yoga to most other styles is holding the postures for a prolonged period of time.

In more dynamic practices such as Vinyasa or Hot Yoga, postures may be held for just a few seconds or range between 30 seconds to 1 minute.

In contrast, yin yoga postures are usually held for at least 1 minute, sometimes even up to 20 minutes.

Rather than pushing your body to its maximum, in yin yoga, you are instead encouraged in each pose to find your ‘edge’.

This generally means a little bit less than your maximum range of movement/flexibility. Your ‘edge’ is a space where you can comfortably hold a pose for some time without overextending, yet be able to explore the physical sensations that arise.

Yin yoga and Restorative yoga are often compared and sometimes the names are used interchangeably. Although they are similar and both can be described as ‘restorative’ for the body, there are some fundamental differences.

Overall, yin yoga postures will still ‘stimulate’ the body and work to increase flexibility, whereas a restorative yoga posture should not require any stimulation, only support in relaxing.

a woman in seated head to knee pose

5 Props For Yin Yoga Poses

There are plenty of yin yoga poses you can do without any props. However, props can greatly enhance a yin yoga practice.

Using yoga equipment such as blocks, bolsters, and belts to support longer held postures can create a deeply relaxing and therapeutic experience. 

If you would like to begin a yin yoga practice at home, here are a few yoga props you may consider investing in, as well as some suggestions for substitutes:

#1: Bolsters

One of the most luxurious of props, a bolster can be used in many different ways.

Simply placing it underneath the knees when lying on your back in savasana will relax the nervous system instantly taking you into a deeper resting state.

*Substitute a bolster with rolled up blankets/duvets or pillows

a woman in one of the yin yoga poses, supported butterfly

#2: Blocks

Blocks can be used to create stability and structure in a yin yoga pose.

*Substitute yoga blocks with thick, heavy books

#3: Belts / Straps

A versatile prop, also the most accessible and transportable. In some yin yoga poses, a yoga belt can help you to feel ‘held’, such as the Supported Butterfly you’ll find described below. In other postures, it can be used for additional length to achieve a stretch, such as a forward fold. 

*Substitute a yoga belt with a dressing gown belt

#4: Blankets

Another adaptable and easy to source prop.

Use blankets to cushion and support underneath knees, hips or ankles, roll up under heels or neck to enhance a resting position, and of course, to lay over yourself for comfort and warmth in savasana.

a woman in savasana with a blanket over her

#5: Sandbags

Although sandbags may not always be so suitable for a (solo) home practice, they can be a wonderful addition to a yin yoga pose in class or if you have a yoga partner at home to assist you in and out of poses.

Using sandbags as a weight on your feet, back or hands will enhance a fold or twist and can deepen a release in poses.

8 Yin Yoga Poses to try at home:

Incorporate these yin yoga poses into your yin yoga sequence.

#1: Melting Heart Pose

Beginning in a tabletop position, walk the hands forward and slowly lower your chest towards the mat. Aim to keep the hips above/in line with the knees.

You might be able to rest your forehead on the mat or alternatively on a block or folded blanket.

* Take it further by adding a sandbag on the feet or backs of the lower legs.

a group of yoga students in puppy pose

#2: Supported Bridge Pose

Start by lying on your back, bend the knees and plant the soles of your feet onto the floor just below your hips. Press your feet into the mat and allow your hips to lift. Use either a block or bolster to rest your hips on at a height that feels comfortable to hold.

* You can keep the arms by your side, or to deepen the posture, bring your arms up above your head and hold the opposite elbow to frame your face.

#3: Supported Child’s Pose

This posture works well with a bolster- start in a kneeling position, open your knees apart and place a bolster between your knees close to your body, lay your body over the bolster resting your arms on either side and turn your head to rest to one side (turn your head the other way halfway through to get an even stretch on your neck).

* If it is more comfortable you can raise the bolster up on top of blocks, you can also use a rolled up blanket (or a block) between your hips and your ankles. For an even deeper experience, a sandbag can be placed on the lower or mid back.

#4: Caterpillar/ Forward Fold

Refrain from going to your maximum for a yin yoga forward fold, find a comfortable depth that you can hold and explore.

I recommend lifting the hips slightly with folded blankets, or for tight hamstrings, blocks may be preferable. You may like to keep the knees straight or rested over a bolster. Fold your body forwards allowing your arms to rest wherever feels natural.

* For those who are more flexible, a sandbag on the mid back might be beneficial.

a woman doing one of the yin yoga poses, supported forward fold

#5: Legs Against The Wall / Supported Raised Legs

Super simple, and one of the quickest ways to calm the nervous system. Sit on the floor next to a wall, lift your legs up and gently shuffle your hips as close to the wall as is comfortable, hold for 3 minutes.

For many people, slightly raising the hips with folded blankets can add to the comfort and benefit of this pose.

* For some people it can be more comfortable to use a chair- lie on the floor and rest your lower legs on the seat of a chair, again you might like to raise the hips with folded blankets.

#6: Supported Fish Pose

Lying on your back, place a block underneath your upper back, allow your head to recline and rest the crown of your head on your mat. Allow the arms to rest by your side.

* Tip- use a yoga belt around your thighs to comfortably hold your legs together, this will allow you to relax further into the posture with the legs held in place, keeping the focus on relaxing and opening up the chest.

#7: Supported Butterfly

You will need a yoga belt and a bolster. Adjust your yoga belt into a large loop around your waist, while sitting on your mat bring the soles of your feet together and hook the yoga belt around your feet.

Now tighten the yoga belt until you feel comfortably ‘held’ around your waist and your feet allowing the knees to open out and down.

Lie back onto a bolster so that you are in a supported backbend for your lower spine.

*Make any adjustments needed for comfort, you may want to raise your hips with some folded blankets, you can also prop up the bolster with blocks.

a woman doing one of the yin yoga poses, supported butterfly with a bolster

#8: Savasana

Even for a yin yoga class, it is important to end your practice with savasana.

Lying on your back place a bolster underneath your knees, this will automatically put your body into ‘rest and digest’ mode. Add comfort around your neck and shoulders with a small rolled blanket tucked underneath the curve of your neck.

* If you have somebody to help you, you can place sandbags on your forearms/wrists and/or your feet. I recommend covering yourself completely with a blanket to keep yourself warm and comfortable here.

Want to dive deeper?

Recommended books to deepen your practice:

The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga – Bernie Clark

The Language of Yin – Gabrielle Harris

Brightening our Inner Skies – Norman Blair

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Amy is a yoga teacher and practitioner based in Brighton.

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