What Is Yin Yoga?

Medically Reviewed by Mahammad Juber, MD on August 09, 2022
5 min read

Yin yoga is a style of yoga that includes specific passive poses (called yin poses) that are held for an extended time, usually 3 to 10 minutes. Although this type of yoga was developed in the 1980s by a man named Paul Grilley, the practice of holding each pose for longer comes from classical Hatha Yoga, originally practiced by monks.

There are many different styles of yoga. Some are more active (yang), and others are more passive (yin). Yang yoga focuses on working your body’s muscle tissues, while yin yoga focuses on deeper connective tissues like tendons, fascia, and ligaments.

The main difference between yin yoga and other types of yoga practice is the amount of time you hold each asana (or posture). With more dynamic forms of yoga like Vinyasa Flow, you only hold each asana for 5 to 10 breaths and continually move in and out of different poses.

In yin yoga, you hold each pose for 3 to 10 minutes, allowing the deeper, less flexible tissues in your body the time to stretch. Rather than strengthening your muscles, as other forms of yoga do, yin yoga is more likely to improve your overall flexibility and range of motion. 

Yin yoga also requires conscious and controlled breathing, often emphasized by relaxed belly breathing. This intimate practice encourages yogis to connect with their physical self, emotions, and sensations. 

Due to its ability to open the body and mind, yin yoga may be used at behavioral treatment centers to help treat conditions like eating disorders, addictions, and trauma. 

Yin yoga is meant to help promote balance within your body by working the deep connective tissues. Here are a few tips to help guide your yin yoga practice:

Practice slow. Hold each position for an adequate amount of time, at least a few minutes. If anything feels uncomfortable, adjust your depth or angle of the pose, or gently move out of the position entirely.

Strive for comfort, not perfection. The aim of yin yoga is not to achieve the perfect pose. The best way to target specific areas of the body will vary from person to person.

Focus on your body, not others'. Our bodies may look similar from the outside, but every skeleton is different. What is possible for one person may not be possible for another. Instead of comparing your postures to others', focus on what feels best for you.

It’s best to practice yin yoga under the direction of a yoga instructor, especially if it’s your first time. Yin poses are deep and quiet, but an instructor will help guide you through each session.

Yin yoga classes are slow-paced with a focus on internal exploration. Regardless of your experience level, a yin yoga instructor will encourage you to experiment with each pose and learn to appreciate your unique range of motion. Since every human body is unique, physical alignment and joint mobility will vary from person to person. 

Like other forms of yoga, yin yoga provides many benefits, such as:

  • Increasing your overall flexibility
  • Improving circulation
  • Enhancing the range of motion of your joints and ligaments
  • Encouraging you to connect with your breath
  • Improving emotional balance
  • Reducing symptoms of stress, depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbances

Yin yoga has rapidly gained in popularity because it’s a helpful practice for both beginners and long-time yogis. It’s an ideal workout for people of all ages and abilities.

However, you should still take safety precautions to avoid injuries. Consider taking a few guided classes from a reputable teacher before branching out to explore new yin yoga poses on your own.

Yin yoga is a slow practice, so most yin yoga sessions only include a few poses. The following are examples of yin yoga poses you might encounter in a session.

Shoelace pose. This restorative pose stretches your arms, shoulders, hips, knees, and upper back. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Sit on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
  2. Bring your left foot to the outer edge of your right hip.
  3. Bring your right foot to the outer edge of your left hip.
  4. When you feel comfortable and ready, gently hinge forward at your hips.
  5. Hold this position.
  6. Gently release and sit back up.
  7. Switch legs and repeat.

Dragonfly pose. This pose gently stretches your hips, thighs, and groin. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Sit on the floor with your legs spread out in opposite directions, as far apart as possible.
  2. Keep your knees and feet pointing upwards.
  3. Gently fold your body at the hips and walk your hands forward, stretching as far out in front of your body as possible.
  4. Hold.
  5. Gently walk your hands back up and bring your legs and feet together again.
  • During a yin yoga session, you can expect a calm and quiet environment. 
  • Slow-paced movements provide deep and supportive stretching, and you may use props like bolsters, blankets, blocks, and bands for additional support.
  • Come prepared to connect with your physical body and emotions. Try to coordinate your breathing with each movement as you move through different postures. Inhale as you move into a pose and exhale as you transition out of it. This can help you relax and ensure that you're not holding your breath during certain movements.
  • Try not to compare your yin yoga poses to others’. Everybody is different, and what’s best for someone else’s body may not be ideal for yours.

Although yin yoga is an excellent form of exercise for most people, some people with osteoporosis should avoid practicing certain postures, especially those that require extreme flexing or extending of the spine.

Women in their third trimester of pregnancy or those recovering from labor and delivery should also avoid yin yoga. During pregnancy, the body releases relaxin, a hormone that increases joint flexibility, increasing the likelihood of overstretching and injury during yin yoga.