Yin yoga: Your complete guide to calming the mind and body

A person meditates at the top a mountain while practising Yin yoga.

When we think of opposites working in complete harmony, many iconic duos come to mind, from PB & J to Batman and Robin.

But few are as perfectly matched as Yin and Yang.

The ancient Chinese concept can be found all around us; in serene valleys, rocky mountains, the backside of the bartender at your local watering hole, and of course, yoga.

There is Yang yoga which involves more vigorous, fast-paced poses, and Yin yoga which by nature is the exact opposite in every way. 

In Yin yoga classes, asanas (poses and postures) are held for longer periods to target the mind and deep connective tissues in the hips, pelvis, upper thighs, sacrum and lower spine.

This slower, more meditative style is often practised in an Ashtanga yoga class or Vinyasa flow, and is a great choice for people who want to relax, reduce stress and become more flexible.

If this style of yoga sounds like your cup of tea, discover its core principles, purpose and the best way to practice with Basubu’s complete guide to calming the mind and body. 

Let’s get started!

What is the purpose of Yin yoga?

The Yin yoga style was developed in the late 1970s by Paul Zink, an American martial arts expert and Taoist yoga teacher.

Zink incorporated various principles of Taoist philosophy and Chinese traditional medicine into the Yin practice to create a style of yoga that had deep-working emotional and physical benefits.

In Chinese philosophy, Yin symbolises femaleness, passivity, and absorption, while Yang is masculine, strong, and active. 

In Yin yoga, poses are slow, meditative and relaxed to open your body and connect to your most primal self, while Yang yoga is more dynamic and active. 

It’s believed that a balance of both Yin and Yang yoga is key to a harmonious life and healthy body and mind. 

A woman lies face down in child's pose while practising Yin yoga.

What are the three principles of Yin yoga?

Yin yoga is a deeply healing practice that gently stretches out connective tissue and taps into the energy flow within to reach a higher level of stillness and peace.

To achieve this, yogis follow 3 simple principles of Yin yoga:

1. Find an appropriate depth

When easing into a yin pose, give your body room to uncurl. After a few seconds, you’ll feel your muscles loosen allowing you to deepen your stretch.

2. Be still

Once you’ve reached your limit, settle into the pose and be still. Bring the mind, body and soul to a grinding halt and only move if you experience extreme discomfort or pain

3. Hold and rest

Finally, rest. 

As the discomfort subsides, you’ll feel a wave of relaxation rush over you. Hold the pose for 2-5 minutes and relax into a meditative state.

What is the difference between Restorative yoga and Yin yoga?

You’re probably wondering what makes Yin yoga unique from Restorative yoga?

While the forms share certain similarities, they also diverge here and there which can be a bit confusing. 

Both forms are designed to slow down the mind and to calm (rather than ignite) the senses. These types of yoga focus on bringing balance to the body and mind through deeper, more focused poses.

Both Yin yoga and Restorative yoga tend to focus on a few positions held for longer periods, which is different to the dynamic flow between many postures of Yang yoga practices like Hatha, Ashtanga and Vinyasa Flow.

In Yin yoga, props are used to correct alignment and prevent overstretching, whereas in Restorative yoga, props are there for support.

Both Restorative and Yin yoga is designed to stretch and lengthen your muscles and to relax your mind by slowing down your parasympathetic nervous system. 

In Restorative yoga, you work gently and hold poses for a good length of time, but not generally for as long as you do in Yin.

A Yin practice has some active stretching whereas Restorative yoga tends to avoid too much activation to avoid straining injured parts of the body. Certain Yin poses may not be suitable for people with specific injuries.

Physical rehabilitation is a major focus of Restorative yoga, while Yin yoga targets connective tissue and your innermost emotions.

How do you practise Yin yoga?

When practising Yin yoga, you tend to hold only four to six poses, but you will maintain them for anything from two to ten minutes at a time.

They also do not flow into one another as with Vinyasa flow yoga. The instructor will encourage you to breathe deeply and relax completely into the pose. You will not exert yourself or work up a sweat.

For beginners, Yin yoga can be surprisingly challenging, especially if your muscles and joints are tight. Over time, Yin yoga helps to loosen this tightness and improve your flexibility while simultaneously calming an overly busy mind.

What really sets Yin yoga apart from the other types of yoga, is that it works on deeper layers of the self, both physiological and psychological ones.

Your connective tissue gets a workout that it might not get out of faster-paced forms of yoga. 

You also have time to connect more intimately with your inner emotions because you have more time, and are encouraged to do so.

A woman holds onto a pillow as she pushes deeper into a Yin pose in Yin yoga session.

What are the benefits of Yin yoga?

Yin yoga is firmly rooted in Chinese medicine which believes that your life force or “qi” runs through your body, using meridians as transport channels.

The idea is that during your Yin practice, you learn how to channel your qi properly.

This healing energy travels through the body ridding it of energetic blockages and physical stiffness so that your entire inner system is optimised.

Research shows that a daily dose of Yin yoga can impact your mind and body in the following ways:

Psychological benefits of Yin yoga

1. Reduces anxiety and stress levels

Yin yoga practice targets the parasympathetic nervous system which controls our ‘rest and digest’ activity. 

Through sustained stretching and slow poses, our fight or flight response is relaxed, releasing tension in the body and reducing stress. 

2. Calms the body and mind

Yin yoga involves deep stretches and slow, gentle asanas (poses) which encourages breath awareness and relaxes the body and mind. 

When practising Yin yoga, the breath slows and physical sensations heighten, forcing our minds to let go and simply be in the present moment.

3. Cultivates mindfulness

By holding poses for a longer period, Yin yoga helps us become more grounded and present in the now.

As poses are slowed down, a space is created for emotions, thoughts and feelings to surface and be acknowledged in their rawest, most real form. 

Physical benefits of Yin yoga

1. Improves flexibility

In Yin yoga, poses are held for up to 5 minutes. This stretches the elastic facia in our joints, improving their range of motion and releasing tension in tight hips, shoulders and other major areas in the body where stress builds up. 

2. Boosts circulation and mobility

As with most types of yoga, Yin poses incorporate pranayama (breathwork) to stretch deeper into each pose and hold it for longer periods. 

This increases blood flow in the body, improving circulation and mobility in stiff ligaments and joints. 

3. Stretches connective tissues

When holding a yin pose for a long time, you gently stretch connective tissue in the body like shrink wrap. 

Regular Yin yoga practice lengthens and strengthens stiff tissue in the physical body, preventing injury and keeping our bodies strong and healthy.

A symbol of Yin and Yang representing two opposing elements of the Earth

When should you practise Yin yoga?

Good question! 

Yin yoga is best done at specific times of the day, namely early morning or in the evenings.

This is because it leaves you feeling super relaxed so it may take time to focus and start energetic or active tasks.

Mornings: Yin yoga for the body

Most practitioners recommend that you join a Yin yoga class first thing in the morning. 

This is when your body is still stiff and muscles have not been warmed up. The idea is that Yin poses activate deep connective tissue better when they are still warming up.

Can you go for a 5-mile sprint after a morning Yin class? 

Probably not a good idea.  

This may counteract the benefits of deep relaxation. A more active workout may also cause an injury after you have elongated and stretched out your muscles and tendons during your Yin practice.

Give yourself some time to recover before you start your working day. Once you feel more buoyant, you can get going again.

Evenings: Yin yoga for the mind

Yin yoga is also recommended as an evening practice to calm and relax an overly busy mind. 

Evening Yin yoga allows you to process feelings and emotions from the day. It also relaxes and dispels tension you may be carrying in the body, guaranteeing a more restful night’s sleep.

A woman lowers her body into a folded standing stretch while practising Yin yoga

Whether you’re a seasoned yogi or don’t know you’re yin from your yang, the best way to find your balance in a new practice is on a yoga retreat.

Basubu’s handpicked selection of yoga retreats makes planning a restorative getaway equally as relaxing.

So, what are you waiting for?

Browse Basubu and book your next retreat today.