Yin Yoga vs. Restorative Yoga

Yin Yoga pose
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With so many yoga styles and classes to choose from, how do you know what’s right for you? One of the great things about practicing yoga is the ability to try many different kinds of classes, but beginning yogis might be overwhelmed by the choices. In this post, I’ll discuss two styles of yoga—yin and restorative—that offer different but equally amazing benefits. Both styles are appropriate for beginners and can bring healing and awareness into many aspects of your life.

Yin yoga is a quieter style of yoga that can help you move into a more meditative state. The goal of a yin yoga practice is to go deep into poses and stay for several minutes to access joints, connective tissues, and bones rather than muscles. This promotes healing, mobility, and suppleness in the joints, fascia, and connective tissue that we lose as we age or because of injury. Yin yoga is thought to help the flow of energy through the body, and it has specific benefits for organ health. Founded by Paulie Zink, yin yoga pulls from Taoist yoga traditions to balance out our more yang (active) lifestyles and exercise routines. For this reason, yin teachers often use terms from Chinese medicine, bringing in discussion of meridians (channels through which energy flows in the body) and chi (energy or life force).

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Yin classes can be challenging because of the intensity of poses and the length of time you stay in them. Teachers offer many modifications and options for how deep you can go in a pose, giving you the flexibility to explore. Holding a pose for 3-5 minutes (the average time recommended for many poses) also allows the pose to evolve as your body relaxes. Hip openers like half-pigeon and frog are fantastic examples of yin poses that deepen after a few minutes. If you’re challenged by staying in poses for a long time, or if you have trouble relaxing in savasana, you might try a meditation or a pranayama technique when you’re practicing yin yoga. If you have a hard time slowing down and being still, then yin yoga might be just what you need to bring a some balance to your life!

Restorative yoga is similar to yin in that postures are held for several minutes, but the goal is to experience relaxation and restoration. This means that there is very little effort of any kind during a practice. The intensity that you might encounter in a yin pose is absent here. Instead, your goal is to access tranquility and peace through healing, nurturing postures. Restorative yoga uses many props, including bolsters, blankets, and eye pillows, to help you get into this state. Supine bound angle pose supported with props is popular in restorative classes. By coming into the feeling of being fully supported, your body and nervous system can relax completely.

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Many restorative yoga poses originated with B.K.S. Iyengar, who recognized that Western practitioners could benefit from healing rather than packing in even more action and busyness. One of the earliest and most foundational teachers of restorative yoga was Judith Lasater, Ph.D., who, in her book Relax and Renew, notes that this style of yoga “relieve[s] your muscles and bones of their roles of support and action [.] [Y]our nervous system sends and receives fewer messages and becomes quieter. Layers of tension melt away as you learn to be present to what is happening in the body and mind in each moment.”

Both restorative and yin yoga cultivate stillness, meditation, and deep awareness, but they access these states in different but equally beneficial ways. I’d encourage you to try both—particularly if you’ve always done more active styles of yoga. You just mind find that these quieter styles are a missing piece for you!

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