Slow-paced yin yoga requires a lot of patience

Yin Yoga: Poses, Benefits and More

By: Renee Kwok

Scientifically Reviewed By: Michael A. Smith, MD

Do your mind and body need a reboot? Yin yoga may be the system upgrade that can do just that. Slow-paced yin yoga is the unsung hero of yoga styles, overlooked in a world that has a 3-second attention span. With today's fast-paced culture, where everything's expected yesterday, even yoga is sped up to match the lifestyle.

Because it can be quite challenging to sit with your own thoughts in stillness, yin yoga requires a lot of patience and willingness, which is why it may feel "difficult." But the efforts will pay off: the body and mind can gain a wealth of benefits from yin yoga. Plus, practicing it makes this technique a lot easier.

Yin yoga practice has been found to have many long-lasting health benefits, and combined with supplements for joint and connective tissue support, it can greatly increase your quality of life.

What is yin yoga?

Yin yoga is like many other slow-paced forms of yoga, such as Hatha yoga and restorative yoga, but it comes from the Taoist yoga tradition and calls for only floor poses in longer holds of 2-5 minutes or more. Yin yoga practice is done with mindful breathwork in a room temperature (non-heated) room, and the focus is on gently stretching the body.

If the word "yin" makes you think of the Taoist expression "the yin to the yang," that's no accident. When yoga became popular in the West, yoga practices were mostly taught as a workout such as vinyasa, power or hot yoga. The heating and active nature of those types of yoga is "yang" energy.

Because yin yoga incorporates stillness and long holds, which invokes a cooling and calming energy, it can create the perfect "yin" balance to that of the yang style. Both yoga practices lead the mind into a meditative state that can encourage mental and physical wellness.

If you've only done power and hot yoga, it's a good idea to add yin yoga or other slower forms to your practice.

Is yin yoga hard for beginners?

Yin yoga is very adaptable for every age and body type. The biggest misconception about yoga is that it requires already having flexibility—but that is not the case at all. Yin yoga practice encourages flexibility in connective tissues and supports joint mobility.

The beautiful thing about the yin modality is the ease of entry. As a yin teacher of over 14 years, I've had students ranging from age 5 to 75, with younger kids taught separately. Yin yoga is beginner-friendly and can benefit anyone willing to sit through the initial stages of distraction and discomfort of a yin yoga class and allow the body to acclimate.

The level of difficulty depends on each individual's ability to focus, stay present, and to breathe through sensations. This allows yin participants to develop awareness, learn new patterns and connect to their own mindfulness. When done gently with an open mind and no expectations, anyone can enjoy the benefits this relaxing type of yoga provides.

7 Yin Yoga Poses

Yin yoga poses, or asanas, can be done as a sequence or individually. Try doing a yin sequence 30 minutes a day for five days and see how your body and mood shift with this relaxing and opening yoga style.

Begin your yin practice with five to 10 rounds of breathwork. Breath work is yin yoga 101. Then, try out some of these popular yin poses. Each pose should be held for 2-5 minutes, adding time as your stretch tolerance increases.

  • Knee to chest pose

    . Lie face up on your mat. Bend one knee into the chest as close as possible, leaving the other leg extended. Hold the pose with both hands over the knee for three minutes. Repeat on the other side. This can stretch out connective tissue in the knee, quads, hips, thighs and even the lower back.
  • Side reclining twist

    . Lie down on your back with arms open out to the sides. Bend one knee up to your chest, then lower it to the opposite side of the body. Place your hand on the bent knee and try to get it as close to the floor as possible. Hold for 10 breaths or up to five minutes. Repeat on the other side.
  • Supported bridge with a prop

    . If yin poses were given MVP awards, this one would win. Lie on your back, then bend both knees up. Press feet into the floor to elevate the hips and place a block or a tightly rolled blanket under your back at middle height. This will open up the front hip flexors in the best way, relieving tension in the lower back. Then extend the legs out straight and hold.
  • Sphinx pose

    . This yoga pose looks just like it sounds. It is a backbend that releases the thoracic spine. The pose is achieved by lying on the belly face down, then bending the elbows close to the ribs and under your shoulders to support the upper body, with your hands and forearms on the mat in front of you. Also energetically draw the shoulder blades in a downward motion to keep the spine extended upward. This pose creates length in the middle and lower back.
  • Half frog

    . This pose is great for stretching the inner thighs upward into the hips. This can put some pressure on the knee, so it may be helpful to place a cushion, blanket or towel prop under the knee. This yoga pose can also be done in combination with the sphinx pose. From that pose, lift the knee up to the side of your body at a 90-degree angle and hold.
  • Supported fish

    . Lay face up with a bolster or rolled-up blanket across at shoulder blade level under your back, which assists in propping up the chest, which arches upward to help open up the heart. Tilt your chin up and drop the crown of your head to the mat. This yoga pose is slightly awkward as it realigns the cervical spine to create an energetic heart opening.
  • Savasana, or corpse pose

    . This is the final pose of any yoga class. This yoga pose is also considered the best pose because lying down with face and palms up allows the body, mind and spirit to move into a deep meditation state of full-body relaxation.

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Why is yin yoga beneficial?

While research finds yin yoga may enhance lower body strength, one of the most powerful benefits of yin yoga is how it encourages quality of life. When you place your body into yin poses and learn to breathe through the stretching sensations, your exhalations help release the tension that is stored in the body. The body acclimates to the elongation of deep connective tissues, which promotes range of motion, mobility and the body's ability to deal with discomfort.

This is static stretching, one of the best methods of stretching, and it helps increase the flexibility and range of motion that's so necessary for an active lifestyle.

Also, yin yoga shows results relatively quickly. In research, participants have reported noticeable changes after just five weeks of practice.

Yoga is best done with mindful breathwork to guide the body through an energetic and physiological release of tension created from being inactive or overactive. Tension is held not just in the muscles but also in soft connective tissue (tendons, ligaments, and fascia). Practicing yin yoga can lead to all of the following benefits:

  • Promotes relaxation and healthy sleep. Yoga practice generates a feeling of ease in the nervous system
  • Encourages clarity of mind and brain health
  • Supports healthy circulation
  • Encourages endurance or energy levels, which is commonly referred to as prana in yoga practices
  • Promotes bone health and strength
  • Many believe yoga creates a connection of the breath, mind and body, which in turn creates a sense of well-being and wholeness. This supports a healthy mood and encourages healthy stress management

What can I expect from a yin yoga class?

In a yin class, expect most poses to be on the mat, including a wide variety of seated or supine poses facing up, down or sideways. Yin yoga is low impact with very little to no strengthening, balancing or standing poses. The hold time of each yin pose is for 2-5 minutes or more, though the time may feel longer. This static style of stretching the connective tissue between the muscle and bone creates a physical lengthening that results in a state of relaxation and lightness.

Depending on the tightness of an individual's connective tissue, some may experience more or less sensation during holds. Practice of this Taoist style of yoga can encourage the body's range of motion, promote comfort and cultivate patience. It is up to the individual to stay present and utilize their breath to offset the stretch of connective tissues. Yin students need to be mindful of the body's shift into a relaxed state.

How often should you do yin-style yoga?

Yin yoga is a gentle practice, which can be done as often as one would like. Research shows that yoga practice even once a week, followed by guided meditation, can provide significant benefits for stress management and mindfulness.  

Because of the potentially deep nature of the stretch in connective tissue, the sensation can take some getting used to. If discomfort occurs from your yin practice, take time off between sessions. If your body feels up for it, though, yoga can be a daily practice.

One of the main benefits of a yin type of yoga is its effect on well-being. A study showed that five weeks of yoga practice twice a week supports mood and mental wellness through healthy stress management.

Yin yoga also helps keep the body limber and flexible. Yoga encourages a full range of motion to complete daily tasks and movement to maintain optimal body function.  Both of these health benefits can greatly improve all aspects of one's physical and mental health. As a yoga instructor who has been teaching yin yoga sequences, I have seen firsthand how any yin student at any age can transform their body with consistent practice once a week.

Which nutrients are helpful for yin yoga practice?

Supplements designed for joint health support are the perfect complement to your yoga routine. Formulas like ArthroMax® Elite help inhibit inflammation to promote joint health and comfort, and they encourage healthy connective tissues. Together with yin yoga, the nutrients in this supplement support healthy, comfortable freedom of movement.

Looking to support your bone health and healthy movement? Take our health needs quiz and get a recommendation on the nutrients that are right for you!

About the Author: Renee Kwok is yoga instructor who has taught various yoga styles and levels for more than 13 years. Her passion is showing others how to achieve clear mindset, vitality and wellness by connecting the mind and body. When she’s not teaching yoga, she offers Reiki energy therapy and intentional journaling, and she continues to explore healthy alternatives to nourish the body and mind as we age gracefully.