Yin yoga is based on the Taoist concept of yin and yang chi, the cooling and heated energetic principles in nature. Taoists say ‘All things exist as a contrast of opposites. We call these opposites Yin and Yang. We cannot conceive of these opposites independent of each other.” When we use the terms Yin and Yang to describe how our bodies move the context is going to be the elasticity of the joints. There are three tissues we need to consider when bending their joints and each to them varies in their elasticity. Bones are Yin, Muscles are Yang and Connective Tissue lies between the two extremes.
Restorative yoga originated from the innovative teaching of B.K.S Iyengar. The philosophy behind Restorative Yoga is that the mind and body are interconnected, so when one is stressed or tired, the other will be too. Restorative Yoga aims to bring both back into balance by focusing on stretching and releasing tension from the muscles and joints without requiring any movement from the practitioner.
Judith Hanson Lasater is known for popularizing Restorative Yoga. Lasater learned the Iyengar approach to using straps, blocks, bolsters, and chairs to help students find alignment in active postures. Lasater then adapted this concept to using props to support the body for rest. While many assume that this style of yoga is for practitioners who are older or recovering from injury, Restorative Yoga has become recognized as a practice by students across all types of situations and is increasingly included in the growing movement for yoga for social justice and community repair.
2. The Principles
Yin yoga asks us to enter each pose while leaning into three principles: Find your edge. Finding your edge – knowing when to stop during a posture – help create the essential balance between no sensation and too much sensation in the body. You can learn your edge by stopping at a point during a posture where you feel intense sensations. If you go beyond that point. You risk injury. Be still. Once you find your edge, you remain still. Paying attention to your tendency to fidget, move, or mentally distract yourself is the purpose of being still. By achieving a meditative state, you’re better able to listen to your body and honour your limits. Being still is critical to your yin yoga practice. Hold the posture. You’ll gain the most from your yin yoga practice by holding a posture. While beginning practitioners might start with 3 minutes hold time, more experienced students might hold 5 minutes.
There are four main principles that set a true restorative yoga practice apart. The body is still. Once the body is fully supported, you relax effort and become still. In this way, restorative yoga is not about stretching or achieving – it’s about being. Generally, you may hold poses from 3-20 minutes. The practice space is dark, or the eyes are covered. Practicing in the dimly lit space or covering the eyes can help us to relax so we can restore that balance. The practice space is quiet. Gift yourself the gift of silence, which has been found to be more relaxing to the brain than ‘relaxing’ music. The body is comfortably warm. Just like a warm bath can ease tight muscles and reduce pain, staying comfortably warm with the help of clothing, blankets, or the thermostat can help deepen your body’s relaxation response.
In the recent years of Yin Yoga teacher training, we learnt about the Aesthetic vs Functional yoga. An aesthetic yoga practice focuses on how a pose should look. A functional yoga practice focuses on stressing the proper target areas of the body, i.e., where should I be feeling the stretch. In Yin practice we focus on the functional concept. Every bone in everybody is different. What is easy for one skeleton might be impossible for another. In a functional approach, there is no such thing as a ‘perfect alignment’. Every hand and foot position either helps or inhibits your ability to stress the target areas. The most effective way to do this varies from person to person.
Yin is a practice of introspection and reception of the poses, not external observation or performance. Because of this, deep listening to yourself to find your version of the pose, one that fits your body, is the main practice itself.
The goal of Restorative yoga is to practice active relaxation and bring it back to a state of balance and into the now. Restorative yoga focuses on deliberate stillness and relaxation of the nervous system. As you allow your body to melt onto your props, the props relieve your body and bones of their regular support and action roles thus quieting your nervous system.
4. Time and temperature
In Yin Yoga, it’s common to stay in each pose for 3-5 minutes while bypassing muscular effort and getting into the deeper connective tissues. Yin is typically practiced in a non-heated room on a body that has not been exercising for the same reason. The intention in Yin Yoga is to bypass the muscles being activated, so we set up conditions accordingly.
Restorative Yoga offers an opportunity for the practitioner to rest and find ease in an environment curated for calm. Most poses last 10-20 minutes. Warmth helps to access calm, so blankets are used not only to prop the body but to cover up as body temperature tends to drop as we enter a more relaxed state.
While it is a common belief that no props are required in Yin Yoga, that’s not necessarily true. Blocks, blankets, and bolsters can help you create many shapes, including heart-opening and hip-opening poses. A strap can allow you to access a quality of containment- a sensation of being held without pushing or pulling -as well as extension of the arms so that rest in your upper body is possible. The use of yoga block can elevate the floor higher to assist in a more comfortable stretch or it can also intensify the stretch for some practitioners who are more flexible.
Props, Props, PROPS. Restorative yoga practice is all about the utilization of props to facilitate relaxation and stillness. However, don’t let the lack of props discourage you from practicing Restorative yoga. Get creative and play around with different items around your house like towels, pillows, blankets, and anything else that can offer comfortable cushiony support as you melt.
With the spine being the superhighway between your brain and body, a strong focus is applied to the flexion of the spine and working with inversions, twists, backbends, and forward bends.
Restorative and Yin styles of yoga are giving people what they need in this post-pandemic world and that is rest, relaxation, and release. The question both practices ask of us however is this, in a world that is busy always doing, can you do less? The function of both styles of yoga, whether it is the pursuit of calm or resilience, both Yin and Restorative styles are designed to bring you into a quieter state of body and mind. Lean into the voice within you that asks for more softness, more stillness, more peace. Listen to yourself. Hear what your body, mind, and spirit are telling you they need. Then watch how your nervous system appreciates you.