Yin Yoga: what is it?

Yin and Yang

In Chinese medicine the aim is to balance the properties of yin and yang. Yang is the active state of the body characterized by energy, openness, movement. It is symbolic of the sun, light the male gender and the element fire.   

Yin is passive, quiet, meditative and symbolized by the moon, darkness, the female gender and the element water.   

Note that Yang always contains the seed of yin (the dark spot or moon, and yin always includes yang, a white spot or sun. The two properties are never completely separate and are co-dependent.  

Yin and Yang in yoga  

In yoga, yang poses are active, develop muscle strength and build heat and tension in the body. Yang works predominantly with muscles and tendons. Yin poses are cooling, passive, with positions held for a length of time, developing endurance and flexibility.  Yin works with ligaments and muscle fascia.     

Hatha Yoga

Traditional Hatha yoga alternates yin and yang poses, working with the mind, subtle body and physical body and  consciously controlled breathing. It includes  cleansing, twisting, balancing, bending and inversions in a range of postures. Hatha yoga also trains the body to be still for meditation.   

Yang  yoga predominates in the more physically demanding forms of yoga such as Ashtanga, Vinyasa flow, and the heated yogas (eg Bikram).  These forms of yoga emphasise muscular strength and the movement from one pose to another, with the emphasis on the flow of movement and the breath. These forms of yoga is often favoured by young, active people.  

Yin yoga uses the stable, well supported poses from the Hatha range, with an emphasis on holding the pose for a long time (1-10 minutes) rather than flowing with the breath. Yin works with the tendons, ligaments and muscle facsia to develop and maintain flexibility and an acute awareness of how your body moves. This is not relax-and-restore yoga, as each pose still needs strength and constant mind awareness to maintain it.   

Yin yoga is great for beginners, as it teaches body and mind awareness that can then be taken into Hatha, Ashtanga and other classes. Ideally a student would progress to Hatha and other forms of yoga, but also do a yin class regularly to maintain body awareness and flexibility. Yin is ideal for home practice as one or two simple poses can be done each day and great for older people who are less flexible or have injuries.  

Yin Anatomy


Our bones support us , but only with the help of muscles, tendons, ligament and of course the Life Force. Note that a model plastic skeleton is so collapsible! The central skeleton (in blue) is called the axial skeleton and is made up of the 80 bones of the skull, the vertebrae of the spine, ribs, breast bone and the pelvis. This section of the skeleton protects major body organs, so injury to any part of the axial skeleton is likely to be serious and potentially fatal.   

The appendicular skeleton (in yellow) is made up of 126 bones of the upper and lower limbs and bones connecting the limbs to the axial skeleton. The bones of appendicular skeleton form the major part of the musculoskeletal system that enables movement.

Muscles, nerves, fascia, tendons and ligaments.  

There are about 700 muscles in the body. They have Latin names that describe their location, shape and function. Muscles make up to 60% of the body mass. They allow movement, stabilize the skeleton and hold internal organs in place. Muscles generate much of the body heat and are developed and strengthened in Yang yoga poses.   

A tendon (sinew) is a tough band of fibrous connective tissue that usually connects muscle to bone and is capable of withstanding tension. Tendons are similar to ligaments; both are made of collagen. Tendons connect muscles to bones and ligaments connect bones to bones. Good examples are seen in the knee.

Fascia are sheets of connective tissue, primarily collagen, that coat and separate muscles and other internal organs. Our mobility depends to a large degree on how well hydrated our fascia is. Fascia is seen as the white tissue in the picture of the back muscles.

Special nerve endings (called proprioceptors) within the muscles, joints and tendons relay information about the musculoskeletal system to the central nervous system. These nerves allow perception of your body’s position and movement. 

Yin yoga allows conscious activation of these nerves, and encourages the hydration of the muscle facsia and ligaments, thus improving flexibility and protecting the tissue from injury. Fascia should glide between muscles and ligaments should move freely over bone surfaces. The yin poses are also designed to improve posture and balance.  




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