According to the ancient yogic texts of Patanjali, Lord Shiva was teaching an astounding 8,400,000 yoga postures! But not to worry, if we're talking about Yin yoga poses, there are only seven foundational poses that Yin yoga practitioners should learn first.
Because of the intentional long holds of Yin yoga, Yin yoga poses may be a bit easier to remember than some other styles of yoga.
In a Yin yoga class, you won't be practicing nearly as many asanas as, say, in a Vinyasa yoga class, where you're transitioning from pose to pose with each breath.
Now, this does not mean Yin yoga is any easier! Many would say Yin yoga is actually more difficult, and I would agree. But memorizing Yin yoga poses is easier because there are only seven main Yin yoga asanas. Of course, there are many variations of each pose, but first, let's look at the foundational Yin yoga positions and popular Yin asanas for beginners to learn before moving on.
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The intention behind Yin yoga
The intention behind Yin yoga is to work deep into the fascia and tendons. Other Yang styles of yoga may focus on muscle strengthening or lengthening, while Yin focuses on joints, ligaments, tendons, and even bones.
Yin yoga postures are typically held for several minutes and often include various Yin yoga props, including bolster pillows, blocks, straps, and blankets to relieve the strain from the bones and muscles and to let the body ease into the postures with structural support.
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A brief history of Yin yoga
While Hatha yoga is said to have 84 yoga poses, Paul Grilley, the creator of Yin yoga as we know it today, defines Yin yoga as having 7 archetypal poses. But despite the fact that there are just seven archetypal poses in Yin yoga, each Yin yoga asana has several variations.
Surprisingly, Yin yoga is a relatively newer form of yoga. According to Wikipedia, Yin yoga was brought to North America in the 1970's by Paulie Zink and adapted by modern-day American yogi Paul Grilley to be what it is today.
Ideally, Yin yoga is meant to complement other, more vigorous forms of yoga and/or exercise. Yin yoga is enormously beneficial. However, for a balanced body, cardio and strengthening would complement Yin yoga well.
Interestingly, when looking at various Yin yoga pose variations, many Yin poses are very similar, and at quick glance, may appear to look like exactly the same asanas that are commonly practiced in Hatha or Vinyasa yoga classes. But things are not always as they appear!
Sleeping Swan, for example, is very similar to Pigeon Pose in other styles of yoga, and Yin’s Dragon pose is quite like Low Lunge (or Anjaneyasana in Sanskrit). And there are many more examples of Yin postures that nearly mirror other styles of yoga. Look for the subtle differences between Yin and Yang variations of poses though, because they are certainly there.
Now let's get to the Yin yoga poses beginners and seasoned practitioners should know.
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Yin Yoga Poses – The 7 Yin Poses To Know For A Deeper Understanding Of The Yin Yoga Practice
Shoelace pose is a very deep hip opening Yin yoga posture. There are many ways to get into this posture, but one that I find is the easiest is to first begin by first getting on your hands and knees. Then cross one leg behind the other before sitting back into the posture. Yin yoga shoelace pose may not be accessible for some people for various reasons – tight hips or knee contraindications, for example. Beginners may find sitting on a bolster to be very helpful in relieving pressure in the hips. If your knees are not stacking over one another, don't worry, that takes time.
Saddle pose is a great hip-flexor and quadricep stretch. The easiest way to move into the Yin yoga Saddle posture is to simply sit upright on your shins and then lean all the way back, allowing for a natural curvature of the spine. Tight knees could make getting into this posture a challenge, but as with every Yin yoga posture, slow is the way to go when it comes to moving into the pose.
Caterpillar pose is a seated straight-legged forward bend that focuses on stretching the ligaments in the back of the spine. Getting into some version of Yin yoga Caterpillar pose is likely accessible to most people by simply sitting on the floor and putting the legs out straight in front. But how far a person can get into the asana will depend in part on outer hip, hamstring, and low back flexibility. Notice how in this variation, the back is more rounded than in other styles of yoga.
Dragonfly pose is a juicy wide-legged straddle forward fold. This Yin yoga pose targets the backs of the thighs (hamstrings), hips, inner groin, and inner knees. Yin yoga Dragonfly pose is a challenging posture for many people as tight groin muscles can be quite restricting. Even after a couple of minutes in this pose, you may find yourself able to get much much deeper than when you first sat into the pose.
Twist pose is a lower cross-body twist where the knees fall to one side while the body is open to the other side, very similar to a Supine twist. Yin yoga twists are thought of as postures that “clean” or purify the organs, and this twist, in particular, can also help to release the lower back and open up the shoulders. This is likely a fairly easy posture for most people, although how far the twisting knee is able to get towards to floor may be greatly different for different people.
Dog pose is thought of to be more of a Yang yoga posture versus a Yin yoga posture, and if you practice Yang styles of yoga you’ve been in Dog or Downward Facing Dog many many times! Yin yoga Dog pose is fantastic for stretching the entire backs of the legs and for building strength in the shoulders. Most people can get into some variation of this pose, but tight calves and hamstrings may make touching the ground with the heel of the foot impossible. If this is the case, bending your knees might be something to consider.
Dragon pose is a posture that releases the hip sockets and gives a nice stretch to the quadriceps and hip flexors. Yin yoga Dragon pose is very similar to Low Lunge or Anjaneyasana, although its not exactly the same.
Yin yoga poses PDF
Paul Grilley has a fantastic PDF with pictures of pose variations for each of the seven archetype poses listed above. All images in this post are courtesy of Paulgrilley.com.
Takeaway Yin yoga poses
The Yin practice is highly recommended to offset all of the Yang we experience in life on and off the mat!
Learning the Yin yoga poses described above will set the foundation for your Yin practice to evolve. From there, you can move into modifications and variations, but of course, a strong foundation is where it all begins.
To learn more about the basics of Yin yoga, including how to create a perfect home yoga room to practice Yin, or need now Yin yoga props for your practice, peruse the related articles at the bottom of this post.
FAQ about Yin yoga
Can a beginner do Yin yoga?
Absolutely. In fact, I think Yin yoga is one of the most beginner-friendly types of yoga that exists. That's not to say that Yin yoga is not difficult, but because of Yin's long holds and simplicity in nature, it is less complex than other types of yoga.
How long should you hold a yin pose?
Yin yoga poses are most often held for 3-5 minutes.
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