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Yin yoga

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Yin yoga
Founder Paulie Zink
Established late 1970s
Practice emphases
Longer hold times, more meditative style, attention to breath
Related schools
Taoist Yoga
Shoelace pose, a classic pose or asana of yin yoga a more meditative yoga style. The shoelace pose opens the hips, and is said to affect the liver meridian in the groin and the gallbladder meridian along the outer hip and leg.[1]

Yin yoga is a slow-paced style of yoga with poses, or asanas, that are held for longer periods of time—five minutes or longer per pose is typical.[2] It was founded by and first taught in the United States in the late 1970s by martial arts expert and Taoist yoga teacher Paulie Zink.[3][4][5] Yin-style yoga is now being taught across North America and in Europe, due in large part to the teaching activities of yin yoga teachers and developers Paul Grilley and Sarah Powers.[6][7]

Yin yoga poses apply moderate stress to the connective tissues—the tendons, fascia, and ligaments—with the aim of increasing circulation in the joints and improving flexibility. They are also designed to improve the flow of qi, the subtle energy said in Chinese medicine to run through the meridian pathways of the body. Improved qi flow is hypothesized to improve organ health, immunity, and emotional well-being.[7][8] A more meditative approach to yoga, yin aims at cultivating awareness of one's inner silence, and bringing to light a universal, interconnecting quality.[9]

Yin yoga as taught by Paul Grilley and Sarah Powers is not intended as a complete practice in itself, but rather as a complement to more active forms of yoga and exercise.[3] However, Paulie Zink's approach includes the full range of taoist yoga and is intended to be a complete practice in itself.[10]:21 Sarah Powers has developed a system called Insight Yoga which features both Yin poses and more active yang-style poses.[11][12]


Caterpillar pose: In Yin yoga, poses are held for an average of five minutes—much longer than poses are generally held in other schools of yoga—with the objective of improving flexibility and restoring a fuller range of motion.[13]
Saddle pose: Teachers advise Yin yoga beginners to go only part-way into this pose, resting on props such as bolsters or cushions to protect the back and knees from undue strain. This pose is said to stimulate the Kidney meridian as well as the kidneys themselves.[3][14]
Sphinx pose: In the more advanced version of this pose, the "Seal," the arms are fully extended and the back bend is deeper. Seal pose is similar in appearance to the Cobra pose of hatha yoga, but is performed differently (see "Distinction from hatha yoga"). The same is true of other Yin poses and their similar versions in hatha yoga.[15]

Initially, yin yoga sessions taught by Paul Grilley and Sarah Powers consisted of a series of long-held, passive floor poses that primarily affect the lower part of the body—the hips, pelvis, inner thighs, lower spine—about 18 - 24 in number. These areas are especially rich in connective tissues, the "loading" of which (yin yoga teachers avoid the word "stretching") is a main focus in this style of yoga.[16] Paulie Zink also takes this approach at the beginner level, but his "complete art of yin yoga" consists of both yin and yang postures, and also incorporates movement in between postures as a yang element.[17] In the past past several years, Grilley and Powers have both emphasized the value of more active, yang-type poses. Grilley emphasizes the importance of cultivating upper body strength through more demanding poses, recommending to his students, for example, the Crocodile pose, which is similar to the traditional push-up exercise.[3]

Yin yoga employs specific sequences of poses aimed at stimulating particular meridians, or subtle channels, as understood in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)(said to be equivalent to the nadis or shrotas in Indian yoga).[8]

During the long hold times of the yin asanas, teachers usually give "dharma talks," informal monologues drawing from a variety of sources, according to teachers' choice. They will often explain the physiology and anatomy of poses, including the location of the meridian lines being affected. They may tell traditional Buddhist stories, recite poetry, sing songs, or reflect on their own experience.[18]

In keeping with its roots in taoist yoga, Paulie Zink says that yin has a deeper level: to "open the heart and invoke the primal self."[19] Sarah Powers says one of the primary objectives of yin is the cultivation of inner stillness.[20]


Muscles account for about forty percent of the resistance against the body's flexibility, while connective tissue accounts for about fifty percent.[21] The intensity and physical benefits of yin yoga practice depend on two variables: duration of the asana, and the temperature of the muscle. Asanas are usually held for three to five minutes, but can be held for as long as twenty minutes. Because of the long duration of asanas, it is said that patience is another of the key values cultivated by yin yoga.

It is usually recommended that yin yoga be practiced when the muscles are not yet warmed up. When the muscles are cold, they are less elastic, and more stress will be transferred to the connective tissue. However, this is a general rule and for some people, it is better to stay a bit warm while practicing. Because this style of yoga does not generate bodily heat, yin teachers recommend keeping the temperature of the room a little higher than usual.[10]:33 During yin asanas, muscles are relaxed to avoid tetany, or muscle spasm, which could result from engaging muscles for long periods.

Distinction from hatha yoga[edit]

Although many yin yoga poses or asanas closely resemble the asanas in Indian hatha yoga, they have different names, in part to alert those who are familiar with similar poses in hatha yoga not to perform them in the same way.[22] In general, the poses of yin yoga are performed with very little muscular exertion. For example, in the Cobra or Bhujangasana of hatha yoga, the practitioner lies prone and lifts the chest, curving the spine in an arc, reaching the legs back strongly. However in yin yoga, in the similar Seal pose, the upward movement of the trunk is entirely supported by the arms, and the legs are relaxed.[15]


Yin and yang[edit]

Yin yoga is based on the Taoist concepts of yin and yang, opposite and complementary principles in nature. yin could be described as stable, immobile, feminine, passive, cold, and downward moving. Yang is understood to be changing, mobile, masculine, active, hot, and upward moving. The sun is considered yang, the moon yin.[22] In the body, the relatively stiff connective tissues (tendons, ligaments, fascia) are yin, while the more mobile and pliable muscles and blood are yang. More passive asanas in yoga are considered yin, whereas the more active, dynamic asanas are yang, because they stimulate the muscles and generate heat.[16] Sarah Powers and her colleagues say that yin yoga is most effective when more active, or yang forms of yoga or exercise are also practiced, either immediately before or after a yin session, or separately. Paul Grilley sometimes includes yang-style asanas even within yin sessions.[3]


Roots in China[edit]

The practice of holding yoga poses or asanas for long periods of time has always been a significant part of traditional yoga practice, both in the hatha yoga tradition of India and in the Taoist yoga tradition of the greater China area. Some regard yin yoga is the oldest form of hatha yoga, since it is an effective method of physical conditioning for prolonged sitting in meditation, which was the principal concern of ancient yogic practitioners.[10]:13[22] Contemporary schools of hatha yoga have also advocated holding some poses for relatively long periods of time. For example, BKS Iyengar recommends holding the Supta Virasana asana (reclining hero pose) for 10–15 minutes.[10]:12 For that matter, long-held stretches have been and are commonly recommended in other physical disciplines, such as gymnastics and dance, to increase flexibility. For example, ballerinas are commonly counselled to open their hips by approximating the splits position for long periods of time.[10]:28

Taoist yoga practices from China also included yin-style poses in the Taoist system of "Internal Alchemy"—practiced for the purpose of improving health and longevity.[10]:15 Techniques for stretching of this type have been practiced for centuries in China and Taiwan as part of taoist yoga, which was sometimes known as Dao Yin. Taoist priests taught long-held poses, along with breathing techniques, to Kung Fu practitioners beginning 2000 years ago, to help them fully develop their martial arts skills.[23]

Beginnings in the West[edit]

What later came to be known as yin yoga, in which a series of long-held poses are performed one after the other, was introduced in North America in the late 1970s by Paulie Zink, a martial arts champion and taoist yoga teacher.[24] Zink had begun studying Kung Fu as a teenager and after five years of training was chosen as a student by Cho Chat Ling, a Kung-Fu and Qigong master from Hong Kong. Cho Chat Ling was a master of a style known as Tai shing pek kwar, which combines three different disciplines of Monkey Kung Fu. (In Kung Fu, the movements of animals are closely studied and emulated, inspiring many of the movements taught in Kung Fu, and also giving rise to different schools within the discipline.) In time, the master Cho decided to train Zink as his protégé and successor. For ten years, in daily classes lasting six to eight hours, he instructed Zink in Kung-Fu and taoist yoga, in roughly equal proportions.[10]:20 At the end of the decade, Cho Chat Ling formally recognized Zink as a master in his own right, and asked him to take part in martial arts competitions. Zink entered the Long Beach International Karate Championships in 1981, 1982 and 1983 and won Grand Champion in the "weapons forms" category in all three years, and was also Grand Champion in the "empty hands" category in two of those years.[25] Black Belt magazine named him Kung Fu artist of the year in 1989.[26] Noted in the Kung Fu community for his achievement of exceptional personal flexibility,[27] Zink also emphasized flexibility training in his martial arts classes as a method to develop agility, power and endurance.[28]

In the late 70s, Zink began, separate from his martial arts classes, to teach a synthesis of hatha yoga with a full range of disciplines from taoist Yoga, as well as postures, movements and insights that he had developed himself. This synthesis, along with variations on it developed by other teachers (see next section), later became known as yin yoga.[10]:19[19] Paulie Zink, even more than his master, was convinced of the effectiveness of holding yoga poses for long periods of time in order to improve flexibility.[10]:20 The poses Zink taught were sometimes similar, but often different from the poses known in Indian hatha yoga.

His approach to yin yoga includes several elements of taoist yoga: yin asanas— mostly sitting or lying postures; yang asanas— more active, strenuous postures; Taoist Flow yoga— both yin and yang yoga postures practiced in continuous, smooth and circular motions; Chi Kung (or Qigong)— involving simple and gentle movement and breathing techniques; and Taoist alchemy— based upon the Taoist theory of the five elements used in Chinese medicine.[10]:19[19] Taoist Alchemy is a method of embodying the energetic attributes of various animals and enlivening the five alchemical elements believed to be contained in the body's energetic field. The five transforming energies of Earth, Metal, Water, Wood, and Fire animate distinct qualities in the body such as calm, strength, fluidity, springiness and lightness, respectively.

Paul Grilley and Sarah Powers also both recommend and teach the more active, yang-style poses, to complement the more passive yin poses.

Paul Grilley and Sarah Powers[edit]

Paul Grilley, a yoga teacher then living in California, who later became a major proponent of yin yoga, first saw Paulie Zink on a public access television talk show in 1988, performing a demonstration of Taoist yoga practices that he used in teaching martial arts. Impressed by both his skillfulness in yoga asanas and his gentle, restrained manner, devoid of the arrogance he had observed in other martial artists, he sought Zink out in 1988 and studied with him for about one year.[3]

In 1989, Grilley met Hiroshi Motoyama, a Japanese scholar and yogi,[29] who was researching the physiology of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Motoyama was especially interested in the physiology of the meridians, or subtle pathways and vessels, and the qi or subtle energy hypothesized to flow through or get stored in them. These are both fundamental concepts in Chinese medicine and acupuncture. He related these to the parallel concepts of the nadi pathways and chakras of Indian yoga, and the prana said to be carried within them.[30] Grilley, who had previously been teaching yoga classes for seven years, now began to teach the long held poses he had learned from Zink, informed by the theories of Motoyama, as well as his earlier study of anatomy with Garry Parker.

Grilley at first called it taoist yoga, in deference to the term Paulie Zink had used. Then one of Grilley's students, Sarah Powers, a nationally-known US yoga teacher, began teaching yoga in Grilley's style, and decided to call it yin yoga in order to differentiate it from the various styles of taoist yoga available. Grilley and Zink also soon adopted the name.

Teaching spreads[edit]

Sarah Powers traveled widely teaching yin yoga, and when her students asked for more information, she would refer them to Paul Grilley, who began receiving requests to travel and offer seminars. Paulie Zink continued teaching yin yoga in his own style, combined with other elements of Taoist yoga. Sarah Powers incorporated Buddhist psychology and meditation in her teaching of yin yoga.[10]:24 Grilley and Powers began offering yin yoga teacher training courses, as did Paulie Zink. Over the next 10 years, yin yoga became available all over North America and in Europe, through yoga classes, and via DVDs and books.[31] In 2002, Grilley published the book, Yin Yoga: A Quiet Practice (and in 2012 a revised edition titled, Yin Yoga Principles and Practice). In 2008, Sarah Powers published the book, Insight Yoga, which teaches yin yoga and more active (or yang) yoga sequences, complementary to yin poses.[32][33] Both Grilley and Powers have also released instructional DVDs on yin yoga, as has Paulie Zink.


  • Yin Yoga: Principles and Practice," 10th anniversary edition, Paul Grilley, White Cloud Press, Ashland, Oregon 2012 ISBN 978-1-883991-43-2
  • Yin Yoga: Outline of A Quiet Practice, Paul Grilley, White Cloud Press, Ashland, Oregon 2002 ISBN 978-1-935952-70-1 (The original version of this book is titled Taoist Yoga: Outline Of A Quiet Practice by Paul Grilley)
  • Insight Yoga, Sarah Powers, Shambahala Publications Inc., Boston, MA 2008 ISBN 978-1-59030-598-0
  • The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga: the Philosophy & Practice of Yin Yoga, Bernie Clark, White Cloud Press, Ashland, Oregon 2012 ISBN 978-1-935952-50-3
  • Yinsights: A Journey into the Philosophy and Practice of Yoga, Bernie Clark, Cardinal Publishing Group, Indianapolis 2007 ISBN 978-0-9687665-1-4


  1. ^ Powers, Sarah (2008). Insight Yoga. Boston: Shambahala. p. 62. ISBN 978-1-59030-598-0. 
  2. ^ Loriggio, Paola. "Slow stretch, side of soul: Tight muscles, tough thoughts demand attention at yin yoga". Toronto Star. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Grilley, Paul (2012). yin Yoga: Principles and Practice, 10th anniversary edition. Ashland Oregon: White Cloud Press. p. xiii. 
  4. ^ "Teacher Spotlight: Paulie Zink The founding master of Yin Yoga". Conference Connection. Yoga Journal. March 2009. Retrieved February 12, 2013. Paulie, the founding master of Yin Yoga, started practicing at the age of 14 ... Paulie began teaching Taoist yin and yang yoga in the late 70's 
  5. ^ "Yin Yoga". Yoga Magazine. Retrieved February 12, 2013. Yin yoga is a synthesis Paulie Zink created by combining hatha yoga and several disciplines from the Taoist tradition along with insights, visualisations, and animal based yoga postures, movements, and vocalisations he developed himself 
  6. ^ Janet Kinosian (Sep 21, 2009). "Yin yoga: yang-style's less aggressive conter part: Taoist-based practice targets the connective tissues, ligaments, joints and synovial fluid". LA Times. Paul Grilley, a martial arts and yoga practitioner, who helped develop yin yoga along with Sarah Powers ... From Los Angeles to London, so called yin yoga is increasingly being taught at studio classes and yoga retreats, not to mention via books and DVDs 
  7. ^ a b Lisa Maria (Sep 2008). "Soothe Yourself". Yoga Journal. p. 82. Retrieved January 6, 2013. Much of the yin yoga practiced in the US today was introduced by Paul Grilley in the late 1980's 
  8. ^ a b Andrea Ferretti (June 2007). "Sweet Surrender". Yoga Journal. Retrieved January 6, 2013. 
  9. ^ Sexton, Michael (Nov 13, 2009). "YJ Interview: The Delight of Insight". Yoga Journal. Retrieved 16 November 2014. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Clark, Bernie (2012). The Complete Guide to Yin yoga. Ashland Oregon: White Cloud Press. ISBN 978-1-935952-50-3. 
  11. ^ Sexton, Michael (Nov 13, 2009). "YJ Interview: The Delight of Insight". Yoga Journal. Retrieved 16 November 2014. 
  12. ^ Powers, Sarah (November 2014). Insight Yoga. Boston: Shambahala. pp. 107–160. ISBN 978-1-59030-598-0.  Check date values in: |year= / |date= mismatch (help)
  13. ^ Powers, Sarah (2008). Insight Yoga. Boston: Shambahala. pp. 46–47. ISBN 978-1-59030-598-0. 
  14. ^ Powers, Sarah (2008). Insight Yoga. Boston: Shambahala. pp. 39–41. ISBN 978-1-59030-598-0. 
  15. ^ a b Lisa Maria (Sep 2008). "Soothe Yourself". Yoga Journal. p. 87. Retrieved January 6, 2013. 
  16. ^ a b Lisa Maria (Sep 2008). "Soothe Yourself". Yoga Journal. p. 82. Retrieved January 6, 2013. 
  17. ^ "Yin Yoga". Yoga Magazine. Retrieved February 12, 2013. 
  18. ^ Powers, Sarah (2005). "Introduction to yin yoga". Insight Yoga (DVD). Pranamaya, Inc. ISBN 978-0-9763836-5-9. 
  19. ^ a b c Zink, Paulie; Zink, Maria (March 2012). "Yin Yoga". Yoga Magazine. Retrieved January 8, 2013. 
  20. ^ Sexton, Michael (Nov 13, 2009). "YJ Interview: The Delight of Insight". Yoga Journal. Retrieved 16 November 2014. 
  21. ^ Clark, Bernie. "Limits of Flexibility". Retrieved 8 February 2013. 
  22. ^ a b c Pizer, Ann (May 17, 2012). "Yin Yoga". Yoga. Retrieved January 11, 2013. 
  23. ^ Michael Gonzales (Dec 1983). "The Lost Art of Flexibility". Black Belt Magazine. p. 66. 
  24. ^ Solan, Matthew. Talking shop with Paul Grilley. Google Books (Yoga Journal). Retrieved June 30, 2014. 
  25. ^ David W Clary (Nov 1991). "Long Beach Internationals". Black Belt Magazine. p. 82. Retrieved January 15, 2013. 
  26. ^ "Black Belt Hall of Fame Awards: Awards to Date". Black Belt Magazine. August 1991. p. 59. Retrieved January 6, 2013. 
  27. ^ "Table of contents". Black Belt Magazine. December 1983. p. page 5. 
  28. ^ Michael Gonzales (Dec 1983). "The Lost Art of Flexibility". Black Belt Magazine. p. 66. Retrieved January 6, 2013. 
  29. ^ Maria, Lisa (Sep 2008). "Soothe Yourself". Yoga Journal. Retrieved 30 June 2014. 
  30. ^ Paul Grilley (July–Aug 2001). "Yin Yoga". Yoga Journal. pp. 80–90. Retrieved January 6, 2013.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  31. ^ Janet Kinosian (Sep 21, 2009). "Yin yoga: yang-style's less aggressive conter part: Taoist-based practice targets the connective tissues, ligaments, joints and synovial fluid". LA Times. Paul Grilley, a martial arts and yoga practitioner, who helped develop yin yoga along with Sarah Powers ... From Los Angeles to London, so called yin yoga is increasingly being taught at studio classes and yoga retreats, not to mention via books and DVDs 
  32. ^ Lisa Maria (February 2009). "Insider's Guide". Yoga Journal. p. 111. 
  33. ^ Powers, Sarah (2008). Insight Yoga. Boston: Shambala. ISBN 978-1-59030-598-0. 

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