Yin Yoga versus Restorative Yoga – What Are the Differences and Similarities?
“Between stimulus and response, there is a space and, in that space, lies our power and our freedom” – Victor Frankl
In this age of so much stress, we desperately need to find our center and reconnect with our power and our freedom. The freedom to respond to life with awareness, rather than react impulsively to what it throws our way. Styles of yoga such as Yin Yoga and Restorative Yoga are beneficial to help balance busy lives.
Did you know they are not the same? How do you know which one is better for you? Do you need both or just one of them? What truly is the difference between Restorative and Yin Yoga? An understanding of both practices will help you to decide which styles fit you and your student best.
Yin and Restorative Yoga practices both stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting relaxation. The practices help calm the mind, with your attention on the breath. They’re both gentle and suitable for all ages and levels – from those who are new to yoga to experienced practitioners. Both practices are a beautiful way to reconnect with your true self, your “atman” or the soul within. While both Yin Yoga and Restorative Yoga are slow-paced and stress-relieving practices, they are very different. Yin is all about stretching and applying gentle stress to certain tissues. Restorative Yoga is all about supporting your body, allowing it to relax and heal.
What is Yin Yoga?
Referred to as “The Quiet Practice” by Paul Grilley, Yin Yoga helps us attend to the often-overlooked deep layers of the body, heart, and mind.
When Paul Grilley started to teach yoga, he got fascinated with the concept of long-held yoga postures. He got the idea that an entire yoga class could be yin in nature, without any yang postures at all: an entire Yin Yoga practice was possible. He started offering this “all-Yin” practice to his own Hatha Yoga students, and they too started to respond very well to the practice. This was a new way to look at a very old paradigm. Unlike Restorative Yoga, which can also be viewed as Yin-like, Paul’s Yin Yoga was designed for healthy students, not those recovering from an illness or pathology. Paul Grilley’s modern Yin Yoga was not easy: it was challenging. It took people outside their normal comfort zone, just as yoga had always done.
Yin Yoga focuses on stretching the deep connective tissues in our bodies (ligaments, tendons, and fascia), rather than the more superficial muscle tissue. While the approach may seem simple — holding floor-based postures for several minutes — the results are transformative. Yin Yoga offers an exceptional means to ease and release deeply held tension in the physical body and unleash stagnant or blocked energy. Following a Yin Yoga practice, you feel as if you have space inside and are a great deal lighter too!
Yin Yoga may be slow, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. It can be a deep practice of presence, of surrender, and of showing up to do the deep work that needs to be done. Physically, depending on the posture, it can feel much more challenging than a faster-paced, more yang, practice. The physical discomfort that sets in after approximately 1 to 2 minutes in the pose is confronting. This discomfort, however unpleasant it can be, is necessary and contributes to the transformative effects of Yin Yoga on our connective tissue and fascia.
The 80% rule
An important concept of Yin Yoga, next to the long-held postures, is the 80% rule. The 80% rule must be kept in mind at all times. It says, that to stretch the deeper yin tissues we mustn’t go beyond 80% of our capacity in the pose. Because if we go too deep into the pose, the pressure will come to the yang muscles or we might place too much strain on the yin tissues and create injuries. Therefore, the use of props such as chairs, blocks, bolsters, and blankets is highly encouraged in yin classes.
It is important to remember that we do want to experience ‘orange’ discomfort in Yin Yoga, we do not want to merely indulge in our ‘green’ comfort zone. We want to effectively stress our deeper tissues to activate change at that deepest level and to increase or maintain flexibility around the joints.
What is Restorative Yoga?
Restorative Yoga is a contemplative practice that uses props like chairs, blocks, straps, sandbags, bolsters, and blankets to totally support the body, enabling the release of mind and body tension. It is a slow-paced practice that works to release deep tension passively, without active stretch. Under the guidance of a qualified and experienced teacher, it is a powerful practice and can help a student to restore the body back to its normal flexibility and mobility. Restorative Yoga can be highly beneficial to speed up the healing process of the body after injury or prolonged inactivity. By gently moving the body, and supporting it comfortably in various asanas, Restorative Yoga helps to increase blood circulation, detoxification and prevent the formation of excessive scar tissue.
The practice was developed by B.K.S. Iyengar in order to help people with injuries or illnesses, enabling them to experience the profound healing benefits of yoga without placing their bodies under too much. Iyengar encouraged the use of props and modified asanas to allow the body to relax into poses. “We work very hard in our lives, and while we may sleep, we rarely take time to relax. Restorative yoga poses help to rest deeply and completely” says Judith Hanson Lasater, who has developed Restorative Yoga further.
The practice also helps to relieve chronic stress by providing an environment for total relaxation. A Restorative Yoga practice is the antithesis of the “no-pain-no-gain” mentality. Restorative yoga doesn’t do force. It’s about releasing, surrendering and compassion toward ourselves.
Differences Between Yin and Restorative Yoga
Yin Yoga and Restorative Yoga are often considered to be similar practices, but there are many differences between the two.
Both styles may use props, however, in Yin Yoga, they are used to either help you come into a more beneficial alignment, to deepen the pose or on the other hand side to prevent you from going too deep into the stretch. In Restorative Yoga, props are used to completely support your body. Usually, Restorative Yoga will use far more props than Yin Yoga, which may include straps, blankets, blocks, sandbags and especially bolsters.
Yin Yoga poses are held for about 3-5 minutes, sometimes even 7 minutes if students are experienced. In Restorative Yoga, poses are held for anywhere from 5-10 minutes.
In Yin Yoga, there is an active stretch but in Restorative Yoga, the goal is to be 100% supported and passive with no active stretch.
Which style fits whom?
While Restorative Yoga focuses on restoring bodies with particular ailments, Yin yoga works deep into the connective tissues to activate change. A great practice if you are feeling stuck, stiff, need to let go or are very busy. Yin Yoga is a very effective way to increase or maintain flexibility as it focuses on the areas around the joints. Regular practice will lubricate joints, release the fascia of the body, and greatly complement your yang practices (Hatha, Vinyasa, Ashtanga).
Restorative yoga helps an unhealthy body, or an injured body, restore itself back to the best it can be. Therefore, if you have had a recent injury or have been unwell, this practice is for you. Restorative Yoga supports a body in need of healing. Yin Yoga activates change at a very deep level in an already healthy body to increase performance.
The most interesting aspect of both these styles of yoga is they teach you to feel. Rather than rushing through asanas from breath to breath, Restorative and Yin Yoga both cultivate a powerful inner awareness. You notice sensations in the body and the energy running through it. You become aware of subtle changes in the body and mind, during the practice and in daily life too!
Both Yin and Restorative Yoga are a great balance to the busyness of life and strong yang yoga practices. They both support the deeper aspects of yoga, the mental, emotional and pranic bodies.
- Yin Yoga: Principles and Practice by Paul Grilley
- Complete Guide to Yin Yoga by Bernie Clark and Sarah Powers
- Relax and Renew by Judith Lasater
Pictures credit: Zoi Yoga Italy (Arhanta Yoga Affiliated Studio)
About the Author
Ram is Founding Director of the Arhanta Yoga Ashrams India and The Netherlands. Within the last 10 years, the Arhanta Yoga Ashrams have become renowned internationally for their professional yoga teacher training courses in India and Europe, and have up to present trained over 4000 yoga teachers from all over the world. Ram is also the lead teacher of the 50 hour Yin Yoga teacher training course that takes place twice a year in the Netherlands, as well as the Online Yin Yoga training.