yin yoga poses

Everything You Need to Know About Yin Yoga

Here's how to start reaping the benefits of Yin yoga in your own life.

By Team PelotonApril 7, 2023


The practice of yoga is prolific, with yoga studios and at-home practice guides helping millions of aspiring yogis to find their flows and achieve their zen. But you may not know that there are 2 different branches of yoga: Yin and Yang. 

You’re probably most familiar with Yang yoga, which focuses on movement and breathing to fire up the body and keep it warm with repetitive and fast-paced flows and sequences. But this article is going to focus on the lesser-known—but still wildly beneficial—practice of Yin yoga, which is a much slower and gentler form of yoga that’s gaining in popularity as more and more yogis and yoga teachers are turning to it to help balance out their hectic and stress-ridden lifestyles. 

Here, we will briefly review the benefits of this particular style of yoga and introduce you to seven of the most popular Yin poses to help you get started on your Yin yoga transformation.  

What is Yin Yoga?

Yin yoga is a form of yoga that specifically targets your deep connective tissue, like your ligaments, joints, and bones. The goal is to stretch and lengthen your muscles and tissues by holding poses for long periods. There is a substantial inward focus in Yin yoga, and it creates space to tune into the mind and body by sitting with and breathing through potential discomfort and intrusive thoughts. 

Yin yoga is based on ancient Chinese Taoist philosophies and traditions, focusing on being at one with everything and in harmony with your personal nature. The practice of stretching and breathing into deep poses helps the body and mind “unblock” and release negative energies. 

The goal of Yin yoga differs from other forms of yoga in that poses are meant to be held for a very long time, sometimes even for several minutes, instead of flowing through the postures freely. And the s help access your deeper tissues and focus on areas around the joint, like the hip flexors and spine. 

Yin Yoga Benefits

  • Develop breath awareness: Focusing on the breath is paramount in Yin yoga because it draws your attention away from some more uncomfortable poses. In Yin yoga, you’ll do a lot of “breathing through it” as you expand your ribs and belly on each inhale and pull your navel to your spine on your exhales.  

  • Make your joints more flexible: As you deepen into your postures in Yin yoga, you will find that your fascia, or connective tissues, become more elastic as tension gets released. As your fascia gets longer and stronger, your joints will become more mobile, which will help you increase your range of motion. 

  • Boost blood circulation: Remember how you focus on breathing in Yin yoga? This means oxygen pumps freely into your body, boosting blood flow and circulation. 

  • Provides a relaxing effect: If you’re looking for something to help you relax and eliminate stress, Yin yoga is it. Deep breathing and relaxation activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which signals your brain to tell the anxious part that you’re safe and don’t need to use the fight, flight, or freeze response. In fact, many yogis like to practice Yin yoga at the end of the day to help them unwind, relax, and prepare for sleep. 

  • Improves mental and physical health: Combining deep breathing with relaxing poses meant to increase flexibility can have long-term and positive effects on your mind and body. Studies have shown that Yin yoga reduces physiological and psychological risk factors and could limit the adverse health effects of high stress. 

Holding Your Pose

You’re not alone if you’re wondering why you need to hold your Yin yoga poses for so long. Most of the popular Yin yoga poses look like they’d be simple, but when held for a long time can become quite challenging. Some poses are recommended to be held for up to five minutes, which can feel like five hours when you’re in a pose challenging your flexibility and mental strength

But keeping the posture is what makes Yin yoga so effective. Connective tissue responds well to a slow, steady load, explaining why poses are held longer. If you gently stretch connective tissue by holding a Yin pose for a while, the body will respond by making it a little longer and stronger— precisely what you want. And since you’re relieving tension and stretching your body passively, you won’t be shaking and sweating too much. 

Traditionally, this form of yoga is thought to move “chi” or life force energy throughout the body. Another reason poses are held for so long in Yin yoga is to help move that energy throughout the body and break any harmful buildup, usually with hip opening poses.

Is Yin Yoga Good for Beginners?

In a physical sense, Yin yoga is great for beginners because the poses are simple and focus on breathing and meditation. But while Yin yoga presents as a simple and quiet practice on the surface, don’t think it will be easy or comfortable. 

Yin yoga can push you out of your comfort zone by forcing your gaze inward toward the internal voice that will help you push through the postures and breathe through the discomfort. But advocates would say this is precisely where the practice’s physical benefits and true magic lie. 

Due to the long hold times and intense sensations some poses can cause, beginners should proceed with caution and extra respect toward their minds and bodies. 

If you’re brand new to yoga and want more insight into slow-flow yoga, you can check out Peloton’s beginner slow-flow yoga guide for helpful insights on the best place to start. And if you’re new to the meditation and mindfulness game (welcome!), you can check out some of Peloton instructor Aditi Shah’s insights on meditating

7 Yin Yoga Poses to Try

Butterfly Pose

butterfly pose

Begin in a seated position. Press your feet together and start to fold forward from your hips. Let your spine relax and round out as you press your forehead towards your feet, allowing gravity to pull your upper body down. Try to hold the pose for three to five minutes. 

Muscles worked: Butterfly helps stretch the spine, inner thighs, and hamstrings. It’s great for working on your hip mobility.

Caterpillar Pose

Begin in a seated position. Consider sitting on a folded blanket or cushion for extra comfort. Stretch your legs straight in front of you, then fold forward from your hips, letting your spine round out and relax. Keep your legs and your feet relaxed. You should start feeling gentle sensations along your spine and hamstrings. Try to hold the pose for three to five minutes. 

Muscles worked: Caterpillar helps stretch the spine and the hamstrings.

Dragonfly Pose

dragonfly pose

Begin in a seated position. Spread your legs and stretch your legs out widely on either side of your torso. Then, gently start to fold forward from your hips, rounding out your spine and relaxing your neck while you push your hands out on the floor before you. You should start feeling gentle sensations down your spine and inner thighs. Try to hold the pose for three to five minutes. 

Muscles worked: Dragonfly helps stretch the inner thighs, hamstrings, and spine and increases hip mobility.

Sphinx Pose

sphinx pose

Begin lying down on your front, and move your elbows under your shoulders. Push up gently, lifting your torso by pulling your shoulders away from your neck and letting your shoulder blades slide down your back. Keep your hips and legs firmly rooted on the floor. Try to hold the pose for one to three minutes. 

Muscles worked: Sphinx stretches the front of the body, the hip flexors, and the spine. 

Swan Pose

Begin on all fours. Slide your left knee forward, placing it behind your left wrist. Make sure your left ankle is positioned in front of your right hip, and flex your left foot. Tuck the toes of your right foot under, and slide your right leg straight out behind you. Keep your weight centered between your hips, then gently slide your arms forward as you let gravity pull your upper body down. You should feel gentle sensations in your hips as you stretch forward. Try to hold the pose for one to three minutes, then repeat on your right side.  

Muscles worked: Swan helps stretch the hips and hip flexors. 

Frog Pose

Begin on all fours and spread your knees wide. Keep your shins parallel to the floor and point your feet outward. Keep your hips in line with your knees as you slowly sink onto your elbows, keeping your forearms flush to the floor. You can extend your arms straight out or deepen the pose by pushing your chest flat to the mat. You should start to feel gentle sensations in your inner thighs. Try to hold the pose for one to three minutes.

Muscles worked: Frog helps stretch the inner thighs. 

Savasana Pose

This should be your final resting pose. Lie flat on your back, with your legs long and arms at your side. Close your eyes, and beginning at the crown of your head, start to relax your muscles one by one, down to the tips of your toes. Draw attention to areas of your body that feel tight or strained, and actively send your breath and consciousness to help yourself fully relax. Lie in this position, breathing deeply, for three to five minutes, before slowly bringing consciousness back into your body and mind. 

Yoga Classes with Peloton

Hopefully, by now, you’ve been inspired to explore Yin yoga in your fitness routine and start experiencing its undeniable benefits in your body, mind, and lifestyle. If you’re looking for the ultimate yoga instructors, check out the Peloton App for some fantastic flows. 

And remember, every Yin yoga enthusiast will tell you that mastering this form of yoga will likely be a lifelong journey as you get better at finding your inner voice and being comfortable in the stillness.


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