The Many Gifts of a Yin Yoga Practice

by Tara Cindy Sherman, E-RYT 500, YACEP

I came to the practice of Yin Yoga some 16 years ago when a friend and student of mine lent me a few CDs of Sarah Powers leading Yin. My friend had just studied with Sarah and was really excited about Yin Yoga and thought it would resonate with me as well. She was right, I fell in love with it immediately and added it to my personal practice regularly.

Go deeper in meditation

One of the most powerful things for me was how Yin Yoga could be an extension of my Mediation practice. Yin allowed me to move inward in a way that other asanas practices typically didn’t. In the longer held postures of Yin I found that I could quiet my mind, learn how to be still and incorporate yogic methods of concentration that led to deeper states of meditation. Yin Yoga benefits the body, mind, and spirit, and while I felt the effects of my practice on all of these levels, I was most drawn to the inner stillness and presence that I experienced.

A completely different style of yoga

Yin Yoga is often called the “Chinese form of yoga” as it comes to us from the teachings of Taoism. It was brought to this country via Paulie Zink who taught it to Paul Grilley who taught it to Sarah Powers and so on. The form taught in the United States involves postures held for upwards of 2-3 minutes. This pools the energy from the surface of the body and builds life force in the inner body to enhance the flow of chi—what yogis who practice Hatha often call prana—through the meridians—or nadis—of the body.

Some of the postures we do in Yin look like the poses in Hatha Yoga and go by different names, and some poses are completely unique. The primary focus of Yin Yoga is on forward bends which affect the areas and meridians of the body that run from the navel to the knees.

How Yin Yoga works

Yin Yoga works with the deeper tissues in the body. It can help release chronic holding patterns in the physical body, as well as emotionally. It enhances the flow of energy through the body and is said to boost the life force and strengthen the immune system. Yin Yoga is also said to “juice” the body’s connective tissues, helping them to stay supple and mobile.

The overall effects of Yin Yoga vary. The practice promotes health in the body, as well as well-being in the mind and peace in the spirit. As you move into a Yin posture, it’s important to find your healthy edge, settle in and make sure that you are listening to, and honoring your body’s feedback. Use support if you need it and then be still and breathe. Let your mind follow your breath deeper and deeper into the sensations of the body and notice what happens.

Called to teach Yin Yoga

I decided to teach Yin Yoga because it had such a profound effect on my life. I wanted to share that experience with others. As I mentioned before, Yin Yoga was primarily an extension of my meditation practice, and a way to continue the journey into deeper states of awareness. Over time, I discovered that the longer held postures lent themselves to emotional releases as well.

I lost my former husband to addiction not long before I was introduced to Yin Yoga. While I had moved through the healing process some at that point, the practice of Yin Yoga brought me to the next level. As I held those Yin poses and simply rested there, I was able to hold space for whatever wanted to come up. That space allowed grief to rise up in more profound ways. Yin helped me process grief around losing my husband, grief from childhood abuse and self-inflicted abuse from my young adult life. The effect of this was much like that of breathing fresh air after a big storm. I felt cleansed and refreshed.

Not all Yin classes are the same

Yin uses a standard set of poses, but how individuals sequence a class, or encourage the use of props, or steadiness and comfort may be different from class to class. Some instructors focus more on the meridians and which organs they are affecting, others focus on the connective tissues and what’s happening with the joints, some may bring in Yogic philosophies such as the Koshas or Chakras, while others still may give Dharma talks during the holding of the postures. I like to offer a combination of all these with a focus on meditation. I find that as the practice progresses and people start to drop, I don’t need to talk as much. I prefer the method of moving into stillness to promote an inward Yin experience and move away from outer distractions.

Adding Yin Yoga to your yoga toolbox

As a teacher of yoga teachers, I knew I needed to share this yoga modality with my teacher students so that they could add Yin Yoga to their yogic toolbox. I created a 15-hour Yin Yoga training that shares the fundamentals and best parts of the practice so that they can, in turn, share the practice with others.

Yoga teachers might choose to study Yin Yoga because:

  • It helps to ground us as teachers and it grounds our students, which is something most of us could use in this day and age.
  • The practice gets us out of our head and into our body, cultivating the opportunity to be more embodied.
  • It forces students to slow down, pay attention and listen to their intuition to discover what they need in the moment.
  • It stretches the connective tissues and brings more suppleness and flexibility to the physical body. It can help free the joints and create more ease and range of movement.
  • It is a perfect counterbalance to a more active asana practice or lifestyle, yet is suitable for those who have physical limitations.

How to use Yin in your yoga classes

Yin poses can be offered at the beginning of a standard yoga class as a way to drop in and ground. A single pose can have a profound effect, allowing students to shift their minds from everything out there to what is happening in the moment. Teachers who choose to incorporate Yin into their classes are recommended to practice Yin first before going to more active Yang poses, as Yin is most effective when the muscles are less warm.

You might also incorporate a short sequence of hip opening Yin postures to help work up to peak poses such as Eka Pada Rajakapotasana, King Pigeon or Hanumanasana, the splits. Or you might cycle a complete Yin class into their regular rotation, or add a Yin Yoga Class, Series, or Workshop to their schedule.

Take Yin Yoga Training with Tara

If you’d like to add Yin Yoga to your teaching toolbox, I’d love to have you join me for my 15-hour Yin Yoga Training. Participants receive a 15-hour certification and continuing education (CE) credit with Yoga Alliance. During the training we cover:

The theory and origins of Yin Yoga

  • Yin Yoga Postures, their benefits and contraindications, meridians and chakras effected, and variations and modifications
  • How to sequence a Yin class
  • A comprehensive manual outlining 3 full sequences on the different topics of the Koshas, Chakras and Meridians complete with diagrams of the postures
  • Scripts for yoga nidra and/or relaxation for the end of class
  • Basics of Meridians and Energy Body
  • Incorporation of Yogic Meditations during class
  • How to make Yin Yoga accessible for all body types and levels

I’ve been practicing Yoga & Meditation for 33 years and teaching for 26. I started teaching Yin 15 years ago and have worked with folks struggling with eating disorders, trauma, addiction, anxiety and depression. I bring all of these experiences to my yoga teacher trainings, sharing my insights and experience in an accessible and encouraging way.

Join us for Yin Yoga Teacher Training with Tara Cindy Sherman on January 24-26 at the Yoga Center Retreat.


Tara Cindy Sherman demonstrates dragonfly pose and lotus mudra.