Yin vs Restorative: you mean they aren’t actually the same?

I’m going to post a series explaining the class designations and types of yoga in greater detail, with the hopes of clearing up any discrepancies and helping y’all select classes that better suit your needs. With more and more studios getting creative with their naming structure to try and attract new and more students, it might not clear up everything but at least maybe the basics will be covered.

So let’s start with two classes that are usually NOT creatively named but commonly confused for one another: Yin and Restorative. They are most often interchanged by people because they are both done on the ground, without much movement, have restorative results for the body and can have props BUT they are very different in their approaches and goals.

Yin
Props: depends on instructor
Heated: not normally

This is a practice with one goal: reaching the fascia, ligaments and connective tissue of the body. The yang practices (pretty much all other practices, except restorative) work your muscles but none of them access deep enough to reach this fascia and over time it gets shorter and tighter and that makes the body stiffer. If you want to envision the fascia think of the silver skin on a slab of meat, how attached it is, how hard it can be to even get the point of a knife through it and then how difficult it can be to remove it, how strong it is. Yin, gently and safely, stresses this material through long holds of 2-5 minutes. You may do a posture that is similar to one in your regular practice, like lizard for example, but in Yin it is called dragon because when you hold it for 3 minutes? IT BREATHES FIRE INTO YOUR HIPS OMFG. Here’s the thing though, you don’t use your muscles to hold these postures. I know. The trick is to totally surrender to your connective tissues, to relax into every posture and let go. If you grip? You aren’t going to get that benefit. Now, depending on the instructor, you may or may not use props. Some instructors will want you to use minimal props, maybe a block, maybe a blanket. Others will tell you to load up on the props, knowing you won’t actually be able to let go of the muscular effort without them. It’s a practice to get to that level of release with your body screaming at you. It truly is, but it is SO beneficial. Over time you may see growth in your flexibility, you may just see less stiffness, you may never never notice anything at all-if you started it early enough avoid the stiffness ever taking hold in the first place.

The other thing to note about a Yin practice? Probably the most important thing to note about a Yin practice? Keeping the mind calm and still when your body is screaming and you are attempting to hold it still for long periods of time is…difficult. Usually when the mind starts telling you to GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT, people start fidgeting RULL BAD. It’s good to always bring focus back to your breath or have a mantra to repeat to yourself as a distraction from the body. Especially if you don’t have already have a strong meditation practice. Sometimes depending on the area of the body, unexpected emotions can be released during these long holds, and again the focus needs to be brought back to the breath, the body needs to remain still, the muscles unclenched. I would consider Yin an advanced practice for these reasons. Many people can’t or don’t want to handle stillness.

Restorative
Props: all of them
Heated: not normally

This is a practice with one goal: relaxation. I like to call it guided adult nap time with props. Your body gets more rejuvenation out of 1 hour of restorative than it does out of 3 hours of sleep. It’s a deep rest. It’s like what you feel in savasana but imagine a whole hour of that. My former restorative teacher was THE BEST, we all walked out of her class like blissful little zombies. If you are dealing with a lot of stress in your life? If you aren’t sleeping? If you have a strong, body-depleting flow practice? If you are a runner or cyclist or do some other active exercise? If you have chronic illness? You owe it to yourself to get into a restorative class ASAP. It also holds poses for longer periods of time but you are EXTREMELY supported by blankets, blocks, bolsters, sandbags and straps. Your eyes are closed. There is typically soothing music. The lights are low. Feel free to pop an eye pillow over your eyes or cover your head with a blanket. MANY people fall completely asleep. There is no stress of any kind.

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You can do this practice at home (actually either of them, once you are experienced, but Yin has too much possibility of injury to try it at home without knowledge and a strong studio practice first). I have professional props, which you can buy online via Amazon, other websites or your local studio if they offer them, but if you don’t want to do that you can certainly use items from around your house to make do. Here’s a post about using things from around your house as props. In that photo of me above, I am fighting a wicked migraine so I have an additional item: an ace bandage wrapped around my head as prescribed by BKS Iyengar (and in one of the books, Relax and Renew by Judith Lasater, we are using in my Restorative Yoga Teacher Training in a couple of weeks). That isn’t a normal happening in a restorative class but it totally helped, definitely recommend.

So that’s Yin vs. Restorative. I hope it cleared some things up for you or maybe opened your eyes to some classes you might not have thought to try before. Let me know if there is something specific you’d like to see next!

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