What’s the difference between yin and restorative yoga?

There are similarities – for example, in both restorative and yin, we hold passive poses for longer periods of time, often assisted by the use of props like blankets, blocks, bolsters, and straps.

Both offer deep stress relief. Both emphasize stillness. Some of the poses even look the same in both styles. But there are a lot of differences.

First, while at first yin may look incredibly restful, it’s actually a very physical practice. Yin yoga poses work into the deep fascia, the connective tissue of the joints that’s sometimes hard to access. In yin yoga, you’re looking for sensation – to feel it, and then to find stillness within it.

In restorative yoga, the work is in the release. You’re exerting little to no effort, allowing yourself to be supported for deep rest.

Second, the internal experience of the two styles is completely different.

Yin yoga helps to clear the meridians, the energetic pathways in the body, so that chi (prana, life force energy) can flow freely throughout the body. Finding stillness in the postures also increases your capacity to sit with and examine that sensation, helping to process emotions and build resilience.

In restorative yoga, the focus is on creating a deep state of mental and physical rest so that your nervous system can down-regulate.

So which should you practice?

Because yin yoga places stress on the connective tissue of the joints, those healing from injury or who have had knee or hip surgery should exercise caution.

Restorative yoga can be beneficial even if you have an injury or illness or are physically depleted. It can also be incredibly healing for those healing from trauma. However, while restorative yoga is intended to be relaxing, it can be difficult or even triggering for some people. Those with anxiety, PTSD symptoms, early stages of grief, or other states of high levels of stress might find it challenging to find and hold stillness in restorative postures. A little sensation can provide a point of focus for the mind, making yin a potentially great option for those folks.

Here’s the bottom line: Restorative and yin yoga are very different in their intention, but both offer deep benefits for physical and mental well-being.

Wanna give these styles a try? I have restorative and yin yoga practices on my YouTube channel, and am adding more all the time, so be sure to check that out and subscribe so you don’t miss new practices. And if you’re local to Little Rock, I teach a donation-based yin class at Arkansas Yoga Collective on the first Friday of every month. Come see me!

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