The Names of Yin Poses

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Nancy Nelson

If you have experienced yin yoga before and have practiced other styles – you’ve probably noticed some name changes here and there. Here are some examples:

When I first started teaching yin yoga (before I had my yin training and deeper understanding), I just called the poses their “yang” names. Why? Simply because it felt more comfortable and I didn’t want to confuse myself as a new teacher. Every time I recited a pose name though, I heard this little voice inside asking me to explore the reasoning. I’m a student by nature and ultimately I just wanted to know all the details in case it could impact the experience. And I am so glad that I did the work to get this context. I’m excited to share – so let’s dive on in!

Intention is Key

Remember the energy of yin and yang. Yin is yielding, cool, slow and steady. Yang is engaging, warm, active and varying. This is exactly why some of the names of yin postures will be different than that of the yang postures.

First let’s talk about the physical intention. On a physical level, yin and yang differ in their approach and impact greatly. In yin yoga, we are seeking to stress (apply healthy pressure to) the yin tissues of the body. This includes the cartilage, bones, ligaments, tendons and fascia to name a few. The approach to improve the health and longevity of these tissues is through extended holds, gentle pressure and a cool environment. For yang styles of yoga, we are hoping to stress the yang tissues of the body. Two of the key tissues impacted by yang activity are muscles and skin. The impact on yin tissues may look small, but it is long lasting and can affect our mobility for years to come. Whereas our yang tissues can be strengthened and stretched in big ways visible to the eye, but have more superficial and short-lived results. For more information on the tissues of yin yoga – check out the webinar on yin tissues.

With all of this in mind, our energetic intention will differ in a yin and yang experience. The way that we enter, hold, and exit is going to look completely unique depending on the circumstances we find ourselves in. Another important note is that because of the yin or yang environment, though the pose may appear the same on the outside – it does not feel the same (physically or energetically) on the inside. Of course there are slight variations to yin postures in appearance. For instance, caterpillar pose in yin encourages a rounded spine to apply acupressure to the meridian lines. Whereas, paschimottanasana focuses more on a lengthened spine to direct more pressure into the muscles of the legs and hips.

Anyway – returning to our previous thought. When a pose looks generally the “same” on the exterior, what is happening inside may feel totally unique from yin to yang. Take note of this phenomenon in your own body. Treat yourself to a yin class one day and a yang class the next. Note how swan feels in yin and pigeon feels in your yang class. They may appear to be the same pose, but they won’t feel that way. In yin, we move away from effort and into ease. Letting gravity and time work their magic. This trains our minds and hearts to learn to be okay with times of stillness and to sit with the discomfort that may be present in our lives.

Let’s also consider the contrast of a pigeon and a swan as animals in nature.

A swan slowly enters the lake, glides so quietly you cannot even hear it as it progresses slowly through the body of water. A pigeon quickly flutters to and fro, pecks its head at the site of any nibble of food it can get. Of course the pose looks like both of these animals, but referring to the type of lifestyle these birds follow will give you insight into it being yin or yang. You may have 7 minutes per side to “glide” like a swan in yin. Whereas in a flow class, you may only have 5 breaths per side in the pose to flutter in and out. Now, I’m often the teacher that likes to give my flow-ers a taste of yin and hold them there a bit longer. There’s a sneaky way to plug your people into some yin style practice if you want to create some converts.

Let’s break down our example a bit further…

Emotions

You may remember a time having an emotional experience in a yoga class. In my practice, I have found that the type of emotions and how they manifest in a yin class vs. a yang class vary greatly. Returning to our example of swan and pigeon pose. I have a recollection of a time in a yin class where I felt the slow build of grief and sadness that I hadn’t worked through in my life. It was a quiet, slow progression. I was able to sit in those heavy emotions and let them work through. Another memory is from one of my first hot vinyasa classes that I attended. In the long-awaited pigeon pose, it only took a couple of breaths for me to access the emotions of frustration and anger that I was dealing with in a relationship in my life. This manifested in me actually boo-hooing and externally expressing my emotion through tears. None of this is meant to imply that you won’t cry in yin and you will in yang (I’ve experienced the opposite too!), but rather to point you back to the very nature of yin and yang. Then, with this in mind – to simply observe what kind of emotions surface in the pose and how you naturally express them.

Do you have an example to share? I would love to hear from you in the comments below!

Now, this explanation will apply in different ways to some of the poses. Some poses will have a very obvious reasoning for the yin name versus the yang name. Others it will be a bit mysterious. This leave it open to interpretation! Note your experiences in the asana and feel it out for yourself. I’ve even been known to rename poses based on what I feel more properly sums up the sensations. One thing I love about yin yoga is that it is still being defined and explored in new ways. Though it’s been around for a while, it’s just now rising in popularity. The poses and practices of yang are already pretty set in stone. I find the world of yin to be more relaxed in general, so glide on in and have some fun with your explorations here!

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2 Responses

  1. Almost all my teaching has been yin.
    When I first started practicing yoga regularly, in late 2013, I was going through severe emotional distress.

    Fast flowing vinyasa and ashtanga were more my speed, but I would so to yin to try to fill my evenings.

    I struggled A LOT with the stillness. I focused a lot of the body sensations to avoid the feeling of being trapped.

    Slowly, as I became familiar with my body, this changed and yin became where I found deep peace.

    This is why my teaching slowly evolved to more and more yin and less yang. I think many people need the break and the time to really reconnect with their body.

    Anne

    1. This is powerful, Anne. Thanks so much for sharing and for your support through the years. Love having you “here”.

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Titles for Website (38)
Nancy Nelson
Nancy Nelson
Nancy is the fearless leader here at Nancy Nelson Yoga! She has been instructing yoga since 2012 and is certified as a Registered Yoga Teacher (E-RYT 500, YACEP) with Yoga Alliance. She loves guiding yoga classes in all forms – from sweaty vinyasa flows, to slow mindful movement - but her favorite style to practice and teach is yin yoga. She attended a formal 50-hour Yin Yoga training with Bernie Clark and Diana Batts in the fall of 2018 and it truly propelled her into developing her yin focused website, webinars and trainings.

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