Updated: Jul 2, 2019
A frequent question we receive in our yoga studio here in Jacksonville is, "What is the difference between Yin Yoga and Restorative Yoga?" It's a great question; because even though there are many striking similarities in these two styles of yoga, there are important distinctions. While both of these practices are inward and contemplative practices, the intentions are very different and the experiences are quite unique.
WHAT IS YIN YOGA?
Yin yoga is based on the Taoist concept of yin and yang, opposite and complementary principles in nature. The yin aspect of the practice focuses on the stillness, the unmoving and unseen, the less flexible and more taut connective tissues in the body. The yang aspect of the practice focuses on the moving, the changing and revealing, the malleability of muscles and fluidity of blood.
According to Chinese medicine, yin yoga postures are intended to improve the flow of the subtle energy known as "qi" or "chi" or "prana" that travels through the meridian pathways (nadis) of the body, improving organ health, boosting immunity, and promoting emotional well-being. Similar to the way acupuncture influences these energetic pathways, yin yoga places the physical body into longer-held shapes in order to access this same internal energetic map.
In order to be able to access the less pliable web-like layer of connective tissue in the body, the muscles need to relax as a slow and steady load or stress is placed upon the connective tissue, which is why the postures are held for longer periods of time, sometimes up to 4 or 5 minutes. Yin is considered a "cool" practice and is most effective when done with "cold" muscles. The majority of yin postures are experienced on the floor and target the lower part of the body: lower spine, hips, pelvis, thighs. You may find that many of the bodily shapes in this style of practice are similar or identical to what you may experience in a yang (moving) practice; but because the intention is different, the postures, although similar, have different identifying names.
What is Restorative Yoga?
While Restorative Yoga offers many of the same inward qualities as a Yin Yoga practice, the underlying intention is notably different. In Restorative Yoga, props such as blankets, blocks, bolsters, chairs, sandbags, eye pillows and more are utilized to support the body in such a way that it can completely surrender into a state of deep relaxation. Oftentimes called "conscious relaxation" or "constructive rest," it is a practice softening into full-body presence while simultaneously letting go.
Postures in a restorative yoga experience are all floor-based and can be held anywhere from 8 to 25 minutes. These longer holds are an integral part of the process of relaxing the layers of the physical body and activating the relaxation response or parasympathetic nervous system, also referred to as the "rest and digest" system. The parasympathetic system is the opposite of the sympathetic nervous system or stress response, sometimes called "fight or flight," and contributes to the conservation of energy as it slows the heart rate and increases intestinal and gland activity.