If you’re new to yin yoga and restorative yoga, you’ll be forgiven for asking yourself what exactly is the difference between these two practices? Let’s be honest, you might even ask this question as a seasoned yogi! Yin yoga and restorative yoga are both practised on the floor. With more of a focus on rest, relaxation, and stretching, you won’t be working up a sweat or mistaking these classes for vinyasa. Leave your downward-facing dog for another day, because yin and restorative are all about deep rest.
Upon close inspection, yin and restorative classes are actually quite different – both physically and philosophically. However, you may just find that both paths lead to the same destination.
The physical differences between yin yoga and restorative yoga
Yes – you have probably seen your local yoga studio advertising a ‘yin/restorative’ class. And this isn’t wrong. Yin and restorative practices are physically similar and complimentary, so teaching a hybrid of the two makes sense. After a strong, stretchy yin pose, your body will delight in a restful, restorative asana. Both of these practices are restorative and yin-like in nature – they’re slow, on the floor and invite you to rest, relax and spend time with your Self.
The main physical difference between the two practices is that in a restorative yoga class your body should be completely comfortable – like you could fall asleep. You’ll use props to support your body in a way that leaves you undistracted by physical sensation and completely at ease. Conversely, in a yin yoga practice you can dance around the edges of your comfort. Come again?! In yin yoga you’re asked to explore your edge and allow your body to feel some sensation. It shouldn’t be painful or too strong – but you’re not going to have a nap. In yin, your body’s deeper connective tissue (fascia) is being explored and released, and so a sensation of stretching is necessary.
Based on the teachings of the late B.K.S Iyengar, restorative yoga is essentially a practice of passive healing. It is perfect for students with trauma or injury as you use props to completely support each asana, inviting you to surrender to deep relaxation. Restorative yoga may be viewed as more of a meditation than an asana practice, as the sensation experienced is very minimal. You won’t want to go to a restorative yoga class if you’re feeling like a workout and your mind is racing – but it might be exactly what you need!
Yin yoga, on the other hand, was introduced in the late eighties by Paul Grilley. It is inspired by the ancient Taoist philosophies of yin and yang – opposite but complimentary principles in nature. Based on Traditional Chinese Medicine, yin yoga invites ‘chi’ or ‘Qi’ to move through your body’s meridians (energy highways). When you practice yin yoga you will sometimes experience strong sensations – which can make yin more physically and mentally challenging than restorative yoga.
Both practices have been created to impact your emotional body as much as your physical one, and both promise to bring deeper awareness and a level of healing.
Props for your practice
If you can use just a single prop for your yin or restorative yoga practice – let it be the mighty bolster! A bolster can be used in so many ways – to invite deeper stretching in heart openers, to support your hips, and to allow ultimate relaxation in Savasana. Blocks, straps, and an eye pillow will also come in handy if you want the full experience.
What is right for you? Restorative or yin yoga?
Both yin and restorative practices are perfect for busy bodies and minds. You will be invited to find comfort both physically and emotionally, and as the body begins to relax and unwind, the mind can experience a sense of peace and deep rest. If you like to feel like you’re ‘doing something’, yin might be a good place to start. You’ll experience a tangible shift in your body which can be quite powerful.
If you are working with an injury or feel intimidated by the thought of attending a yoga class, start with restorative. It will allow you to explore your body in a gentle and restful way – without comparing yourself to your neighbour (you won’t be able to see them through closed eyes and props anyway!).
Either way – leave your yang mind at the door and prepare to feel deliciously rested, restored and released.
Words by Jessica Humphries for Yoga King