Yin Yoga or Restorative Yoga—You Can Practice These 9 Poses Either Way

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Ever find yourself a little confused by a pose that your yoga teacher calls yin yoga but resembles a restorative pose? It’s not uncommon for yin yoga and restorative yoga to be mistaken as the same practice. After all, they each ask you to remain still in postures for a prolonged amount of time. They each release physical tension. And the poses are sometimes almost identical.

The difference is subtle yet makes a profound difference in the benefits you experience.

The Basics of Yin Yoga and Restorative Yoga

Yin yoga is designed to release physical tension. It does so by targeting the connective tissues rather than the muscles. The dense network of fibers found in the fascia, ligaments, tendons, and deeper connective tissues require longer holds to instigate change. Although yin yoga relies on passive postures, it still requires some effort. By settling into a passive stretch that includes some strain or even discomfort, the muscles relax and allow the tension of the pose to be transferred to the connective tissues, which initiates a series of physiological reactions resulting in enhanced flexibility.

The results of this slow and very intentional manner of stretching have drawn increased attention and interest from athletes as well as anyone who struggles with joint stiffness or tightness in the hamstrings, hips, or lower back.

Restorative asana, or poses, are designed to rest and restore the physical body and mind. Much of the practice is about creating a space of quiet stillness and allowing yourself to find comfort there.

Because there is little effort expended in restorative yoga, it can be a helpful practice for those who are recovering from physical injury and weakness. It can also benefit those struggling with stress, anxiety, or insomnia.

Each practice, though different, creates a situation in which you can breathe deeply, quiet your thoughts, and cultivate body awareness and mindfulness.

In restorative yoga, props are almost always used to support your body and help you feel supported and relaxed. The intention is to exert no effort. A position that creates a mild and comfortable stretch works, although it isn’t necessary.

Props are sometimes used in yin yoga to support your body during a stretch, although they are not as consistently relied upon. There are three primary things that you want to always keep in mind when practicing yin yoga. First, find your edge. You want to feel a stretch, and perhaps even some discomfort, but not pain. Second, remain still. As you settle into the pose, take your time to find a position that allows you the desired stretch. But then allow yourself to stay still. No fidgeting. Last, stay here for time. Yin poses are typically held 3-5 minutes.

RELATED: What’s the Difference Between Yin Yoga and Restorative Yoga?

9 Poses You Can Practice As Yin Yoga Or Restorative Yoga

Each of the below yin and restorative poses are based, in some fashion, on a traditional yoga posture. However, each style of yoga has a different name for the pose, which can be more than a little confounding. Below are the basic pose shapes you may already know, followed by their yin and restorative versions.

1. Pigeon Pose

Come onto your hands and knees and slide your right knee in between your hands, resting it on the mat. Your right shin can be at an angle, with your right heel near your left hip. Straighten your leg behind you, with your hips and pelvis facing the front of the mat. Slowly lean forward with your upper body.

(Photo: Miriam Indries)

Yin: Sleeping Swan

Keep your hands on the mat or come onto your forearms. If you find yourself leaning more of your weight into your right hip, place a bolster or block beneath your glutes on the right side.

(Photo: Miriam Indries)

Restorative: Supported Pigeon Pose

Before you lean forward, place a folded blanket or a couple pillows beneath your right glutes and a bolster or a couple stacked pillows beneath your chest.

2. Reclined Bound Angle

Lie down on your back, bend your knees, and bring the soles of your feet together with your knees gently falling out to the sides. Slide your heels away from you, toward the front of the mat, to form a diamond shape. Rest your arms alongside your body.

(Photo: Miriam Indries)

Yin: Reclined Butterfly or Reclined Bound Angle

If your inner thighs feel strained, place a block or folded blanket beneath your thighs and let the weight of your legs release onto the support. If you prefer more of a stretch, place a block or a folded blanket on each thigh.

(Photo: Miriam Indries)

Restorative: Supta Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle)

Before you lie back, place a bolster, a couple of stacked pillows, or a couple folded blankets lengthwise along the center of the mat. Slowly lie back onto the support. Place a block or a pillow beneath each knee.

3. Wide-Angled Seated Forward Bend

Start seated with your legs straight in front of you and then slide your legs apart a relatively comfortable distance.

Yin: Dragonfly or Straddle Pose

Take your legs far enough apart to meet your edge. Place your hands or forearms on the mat in front of you, shoulder-distance apart, and fold forward from your hips enough to feel a stretch but not a strain in your inner thighs, hips, and/or lower back. You can keep your back straight or allow your upper back to round, but try not to crowd your shoulders near your ears.

(Photo: Miriam Indries)

Restorative: Upavistha Konasana (Seated Wide-Legged Forward Fold)

Place a bolster or stacked pillows in front of you so you can rest your upper body on it. If you feel a strain along the backs of your legs, place a folded blanket or rolled blanket beneath each knee.

4. Sphinx Pose

Lie on your belly with your feet hip-distance apart or wider. Come onto your forearms, sliding your elbows slightly in front of your shoulders. Press your palms into the mat to bring slightly more lift to your chest.

(Photo: Miriam Indries)

Yin: Gaze slightly forward and down or relax your neck and let your head lower.

(Photo: Miriam Indries)

Yin Variation: To intensify the stretch along your back, walk your hands a little forward and slightly wider than your shoulders and then press through your palms to straighten your arms and lift your chest higher.

(Photo: Miriam Indries)

Restorative: Supported Sphinx Pose

Place a bolster or stacked pillows across the mat in front of your chest. Drape your upper body over the support and rest against it. You can adjust the height of the support, taking it as low as you find comfortable. There’s no need to exert effort to hold the pose and you should feel no tension in your shoulders or lower back.

5. Side Stretch

Although the exact shape of this yin and restorative pose isn’t found in traditional yoga, the intense side stretch replicates the experience of Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle) and Parighasana (Gate Pose) as well as other poses but with little or no effort.

 Yin: Butterfly

Lie down on your back and inch your feet as far to the right as possible. You’ll feel a stretch along your left side. Extend your arms alongside your ears, resting them on the mat, and either interlace your fingers or hold your left wrist with your right hand and shift both arms to the right. Ensure both buttocks remain on the mat. To intensify the stretch, place your left ankle on top of your right.

(Photo: Miriam Indries)

Restorative: Side Savasana

Place a bolster on the center of the mat, either lengthwise or crosswise. Lie on your right side with your knees bent and your right hip an inch or two from the bolster. Tuck a pillow or folded blanket between your knees. Lean the right side of your body onto the bolster and extend your arms alongside your head.

6. Shoulderstand

These iterations of Shoulderstand bring you the benefits of inversions but in a less intense, more supported fashion.

(Photo: Miriam Indries)

Yin: Waterfall

Start lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the mat. Lift your hips and pelvis, and place a block on its lowest level beneath the sacrum, which is the flat triangular-shaped bone at the very base of your spine. One leg at a time, extend your feet toward the ceiling. If this is comfortable, you can opt to turn the block on a higher level, although less effort or strain is often more with yin-style stretches, so listen to whatever feedback your body shares.

 

(Photo: Miriam Indries)

Restorative: Legs Up the Wall

Sit alongside a wall with your right hip touching it. Slowly lean back and turn your upper body perpendicular to the wall and extend both legs up the wall. Bring your legs hip-distance apart and rest the full weight of your legs against the wall.

7. Bound Angle Pose

Start in a seated position with your legs straight in front of you. Bend your knees and bring the soles of your feet together and draw your heels toward your inner thighs. Rest your hands on your feet, and lean forward from your hips. Try sitting on a folded blanket for greater comfort and ease of leaning forward.

(Photo: Miriam Indries)

Yin: Butterfly or Bound Angle

Slide your heels farther away from your hips to create a diamond shape. If you experience discomfort in your hips, sit on a block or a folded blanket.

(Photo: Miriam Indries)

Restorative: Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose)

Slide your heels farther away from your hips to create a diamond shape. Place a block or folded blanket beneath each knee and rest a bolster or stacked pillows in front of your body and rest your forehead on it.

8. Yin: Child’s Pose

Come to hands and knees and bring your knees wider than your hips and your big toes to touch. Shift your hips back and rest your glutes on your heels. Extend your arms forward and rest them on the mat or blocks, or reach your arms alongside your body, turning your palms to face up.

(Photo: Miriam Indries)

Yin: Child’s Pose

If your glutes don’t touch your heels, place a bolster, pillow, or rolled blanket in between your heels and glutes and rest your weight on the prop. For more of a stretch in your shoulders, rest your forearms on blocks.

(Photo: Miriam Indries)

Restorative: Child’s Pose

Place a bolster or stacked pillows lengthwise along the center of the mat and rest your chest on it, turning your head to one side. If your glutes don’t touch your heels, place a bolster, pillow, or rolled blanket in between your heels and glutes and rest your weight on the prop. If you’d like cushioning beneath your forehead, place a folded blanket beneath it.

9. Reclined Hero Pose

Come to a seated position with your legs straight in front of you. Shift your weight onto your left side, bend your right knee, and bring your right heel alongside your right hip. Repeat with your other leg so both knees are bent and linger here or keep one leg straight and stretch and then repeat on the other side. Keep your knees in line with your hips and sit upright or start to slowly lean back, walking your hands alongside your hips. If this is comfortable, come onto your forearms. If you want a more intense stretch, lower your back to the mat, keeping your knees from lifting.

(Photo: Miriam Indries)

Yin: Saddle

Keep your knees drawn toward one another or in line with your hips. Slowly start to walk your hands toward the back of the mat, leaning your upper body backward as little or as much as is comfortable. You’ll first bring your palms on the mat behind your body. Stay here or bring your forearms to the mat. If at any point it feels comfortable, you can lower yourself all the way so your back rests on the mat. You can also place a bolster or stacked pillows lengthwise along the center of the mat and rest on that. Rest your arms alongside your body, palms up, or you can bring your arms alongside your ears and gently grasp opposite elbows.

(Photo: Miriam Indries)

Restorative: Reclined Hero

Place a bolster or stacked pillows lengthwise along the center of the mat. Sit facing away from it with your glutes an inch or two away and lie back on it. Allow your knees to draw slightly apart from one another but do not take them wider than your hips.

About Our Contributor

Miriam Indries is a 500-hour-plus yoga teacher and YTT trainer. With a vast experience of teaching asana and meditation as well as yoga teacher trainings, she is devoted to her mission and service of sharing yoga philosophy around the world through her teachings. She spent time in India studying yoga philosophy and advanced asana practice. Miriam is also an Ayurveda Practitioner, Pilates instructor and fitness enthusiast. Additionally, she has academic qualifications in Psychology (B.A) and NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) with an emphasis on behavior, effective goal setting, and strategies for self-development. Her love for learning also led her to studies in Traditional Chinese Medicine, body language, and reflexology and she continues to remain a student of life. She currently teaches at in Greece as the creator and lead teacher of the YTTs.

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