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

Yin Yoga and Restorative Yoga: Same, Same, But Different?

As a teacher who specializes in teaching Yin Yoga, I am often shocked by class descriptions labeled as Yin / Restorative. If you are a teacher or studio owner who has never taken any specialized training in either Yin or Restorative Yoga, I can see how the two could be confused as interchangeable.

The two styles can look similar from the outside, but from the inside, they are very different practices. They have different intentions and they feel very different physically, mentally, and even energetically. Both are beautiful practices; I love and practice them both, but labeling them as the same does a disservice to both.

So, what are the common elements shared in Yin Yoga and Restorative Yoga, and what are the differences?

Let’s start with what the two may have in common:

Stillness. Once we have taken the shape, we move toward stillness. Occasionally there are some small gentle movements in a restorative pose at the start, but normally it quickly settles into stillness.

Longer holds. Both styles of Yoga have longer hold times than a more active class. In a Yin class, the holds average 3 to 5 minutes at a time. In Restorative Yoga, hold times can vary, ranging anywhere from 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the pose, teacher, and the practitioner.

Quiet. Both classes tend to have less talking from the teacher than a more active class. Both Yin and Restorative classes are likely to be quieter and contain longer spaces between cueing from the teacher (although often almost complete silence in Restorative Yoga).

Same, same, but . . .

Use of props. Restorative Yoga leans heavily on props. It’s not uncommon to have more than one bolster, a few blankets, bricks and blocks, chairs, eye pillows and more. Some Yin teachers (like myself) may use props in their classes to make the poses more accessible (or even possible) for a wide range of students. However, props are not needed for a Yin practice—in fact, I have been to Yin classes where there are no available props at all.

Restorative Yoga pose
Restorative Yoga

“Restorative Yoga is the use of props to support the body in positions of comfort and ease to facilitate relaxation and health. Restorative Yoga is about opening, not about stretching. A few of the poses might create a slight stretch, but stretching is not the intention at all.”

– Judith Hanson Lasater, Ph.D., PT.

From the outside, Yin Yoga and Restorative Yoga can look similar, but from the inside, they couldn’t feel more different.

In Yin Yoga, we definitely want to feel a noticeable sensation in our body! It could be stretch, compression, or even the energetic sensations of the Qi. But one thing is for sure: in Yin Yoga, you want to feel notable sensations in your body. Because of the intention to feel sensations through the duration of the pose, Yin can often be quietly challenging—mentally and emotionally.

Yin Yoga pose
Yin Yoga Seal Pose

The after-effect or resonance of a Yin pose is hard to miss and is unique to Yin. Yin practice focuses on deep fascia, large bands of connective tissue, meridians (via the sinew channels) and Qi. In our Yin practice, we can affect the energy pathways of our body in a very noticeable way, which is different than the energetic effects of Restorative Yoga.

There you have it: Yin yoga versus Restorative Yoga. These practices can sometimes look the same from the outside, but they do not feel the same on the inside. They don’t have the same intentions and often not even the same clientele. So, how about we stop hybridizing these two beautiful styles of Yoga and give each their due as complete on their own?

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2 Responses

  1. Anna Younghans
    | Reply

    Thank You so much for this clear and descriptive article. I love teaching both Yin & Restorative styles and wanted to share with my students another’s expert opinion.

  2. What is Restorative Yoga? | Students - Nyk Danu Yoga
    | Reply

    […] There is also often confusion on the difference between Yin Yoga and Restorative Yoga. I did a whole post on that you can read that here. […]

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