The Softer Side of Yoga Finding Balance with Yin

yin mbs

The Softer Side of Yoga 

Finding Balance with Yin

By Lisha Ross Newhall


In the super connected, always on the go world we live in today, one of the many challenges we all face is finding balance, whether it’s work/life, activity/leisure or exercise/rest. Most of us tend to gravitate to the extreme–working long hours, hitting the gym hard, overscheduling, etc.–leaving little or no time to rest and recover our expended energy. Now, perhaps more than ever, is when the ancient Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang can really come in handy.


As the popular black and white symbol illustrates, Yin and Yang posits that all things exist as inseparable opposites. Yin is soft and passive; Yang is hard and active. To achieve harmony and balance, we need to incorporate both aspects into our lives in somewhat equal ratios. For most of us, though, that ratio is largely in yang’s favor. Over time this imbalance puts major stress on both the body and mind, resulting in a grab bag of unsavory side effects like exhaustion, anxiety, depression and lowered immune function, to name a few. One immersive way to balance out the scales, while learning to calm the mind and enjoy the present, is through the practice of Yin yoga.


Love the Yin You’re In


You probably won’t find a studio that offers “Yang Yoga” by name, but the majority of classes offered fall into this category. The sweat generating, pulse pounding styles of Vinyasa Flow, Bikram, Power and Ashtanga are all yang practices. While nearly all yoga practices offer a pathway to relaxation, Yin yoga is unlike other styles in that it seamlessly blends mild to moderate physical challenge through long holds with mindful meditation techniques and elements of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) to achieve a unique set of benefits that include:


  • Deeper Flexibility and Range of Motion: Short stretch times only affect superficial muscle fibers; it takes 30-90 seconds for the stretch to reach the connective tissue that weaves throughout the muscles, longer to get into the tendons and ligaments. These deep tissues are denser and less elastic, so they require a period of sustained moderate pressure in order to release.
  • Improved Joint Health: Muscles are designed to engage to protect our relatively delicate joints. In Yin yoga, the idea is to disengage as many muscles as possible while simultaneously putting gentle stress on one or more joints in a safe and supported manner. Much like in acupressure, the body responds by sending blood, oxygen and energy to that area in an effort to “heal” it.
  • Optimal Organ Function: From a Western perspective, the actions we perform in Yin–twisting, folding, compressing and decompressing–massage and stimulate the internal organs, encouraging detox and the elimination of waste. According to TCM, these actions stimulate the flow of vital energy or “qi” (pronounced CHEE) through the organs and limbs by way of invisible channels called meridians. If qi cannot adequately flow through the meridians, physical and emotional ailments will occur. On the flip side, when qi freely flows, the organs work in harmony and radiant health is achieved.
  • Stress Reduction: Pranayama, or breath work, is a key element of Yin yoga. It helps the practitioner take in more oxygen, tolerate potentially unpleasant physical sensations, and slow down a racing mind. Studies have also shown that deep breathing techniques turn off the body’s fight or flight response and put it in rest and digest mode, during which the heart rate slows down and the organs of digestion filter out waste.

To achieve these benefits, Yin poses largely target the body from naval to toes, and with few exceptions, they are passive, seated forward folds and gentle backbends. Fully equipped studios will offer folded blankets, blocks and bolsters for added support and to help students release into the postures.


Putting it All Into Practice


While Yin is a softer, gentler form of yoga, it would be a mistake to equate “relaxing” with “easy”. First-time students are often taken aback to learn they are expected to hold their poses for three to five minutes. Most of us aren’t wired to sit still for very long, and the busier, more chaotic our lives are the harder it is to do so. That alone comes with inherent mental challenges, and can be frustrating for beginner students.


To help guide students through these hard spots, a good teacher will layer the practice with mindful meditation techniques, most of which are fairly attainable for even the most distracted student. A few common methods are focusing on the breath, noticing how the ground feels beneath you, and observing, without fixating on, your physical sensations and thoughts. The latter bit requires time to master, but practicing it regularly can have profound positive results both on and off the mat. Even if all of this seems a bit out of reach, you can still get a great deal out of your practice by simply adhering to the three basic principles, also known as Tattvas, of Yin.


Find Your Soft Edge


Yang classes challenge students to take their postures to a place that requires strength and maximum effort. Yin asks only that you get to where you feel a significant stretch that’s just outside of your comfort zone, then listen carefully to your body’s messaging. Here, you can focus more fully on your breath and either move deeper as the muscles release and open, stay where you are, or back out if it becomes painful. Exerting effort to stay in an extreme version of a pose will actually counter any positive gains.


Come to Stillness


Once you’ve found your soft edge, the next step is committing to be still in body, breath and mind. Resisting the urge to fidget can be a big ask, but over time you’ll learn to tolerate discomfort, whether it’s an intense pull in your outer thigh, a hair on your forehead, or a nagging desire to see what everyone else is doing. Moving the body engages muscles and requires energy, which can disrupt the quality of the breath. Stillness of breath comes when you engage in slow, steady, unlabored breathing. Lastly comes stillness of mind. The body and breath are under our conscientious control; it’s much harder to avoid analytical thinking and rumination, but in stilling the body and breath, we then create the conditions necessary for the mind to become quiet.


Stay for a Time


In a group class, most postures are held for three to five minutes, though advanced practitioners may hold poses for as long as ten minutes. A lot can happen during this time. On a physical level, the muscles are opening, the deep tissues are releasing, joints are being nourished, the heart rate slows down, and energy, blood and oxygen are being distributed to the places that most need them. On a mental level, this time affords practitioners the space to breath, meditate, marinate in the body’s sensations and forget about the world outside.   


As you foray into Yin and apply the Tattvas, it’s important to remember that relaxation is a skill that needs to be practiced. It doesn’t come naturally to most of us; yet, it’s a vital component to a balanced lifestyle. If you don’t get it right the first time, don’t give up. Yin, like most other forms of yoga, can teach us a great many things about ourselves and how we interact with the world around us. Above all else, it teaches us to live in the moment and to accept things as they come, for without sour there is no sweet, without dark there is no light, and without challenge there is no growth. Namaste.




Relative to other forms of yoga, Yin is fairly new to the scene, and thankfully growing in popularity in Las Vegas. The following studios offer a variety of classes, each putting their own unique spin on the practice by incorporating elements like candlelight, aromatherapy and yang flows to complement the yin. Happy yinning!


Henderson/Green Valley


Modo Yoga Las Vegas

3638 E. Sunset Rd., Ste. 110 | (702) 331-2030


TruFusion Eastern

8575 S. Eastern Ave. | (702) 982-2930


Evolution Yoga

1225 Warm Springs Rd., Ste. 120 | (702) 383-3001


Lifetime Fitness Green Valley

121 Carnegie St. | (702) 802-7300


Summerlin Area/West Side


TruFusion Summerlin

1870 Festival Plaza Dr. Ste. 200 | (702) 906-2777


RYK Yoga and Meditation

8450 W. Sahara Ave., Ste. 109 | (702) 478-9600


Yoga Sanctuary

7915 W. Sahara Ave., Ste. 101 | (702) 240-7666


Lifetime Fitness Summerlin

10721 W. Charleston Blvd. | (702) 228-2611




Blue Sky Yoga (Inside the Arts Factory)

107 E. Charleston | (702) 592-1396


Sin City Yoga

1231 S. Main St. | (702) 900-8244