Sequencing Yin Yoga

health self-love yin yoga Feb 15, 2022

Yin yoga is a slow practice that emphasizes long holds and stillness in postures to reach the plastic tissues of the body. The plastic tissues targeted in this practice include the tendons, ligaments, bone, cartilage, and deep fascial layers. Long holds in postures apply an appropriate amount of stress on the plastic tissues. When the pose is released, quite often something called the rebound is felt. This is when the body floods the plastic tissues that were just stressed during the long hold. These regenerative fluids support the tissues to grow stronger.  It is important to note that  1 to 2 times a week of yin yoga practice is optimal. The yin tissues need time to rest and overstretching can lead to injury. 


This is the missing piece in self-care for many people who live Yang lifestyles, or lifestyles that are fast-paced and high energy.  The practice utilizes methods and knowledge from Traditional Chinese Medicine.  When you are teaching yin yoga, there are many options for sequencing based on the needs of the students.  The theme of the class can focus around a particular area of the body, an internal organ stimulated by the meridian channels, spending time in the parasympathetic nervous system, or mindfulness by keeping attention on the breath.  Whether you are practicing online, on your own, or in a studio, the yin class will last for as little as an hour and up to 90 minutes. Anything less than an hour may not be enough time to provide a full and complete class.


Once the theme or target area is decided on, then you can begin to link the poses together in a way that supports it. Similar to sequencing any yoga class, you will start with poses that do not go as deep or that are a bit more gentle on the plastic connective tissues. In yin yoga, the goal is to keep the muscles cool so that the work can go deeper.  If the muscle is warm, it will take the stretch from the deeper layers.  The practitioner will still want to ease into the body by honoring their edge where sensation is present, but it is not painful.. The three principles or tattvas of yin yoga are:


  1.  Find your appropriate edge in the pose- use props to support this edge.
  2. Remain as still as possible, micro-adjustments are expected, honor your edge. If the body opens, the student may choose to go deeper, if sensation becomes too strong, the student may choose to back off a bit.
  3. Hold for time (average 3-8 minute holds). Students are encouraged to listen to their body and exit the pose early if numbness, tingling, or pain is present. 


Choices for asanas at the beginning of a yin yoga class are butterfly, dangle, caterpillar, sphinx, or child’s pose. You might notice that the names used for some poses are different then what you have heard before. This was a purposeful decision to distinguish the practice from others.  Your choices for asana depend on the target area of the class, and the students' current level.  It is better to find the first edge that can be held for time, rather than forcing the body deeper and only holding the posture for a short time. Gravity does the work in most of these poses. Forward folds are good poses to start with to ground the body and notice the breath.  Students can breathe naturally in the yin practice and notice their breath in each pose. As the practice progresses, the breath will naturally lengthen. Students can use this stillness in yin yoga to calm the nervous system. 


Similar to other yoga practices, counterposes are an important part of a yin yoga practice.  The counterposes do not have to occur right away.  Gentle yang movements such as windshield wipers can be useful after asanas that work the hips to let the unlocked stagnant energy move through the body. Letting the body rest between poses is also very important and can be achieved by pausing in savasana or crocodile pose depending on the area being worked. This rest is referred to as the rebound and gives time for the plastic tissues to recover. You might cue the students to notice the feelings of the joint systems being flooded with blood, feeling, and sensation during this rebound period. That is when the healing happens. 


Linking asanas together can be based on the target area of the class.  Some yin poses go together naturally.  For example, if the target area is the hips you might sequence the class as follows:


Butterfly forward fold

Deer - right leg in front

Swan- right leg in front

Transition to crocodile for the rebound or Downward facing dog - it is ok to give the students a choice depending on their body.

 The poses you choose to end the class can be similar to what you would choose for a yang class.  You might consider adding spinal twists before savasana, or corpse pose.  A supported bridge and then constructive rest can also neutralize the spine before coming down to rest.  At this point students may be really into their practice and resting well into the parasympathetic nervous system. 


When it comes to sequencing a yin yoga class, the key is to consider your intention/theme for the class and invite in props to help the students slowly go deeper into each pose, if desired. At the end of the day, we always want to hold space for each student as they are, individually.