For a long time I considered what I teach and practice a Restorative Yin style of yoga and I stand by that.  However, in recent years as the popularity of Yin Yoga and Restorative Yoga has grown, there is an increasing curiosity among students around the differences between the two.

Let me begin with the similarities – Both styles are a branch of Hatha Yoga which balance the right and left sides of our bodies.  Both styles are ‘yin like’ in comparison to the more ‘yang like’ yoga where the practitioner strengthens, flows and heats up the body. In Restorative Yin the practitioner lengthens, slows and cools down the body. Both styles are passive and both styles are restorative in nature.

The main difference is that in a Restorative Yoga class the practitioner is asked to be completely comfortable.  In a Yin Yoga class discomfort is welcomed.

Restorative Yoga is perfect for people recovering from illness or injury as many props are offered and the poses are not super challenging. Based on the teachings of the late B.K.S Iyengar, Restorative Yoga at its core is a practice of passive healing. It is intended to carry the student into a deep state of relaxation by completely supporting the body in propped-up asanas.  These props equal release and therefore allow the practitioner to surrender completely.  When practicing Restorative Yoga the physical sensations are minimal as the body finds space to gently surrender and soften into the support of the props.

In  Yin Yoga  props can be used or not, and depending on the particular teacher and practice, it can be quite challenging. Introduced by Paul Grilley in the late 1980s, Yin Yoga is based on the ancient, Taoist concepts of yin and yang, the opposite and complementary principles in nature. It works synergistically with the principles of traditional Chinese medicine to shift ‘Chi’ or ‘Qi’ through the body.  In Hatha Yoga the Sanskrit word for ‘Chi’ is ‘Prana.’  The word ‘Prana’ in English means life force. All Yoga works with life force, but Yin Yoga works with the bones, ligaments, joints and fascial network as well. Once in the asana, the practitioner is asked to stay in this stillness and breathe for as little as two, and sometimes up to ten minutes. You will practice a lot less poses in the same amount of time as a general yoga class. Although Yin is a passive style of yoga, the length of time in postures combined with the intensity of sensations, can make this practice challenging.  It is deceptively powerful. When the body begins to unravel and the mind begins to still, in my experience, a real sense of peace occurs. It is the permission to let go of whatever the practitioner is holding on to that makes this yoga one of the most popular styles today.

In essence both Restorative Yoga and Yin Yoga give us permission to rest, permission to slow down and pause from everyday ‘busy-ness’.  Shavasana is the foundation of both these styles and a teacher who knows how to teach this asana properly will give their students the best gift of all – Deep rest.

About the author:

Tara Fitzgibbon is an senior teacher with a deep passion for and many years of experience in teaching Yin and Restorative yoga. She runs regular classes, workshops and teacher trainings. For more information, visit Terrafirma Yoga.