Restorative & Yin Yoga
It seems to me that there is a general confusion as to what Restorative Yoga is and equally what is Yin Yoga? So much so that some studios and teachers have not only ceased to define them but unintentionally merge the two, much to the confusion of students. Restorative Yin and Yin Restorative. Surely there is little difference between them and therefore they make natural, compatible partners, a match made in heaven? Both relaxing, both rejuvenating and both soothing for the nervous system. They have become a singular practice. This is of course, not so. Restorative and Yin Yoga may share many similarities, but they are wholly different in lineage and intention.
What are the differences and why is it important to know?
All yoga aims to work from the gross to the subtle, it is a marrying, an opening of one to the other, our consciousness to spirit. An energetic awakening. And while both these styles of yoga draw attention to this, in Restorative there is so much focus on the most subtle sensations and purposeful, aligned placement and ample time to sense it. Restorative Yoga is aptly named – it aims to restore and rejuvenate, support injuries and sooth-tired bodies and minds. Restoration of mind, body, and spirit. Through this practice of active relaxation, strain and pain can be eased, places of held tension are supported and eased. Created by B K S Iyengar and evolved by Judith Lasater, Restorative yoga is available and accessible to all ages, abilities and levels, the only prerequisite is your capacity to remain in a well-supported shape for a (relatively) extensive time, preferably with your eyes closed, resting but awake. And this is where I suspect the confusion arises, long held poses with eyes closed. This too is where the commonalities start to subside. In Restorative Yoga a multitude of props are used, and I do mean many. All the props in all the world, quite possibility including the kitchen sink. Not really. The kitchen sink is hard and brutal, we want soft and kind, but you get my drift. Restorative Yoga requires many, many props and it is dependent up them. The idea being that through fully supporting the body is a purposeful, intelligent, and therapeutic manner, the nervous system will respond accordingly, calming and moving into a deep parasympathetic state. Deep relaxation, deep restoration requires safety and complete support. The gold standard of comfort. The psychological correlation is a sense of being held compassionately, engendering a safety that permits surrender and calm, restoration of balance and homeostasis. This sense of safety, free from strain then allows for a deeper experience, softer but closer to the bone. The body is coerced and held and what follows is a gentle, slow opening, physically, mentally, and energetically. Restorative is the most subtle and Yin like of all the Yoga styles. It is also the quietest and truly asks for silence to see the subtle. “We work very hard in our lives, and while we may sleep, we rarely take time to relax. Restorative yoga poses help to rest deeply and completely” says Judith Hanson Lasater.
If Restorative is the most Yin where does Yin lie on this yoga trajectory? Yin too is aptly named – Yin to the Yang, the moon reflecting the Sun, the softer to the dynamic power practices of vinyasa. And yet it is Yang to Restorative’s Yin. Life is full of polarities. It too sheds light (pardon the pun) on the quieter parts of ourselves, the deeper parts, both physically, energetically, and mentally. Yin offer a junction between Hatha and restorative, but the objective, the focus is quite different. In Yin Yoga we seek sensation, not too much, gently stressing the tissues of joints, our yin tissues,to make them stronger. Yin takes you outside of your comfort zone, not into it. There is a physical focus in addition to the internal awareness cultivated. It is indeed a quiet introspective practice, one very much concerned with the stimulating the subtle body, igniting and shifting the subtle parts of ourselves, and its asks us to pay attention. It speaks loudly (in hushed whispers) of meridians, energetic pathways, wrapping into and around us, connecting the gross to the subtle. And while it is gentle, challenge remains, sustaining the poses can offer a physical and mental intensity as we surf our edges over the course of time. It is true that Yin loves props but the practice itself does not depend upon them. While we welcome the support, the intention is quite different, frequently props are used to intensify sensation or alert us to targeted areas, at other times, supports are used to protect and hold to ease tension and create access to a pose. However, this practice can, and frequently is, done without any props at all. I sense this suits many of the fast paced studios who it would seem, are reluctant to buy/use and offer props, and of course, this covid world is happier that way. Time. Another point of confusion, yin postures are held for time, much like restorative postures, but is not quite the same length of time, there Is not the same level of support.
While both styles have common threads, they are quite different in both practice and principles, but in a world that is addicted to busy both these practices are immensely valuable and counter our crazy lives. Both love props, but only restorative rests upon them, both love the organic change of time, but one works with gravity the other support. One stresses tissues, the other releases and relaxes tissue. Where Yin allows us to feel the discomfort that may come with stillness, Restorative can offer the support to open into stillness. Are they interchangeable, no? Can we merge them? Perhaps. Know what your intention is and that will lead the way.