in Yoga has grown in popularity over the years as one of the most challenging yoga styles to add to your practice. Renowned for its ability to improve fluidity and flexibility, it's no surprise so many people are turning to this ancient art. But what exactly is Yin Yoga's origin, and is it as ancient as we actually think?

Yin Yoga involves passive movements held for long periods of time. While it stems from ancient Chinese and Taoist principles, the origins of the practice as it is known today can be traced back to the teachings of Paul Grilley, Paulie Zink, and Sarah Powers.

To really connect with your yoga practice, it’s good to get a sense of where the teachings come from and understand the thought behind the principles you are following. Below you’ll find a breakdown of what Yin Yoga is and where it originates from.

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What is Yin Yoga?

In a nutshell, Yin Yoga is a passive yoga style where poses are held for long periods. It is similar to Hatha yoga training in that it is practiced at a slower speed and involves more static posture holds than yoga styles such as Vinyasa or Ashtanga, which implement a more active flow. But there some differences in yin yoga and hatha yoga.

Each pose is held for about 3 to 5 minutes—sometimes upwards of 10 minutes for more advanced yogis. In these poses, the use of muscles is kept to a minimum, only being engaged to hold the pose. The idea here is to work the deeper connective tissues within our body to restore our natural ability to move with flexibility and fluidity.

With lengthy, slow holds, Yin Yoga manipulates, stretches, and lengthens the body’s connective tissue. The superficial muscles relax as the position is held longer, enabling more access to the ligaments and tendons that surround the joints. This also gives access to the fascia, the connective tissues that run throughout the body. 

Yin vs. Yang

Yin Yoga follows the Taoist principles of yin and yang. In yoga, yin poses are passive, focusing on stillness, enhancing circulation, and clearing energy blocks. Yang poses, on the other hand, are active. These are for developing muscle tone, strengthening the core, and improving balance and stamina.

While many yoga styles use a combination of yin and yang poses, Yin Yoga focuses solely on creating harmony with the flow of nature by harnessing stillness through the use of yin poses.

What is the Origin of Yin Yoga?

It is a common misconception that Yin Yoga is an ancient practice. While the poses and teachings are pulled from ancient Taoist principles, Yin Yoga itself is a hybrid of teachings that wasn’t developed until the late 1980s.

So, when did Yin Yoga actually begin?

The idea and practice of yoga are thousands of years old. However, ancient yoga wouldn’t much resemble the daily yoga many of us perform in the living room. Over the years, as yoga spread across Asia and into the west, many different styles began to form. 

The formation of Yin Yoga can be connected back to the late 1980s when Paul Grilley attended Paulie Zink’s Taoist Yoga class. Paul, who had been practicing yoga in different forms for some time before, took to Paulie’s teachings.

In 1990, Paul began to deepen his understanding of the body’s physical and energic structures through Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama’s theory of the meridians. Yin Yoga was formed through Paul’s combination of Taoist Yoga, meridian theory, and his knowledge of anatomy.

Is Yin Yoga From India?

The exact origin of Yin Yoga is somewhat up for debate.

While Yin Yoga as a practice was introduced to the Western world in the last 40 years, the principles that make up Yin Yoga are much older. Because of this, some view Yin Yoga as an extension of Taoism, and others who believe it to be a form of Hatha Yoga.

While the teachings of Taoism are found at the root of Yin Yoga, many of the poses and the method of holding them come directly from Hatha Yoga. 

For those looking to trace it back to its roots, yoga in its simplest form can be seen as early as 2700 B.C. in Northern India. However, that doesn’t exactly tell us how the physical practice of yoga was formed. In fact, in the earliest of books, yoga was not described as a practice at all, but as a discipline.

Regardless of whose school of thought you follow, it is certain that Yin Yoga has a long history spanning many civilizations and places.

Who Are the Important Figures in Yin Yoga?

While Yin Yoga can’t be narrowed to a single creator, some prominent figures have dedicated a lot of time and effort to spreading the teachings of Yin Yoga.

Paul Grilley

Paul Grilley began practicing Yoga in 1979. He first encountered passive yoga positions when he began studying “Taoist Yoga Classes” with Paulie Zink in 1989. Paul was immediately captivated by Paulie’s art, but it was the long-maintained postures and their effect on his being that truly inspired him.

Paul met Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama in 1990 and began researching meridian theory.

Aside from his ongoing in-depth studies with Dr. Motoyama in Japan, he returned to university and studied anatomy and kinesiology with Dr. Garry Parker at UCLA. This gave him a better understanding of why the body moves the way it does, and why no two people will do yoga the same way.

Paul combined the knowledge he had into the basis of his Yin Yoga teachings. Today, he is the author of several books and courses that teach people about Yin Yoga, energy systems, and the human body in movement.

Paulie Zink

Paulie Zink is a martial arts champion and Taoist practitioner who was privately trained for 10 years by a Kung fu master from Hong Kong named Cho Chat Ling. Cho showed Zink that he could improve his kung fu through foundational flexibility training and yoga.

After training with Cho Chat Ling for about a decade, in the late 1970s, Paulie Zink started teaching yoga, using a combination of Daoist principles and Hatha yoga poses.

Today, Paulie is the author of two books and the creator of several yoga online training videos centered around Yin Yoga. He has also been featured in a number of magazines and continues to evolve his practice both on and off the mat.

Hiroshi Motoyama

Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama inspired Paul Grilley to look more into the relationship between physical motions in yoga and energy flow via the subtle body.

As a parapsychologist, Shinto priest, and spiritual instructor, Dr. Motoyama used meditation and yoga to cultivate a relationship between mind and body. His capacity to effortlessly traverse between the spiritual and physical realms enabled him to examine his own capabilities, leading him to explore the integration of science with spirituality.

Dr. Motoyama founded institutes in both Japan and the United States to teach students to bridge the gap between spirituality and science and to create an environment where “people can scientifically explore the applications of spirituality and subtle energy.”

Though Dr. Motoyama passed away in 2015, his institute is still active and inspires many.

Sarah Powers

Sarah Powers is considered one of the most prominent teachers of Yin Yoga. After years of practicing and teaching yang styles of yoga, Sarah was introduced to Yin Yoga at a class Paul Grilley was teaching. However, Paul’s lessons were primarily performed in silence at the time, and he didn’t describe the numerous and profound advantages of Yin Yoga for the body.

A few years later, Sarah and Paul crossed paths again, and she learned about all the benefits of yin-style yoga.

Sarah now combines the concepts of Yin Yoga and Buddhism into a holistic practice. She draws on her studies in transpersonal psychology as well as her extensive training in Buddhist disciplines to create a yin sequence of long-held postures to strengthen the meridian combined with a flow of yang movements.

Who Coined the Term Yin Yoga?

Sarah Powers is the one to thank for the term Yin Yoga. As one of Paul’s pupils, Sarah enjoyed his lessons and began to incorporate them into her own once Paul began to explain the various benefits of longer-held postures. Powers adopted the word “Yin Yoga” to convey the need to distinguish from Paulie Zink’s Taoist Yoga practices, which were considerably different from what she and Paul were teaching.

Are Taoist Yoga and Yin Yoga the Same Thing?

While Yin Yoga found its beginnings in Taoist Yoga, these two practices are not the same thing.

The Basics of Taoist Yoga

Taoist yoga is a style of yoga that mixes old Indian traditions with Chinese notions of bodily energy mapping. Although Taoism does not include yoga as a practice, the name “Taoist Yoga” has been utilized by numerous teachers worldwide.

This yogic art has three primary goals:

  1. Increase the nourishing yin energy traveling throughout the body
  2. Develop a deeper understanding of each body’s intricacies and why they are interrelated
  3. Increase physical flexibility as a way of improving physical, spiritual, and mental well-being

Despite some of the complicated movements incorporated from the Hatha yoga and Tai Chi traditions, it is regarded as a straightforward and approachable system.

The Basics of Yin Yoga, In Comparison

Yin Yoga is based on ancient Chinese philosophies and Taoist beliefs that believe Qi (energy) pathways run through our bodies. A Yin Yoga sequence can help restore the proper flow of Qi in our bodies by holding various positions.

While based on the Taoist notion of yin and yang, Yin Yoga focuses solely on yin movements. The purpose here is not to move freely between postures but to maintain them in order to target deeper tissues.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, you now have some insight into this challenging and well-loved practice. Yin Yoga is not your average vinyasa routine. While it may not be traditional yoga, it has ancient origins and philosophies with unlimited advantages.

I’m sure we’ve all heard the advice to slow down. Well, Yin Yoga does just that. Give it a shot the next time you’re feeling stiff or stuck in an exercise rut. You might be amazed by how many physical and mental health advantages it has to offer.

Caleb Sharbono is a writer, bio-hacker, wellness advocate, and yogi. Caleb, who grew up on a small Montana ranch, joined the Navy at 17 to study cryptology. He later graduated from the US Naval Academy with a Minor in Mandarin, a Bachelor's in General Engineering, and a Major in English Literature. Caleb's interests and career cover diverse industries and disciplines. Caleb lives in San Antonio and is a Certified Yoga Instructor. He is also studying Zen Buddhism, practicing Holistic Psychology, and working towards his 300-hour yoga teacher training.


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