In the previous blog, we discussed yin yoga’s history and its amazing benefits. You learned yin yoga is a quiet practice that focuses on the connective tissues of your body, so now let’s talk about tips for teaching yin yoga.
If you want to catch up with the other yin blog posts:
👉 Unlike other styles of yoga, yin with its long-held postures requires a slightly different approach when teaching classes.
#1 understand how yin differs
Just about every facet of yin differs from its yang-style counterparts. In vinyasa, the room is heated, practitioners move continuously from pose to pose, and work to actively stretch their muscles.
In yin, we want a cooler room. Not cold, as in shivering, but cooler than walking into any yang-style class. A heated room and body encourages the muscles to take most of the stretch rather than the deeper connective tissue.
Remember, as we’ve already discussed, yin poses are held for several minutes, rather than several breaths. And finally, the pose names are different. The unique names help both teachers and clients keep the distinctions in mind.
#2 drop expectations
You want to have a plan when you teach, however you need to leave your expectations about how the class will unfold behind.
Ego can get in the way with yin poses. Both yours and the students’. Yin postures are meant to be therapeutically nourishing, not another contest for who can go the deepest.
Also, no two persons will look the same. The internal layers of a body differ from everyone else’s as much as the external body does, therefore what Student A may need in a pose set up can look completely different from Student B.
Embrace spontaneity. Be okay with changing up your sequence based on the requests and make up of your class. Empower your participants to explore and surrender their need to master a pose.
#3 focus on function, not form
Stop focusing on the aesthetics of a pose. This goes for all styles of yoga, not just yin.
Too often in modern yoga classes, participants care more about getting a workout, achieving the “next level” of a pose, or forcing their bodies to conform to a certain ideal.
“We don’t use our body to get into a pose, we use the pose to get into our body.” -Bernie Clark
The bodily sensations navigate and shape the pose, and you want to encourage participants to listen to those physical cues when determining if they’re “doing it correctly.”
#4 pay attention to transitions
In yin poses, we hold for longer times because our bodies need time to adjust and settle before we’re invited deeper into the connective tissue. For this reason, transitions play an integral part in yin yoga.
When exiting a pose, participants experience a wide range of sensations, so let them rest and offer counterposes between the challenging yin postures. Allow their discomfort to dissipate before moving on to the next pose.
#5 no pain no gain is a myth
Bernie Clark also states, “the essence of yin is yielding.”
Direct participants to enter the pose up to the point they experience significant resistance. This may cause discomfort, but as long as they’re not experiencing pain–sharp shooting, burning/tearing, numb and tingling limbs–they can stay in the pose.
In yin, this is called finding the edge, and once there, ask the participants to pause and listen to their bodies, only moving deeper when its signaled its ready, then pausing again when they hit the next edge.
This yielding can cause not only physical discomfort, but mental and emotional ones as well.
#6 use props appropriately
Props support a participant’s practice and many will greatly benefit from using them as well as realizing props aren’t a show of weakness or inability.
Familiarize yourself with the different props, both their intended purpose as well as creative employment. Not every location has every prop or enough for everyone in a group class.
- Mats: Provides a layer of cushion and prevents slippage
- Blankets: Can be stacked, rolled, or folded in a variety of ways
- Straps: Holds postures in place, extends reach
- Bolsters: Use for support in many poses
- Blocks: Ideal for propping heads, knees, hips
When recommending props, make sure the participants are still able to reach their edge. Props are no longer beneficial if they deter or limit the traction on their connective tissue.
#7 start with most accessible version
When instructing the next pose, cue everyone, as a group, to begin at the “baby” version. This is the most accessible level or version of the posture most everyone can do.
From there, you can cue individuals to move progressively deeper. For example, if you’re teaching frog, have all the participants begin in tadpole. Then step by step lead them to their full expression of frog.
#8 treat poses at mini-meditations
Where twenty minutes sitting quietly and meditating can be intimidating, holding stillness and quiet for three or five minutes feels more doable.
👉 Yin is a great bridge into meditation.
Once an individual settles into the pose, developing a still body and quiet mind begins, two qualities necessary for meditation.
As discomfort arises, we encourage participants to breathe deeply so their bodies will relax. When their bodies relax, so too, will their minds.
“To still the mind, the breath must be calm. To calm the breath, the body must be still. When these conditions have been met, deep awareness is possible.” -Sarah Powers
Teachers approach the time holding poses in a variety a ways. Some will read or provide quotes. Others may cue breath and progressive relaxation. And many choose to remain quiet so participants can learn to appreciate silence.
#9 use a theme to tie everything together
Most yin classes I’ve attended and taught all had a central theme. This theme determined the selection and sequence of yin poses, music, and the teacher’s discourse.
Spend a few minutes searching through yin yoga on Pinterest, and you’ll find most classes come with some kind of label or designation.
Your theme can relate to:
- A part of the body like the hips or low back
- Emotions such love and confidence
- Intended benefit like stress relief or better sleep
- Chakras and meridians
If your theme is niyamas (moral observances) then choose postures that reflect the ideas of pure mind and body, contentment, and surrender to the divine. You could also include readings or quotes that support the niyamas.
#10 you are a guide only
In yin, particularly, your goal is to guide the participants through the journey, but you cannot know exactly how they’re experiencing a particular pose.
They are the experts on their bodies. Empower them to listen to it and adjust as only they know they need.
You can offer suggestions, but ultimately the decision to do or not do something resides with the participant.
final tips on teaching yin yoga
Participants new to yin yoga might find the first few sessions boring or too slow. Let them know it’s totally normal and encourage them to keep coming back. If they stick with it, they’ll become less reactive, calmer, and experience greater flexibility, joint mobility, and range of motion.