The Hatha Yoga Pradipika lists only sixteen postures. Of these, half are seated positions. Those postures are meant to be held for a long period of time. They are yin postures. In Paul Grilley’s book Yin Yoga, he lists eighteen yin poses, along with five yang poses to be used in between the yin poses. If you are planning to hold each pose for five minutes, and if you allow a one-minute rest between postures, a five-minute meditation at the beginning of the practice, and a five-minute Shavasana at the end, in a ninety-minute class you will have time for only thirteen poses. There will be even fewer if you are doing two sides or other variations in each posture.
There is not a great need for a lot of postures in the Yin Yoga practice. Paul states in his book, “The more yin your practice the less variety is needed and the emphasis is placed on a few basic postures.” The next section will list over two dozen Yin Yoga asanas. Each description follows a standard outline, which includes:
- A picture of the pose (and often a couple of videos)
- Contra-indications (reasons for avoiding the pose)
- How to get into the pose
- Alternatives and Options (sometimes with pictures)
- How to come out of the pose
- Counter poses
- Meridians and Organs affected by the posture
- Joints affected by the posture
- Recommended hold time
- Names of similar yang asanas
- Other notes of interest
- For some asanas, a short video clip describing the use of props
The picture of the asana will provide an example of the posture: sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, but please remember that every body is different. Your body probably won’t look the same as the student in the picture. The shape is not what’s important. As David Williams  helpfully advises, “The real yoga is what you can’t see.”
For several of the postures, videos descriptions are also available. There are two kinds of videos: the first one explains the pose, much like the textual descriptions. The second video will guide you through the pose so that you can actual do it and experience it. For some asanas, you will find at the bottom a short video clip describing how to use props for that asana. This clip is extracted from a much longer, more complete video called Using Props in Yin Yoga
The benefits listed in the following asana descriptions are not exhaustive, but they will provide a guideline to help you to choose when to add a particular asana to your practice. If you wish to arrange your practice time around a particular area of the body or a particular organ that needs stimulation, the advice here may be useful. Combine this knowledge with the information provided on the affected joints, meridians and organs to structure your flow.
Contraindications should always be checked out before trying a posture for the first time. Remember, not all poses are for every body; know and respect your limits. If a certain pose is not right for you, don’t worry about it; there are lots of other ways to work the same tissues. Choose another posture that is more appropriate for you. You will find some suggestions offered in the alternatives and options.
The recommended time to hold a pose is very subjective. There are guidelines offered, which you should completely ignore if they are not appropriate for you. Some students can remain in the asanas much longer than indicated; others must come out much earlier. Listen to your inner teacher and respect your body’s unique needs.
When coming out of a pose there will be a natural sense of fragility – we have been deliberately pulling the body apart and holding it apart. The sense of relief is to be expected, and even enjoyed. Yes, despite some myths to the contrary, you are allowed to enjoy your practice! Smile when you come out of the pose! Laugh – cry even. Thank the Buddha, Jesus, Allah, Paul Grilley shout “Om Namah Shivaya!” Enjoy this moment.
One of the benefits of Yin Yoga is this experience of coming out of the asana. We learn what it will be like when we are ninety years old! We gain a new respect for our grandmother, and what she is going through, and we resolve to put off that inevitable day of decrepitude as long as possible. After a deep, long-held hip opener, it may feel like we will never be able to walk again – but be assured the fragility will pass. Sometimes, however, a movement in the opposite direction will help. This is a counterpose, a balancing posture that brings us back to neutral.
Many of these asanas will be familiar to experienced yoga students. However, these students will notice that the name is different in the yin tradition – this is deliberate. The pose may look the same, but the intention is different. The yin pose of Swan looks identical to the yang pose of Pigeon, but in Pigeon, as in most yang poses, the muscles are the targets. In a yang pose, we engage the muscles and stretch them. In the yin practice, we relax the muscles; we aim our intention into the joints and the deep tissues wrapping them, not the more superficial tissues of the muscles or skin.
There is no consensus in the world of yoga on naming asanas. Even in the yang tradition you will come across different names for the same postures and different postures sharing the same names. This is also true in the yin tradition; different names abound. The ones shown here are the names more commonly used but they are not universal. Where two names are common, both names are given, but we have not attempted to be exhaustive.
1 — One of the first two Americans to learn the Ashtanga practice.