Yin Teaching Tips

To be a good teacher, you must be an eager, humble and inquisitive student… without humility and respect, yoga becomes a farce.
Richard Freeman


Here from my own experience and the experience of other teachers are some ideas for how we can teach Yin yoga. I first wrote this in 2018. Since then, it has evolved and changed. A vital element for teaching is our ability to stay open to new ideas. Although it is about Yin yoga, many of its points can easily apply to other forms of yoga.

⦿ Speak from our own practice: like all forms of yoga, it is absolutely essential that we are practising what we are teaching. Students will hear that when we teach and respond better to it.

⦿ A question for us as practitioners: in the words of the religious scholar Huston Smith, are our practices: “enhancing awareness, patience and generosity and enabling us to respond creatively to the complexities, distractions and uncertainties of modern times?”

⦿ Teach Yin in a yin way: calm, inclusive, patient, steady…though avoid becoming too yin in the Yin. For example, make sure that the demonstration of poses does not result in ourselves disappearing into the practice. Remember that we are teaching!

⦿ It is not enough just to speak slowly and softly and often say the word ‘yin’.

⦿ Essences of Yin include less telling from the outside and more listening to the inside; thus not so based on rules, more about guidance / suggestions / invitings — less external appearance and more inner experience.

⦿ Essences of Yin include rather than acquisition yoga (where emphasis can be on aesthetics and ambitions); more an awareness yoga.

⦿ Essences of Yin include less being more (unless it is props where more might mean more…); a succinct summary could be: do less and stay longer (as time is more important than intensity in Yin yoga).

⦿ Essences of Yin include LSD yoga: long slow deep or life slows down.

⦿ Essences of Yin include the realisation that stillness does not mean being stuck or rigid or frozen; that within stillness there is movement.


⦿ We can learn a lot from studying with different teachers: I got this from a Jo Phee training — she said that Gil Headley had stated: “every cadaver that I open up is a brand new textbook”. Such a good insight.

⦿ We can learn a lot from studying with different teachers: I got this from Bernie Clark — about 1 in 15 people either have four or six discs in their lumbar spine (which can then significantly influence their abilities of back extension and back flexion).

⦿ We can learn a lot from studying with different teachers: another point from Bernie Clark — about 50% of 40 year olds have a bulging spinal disc; about 60% of 50 year olds have a bulging spinal disc; about 70% of 60 year olds have a bulging spinal disc. The crucial fact is that not all experience discomfort.

⦿ ‘Forever a student’ is a great mantra for all of us.

⦿ Explain the basics: when there are new people in class, explain what the Yin practice is, how the edge might be felt (and what is ‘the edge’), the ways of breathing, the balance between engagement and relaxation, that strong sensation is different to ‘pain’, that if it is too intense, then they need to modify, that there are many options (see next point).

⦿ Give plenty of options: as an acknowledging of individuality, as a way of establishing inclusivity and encouraging of confidence amongst participants. This can help to create a sense of safety: being heard and being held.

⦿ All options are equal: an essential point that might be called ‘egalitarian yoga’ or ‘freedom yoga’ or ‘intelligent dialogue yoga’ or ‘permissive yoga’.

⦿ To prop or not: this obviously depends upon circumstances. Sometimes we are teaching where there are no props and sometimes where there are lots of props. Sometimes we have students whose experience will be significantly altered by using props. Personally, I find that props can be helpful in making the practice more available and more accessible. One student described what I teach as ‘propoption yoga’: plenty of props and plenty of options.


⦿ Timing of poses: you could use a watch and remember; or a timer (like Insight Timer app: https://insighttimer.com); or an egg timer; or some other device.

  □ Symmetrical shapes staying exactly on time to the second for 5 minutes, for example, is not important.

  □ Asymmetrical shapes being 30 seconds longer or shorter between the sides is not the end of the world.

⦿ A common question is sequencing of shapes: my advice is keep it reasonably simple and avoid getting too complicated (stay yin in the yin!); begin with shapes that are accessible (so Butterfly rather than Saddle) and gradually increase the challenge (towards Swan as an example) and then gradually decrease the intensity towards the final pose.

⦿ Sequence from what makes sense: start slowly and softly, then build the practice up to something more engaged, then bring it back down towards resting. Try to keep a balance of forward and back bending. Feel free to use the 15-plus sequences in my Yin yoga manuals and from Brightening Our Inner Skies and other books on this practice. Develop confidence from already tried and tested structures.

⦿ Some poses are more yin in the yin (yin plus yin) and some are more yang in the yin; such as Constructive Rest or Dragon. Be conscious of this when constructing sequences and appropriate to the time of day and season.

⦿ Theming of class: this can cover a wide range — talk from a place that feels appropriate and genuine to you. Themes might be: curiosity, gratitude, connecting, balance, opening, meridians, fascia, meditation. Remember that gaps and silence can be great. What resonates with you? What inspires you?

⦿ Many maps: such as the Jungian quadrant of lover – warrior – magician – monarch; the Five Elements of water – wood – fire – earth – metal; the 600 muscles or one sheet of fascia; the phrenic nerve, the vagus nerve, the nervous systems; the approximate 360 acupuncture points; the singular biography and the individual biology.

⦿ To adjust or not: make an appropriate choice, though remember to adjust in a yin way (soft and gentle). My own way of adjusting is much more about offering options and providing props. Other teachers may make more physical adjustments.

⦿ Causes of injury: these can include tiredness, striving, fixation on postural extremism, unskilful adjustments; I know of yoga practitioners who have had their discs ruptured and even their spine fractured while practising.

⦿ Avoid expressions such as “embrace the pain” — or advising a practitioner who describes jamming sensations in their lower back to “just observe”.


⦿ Be conscious of language when teaching: a good practice could be to lessen use of words such as always, everyone, must, should — and encourage words such as if, maybe, perhaps, possibly.

⦿ As teachers: can we lessen dogmatic fundamentalism and instead model openness, respect and care?

⦿ Be free to edit poems and stories: and of course feel free not to use poetry and stories; I studied for three weeks with one Yin teacher and not once did I hear a poem.

⦿ The chat: for each pose, talk at the beginning; the last 1–2 minutes could be silent. Because we are asking people to drop inwards, if we are not leaving some silent spaces, then they can be drawn outward. We can also teach entirely in silence.

⦿ A good test of a yoga teacher is how well they respond to questions.

⦿ A good test of a yoga teacher is their ability to respond to this question about themselves: what drains and what sustains?

⦿ An embodying of Yin: as the teacher, be a presence that quietly holds the space. These were insightful words from a studio owner: “Teaching Yin is relatively easy, but teaching it well is incredibly difficult.”

⦿ By embodying Yin: this can create an atmosphere in class that is grounded in care, empathy and kindness and is inspired by acceptance, attention and spaciousness (this might be called ‘a mood of mindfulness’).

⦿ Being guided: on these paths as practitioner and teachers, we can all benefit from guidance; here are four points that I have found particularly helpful.

  ➤ Majjhima Nikaya:
“Whatever a person frequently thinks upon, that will become the inclination of their mind.” (from teachings of the Buddha; first written in about 2nd century BCE)

  ➤ Wu Men (1183–1260)
“When our mind is not clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of our life.”

  ➤ Dogen (1200–1253)
When he returned from several years of study, he was asked what did he bring back; his response was “A soft and flexible mind” — and when the monastery cook asked him what he wanted to eat, his response was “Cook with the ingredients that you have got.”

  ➤ Darwin wrote in The Origin of The Species (1859):
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change”


Keep…practising. Keep exploring. Keep wondering.

Like so much, this piece was substantially improved by suggestions from other teachers. Little is set in stone. Ideas, practices and views are ever changing. Personally, I am a gradualist. Once in a while there can be great insights and sudden shifts and substantial changes. But much more often these practices are processes such as the drops of water that eventually dissolve rock, such as the drips of water finally filling a bucket. I have great enthusiasm for practising; I aspire to explain the spirit of Yin and I aspire to communicate my passion for Yin.

Norman Blair

16 October 2021

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