Long ago before Lululemon was the norm in class, there was a dude named Paulie Zink who taught Taoist Yoga. He was also a master of martial arts and used his yoga practice as the base/foundation for his training. He would start with supine poses which he held for 5-10 minutes. Two hours later, Paulie would begin the Yang portion of his training. At this point in time, Taoist Yoga is what we know as Yin yoga today. However, not in its entirety. Only the part dealing with Yin principles.
Taoist Yoga | Father of Yin Yoga
Paul Grilley is the most well-known teacher in the Yin style. He met Paulie Zink in 1989 and trained with him for one year. His interest was in Paulie’s Yin style of yoga although that name is not yet known. Paul dabbled in the active Yang styles, but it did not hold his interest like Yin did. When Paul Grilley started teaching Yin, the studio owners did not know what to call the class, so out of respect for Paulie Zink being his teacher, he too called it Taoist Yoga. This is the name that remained for next 10 years to follow.
Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama’s Discovery of Acupuncture
Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama is one established dude. His mom must be very proud! He was able to demonstrate not only the existence chakras but of meridians as well. I wonder if he ever did Ayahuasca! As an acupuncturist, my partner Sal works with meridians on a daily basis. As yogis, we too work with them but use the name “Nadis”. Among Dr. Motoyoma’s experiments, he was able to show that the meridian acupuncture points is a water-rich network located in our connective tissue and cover every part of our body. This discovery gives light to the whole system of yoga. It makes more sense how the system of postures was created to cleanse the body and help in a therapeutic manner as well.
Sarah Powers introduces Yin Yoga to the world
Sarah Powers started her practice and career in Ashtanga. She traveled and taught all over the world and attended some of Paul Grilley’s classes back in the 90’s. In 2000, Paul and his wife were teaching a workshop in Berkley called Taoist Yoga. When Sarah started traveling again, she started introducing Taoist Yoga into her workshops calling it and explaining it as the Yin part of the practice and referred to the Vinyasa portion as the Yang. She peeked people’s interest and when they asked how they can learn more about it, she referred them to Paul Grilley. What Paul was able to show Sarah, is that you can blend both Yin and Yang with the practice. It doesn’t just have to be the rigid Ashtanga or the slow-moving Yin. She went on to start Insight Yoga with her husband.
Studios started requesting Paul Grilley for Yin yoga workshops but the official name change from Taoist Yoga had yet to happen.
How Yin Yoga got its name
Paul Grilley was just finishing up his first manual and planned on naming it Taoist Yoga. However, he realized that it’s truly not Taoist Yoga as he is only talking about 1/2 of the system here. Nothing was mentioned about the Yang principles of Taoist Yoga. And this, ladies and gents, is how Yin Yoga got its name officially changed. The final name for the manuscript was Yin Yoga: Outline of a Quiet Practice.
Some can argue that Hatha Yoga also included Yin but for me, the above is what I believe in. Now that you know the key players, do further research on the ones that intrigue you!
How Yin was practiced before it got its name
This style of stretching has been around for about 2000 years and taught in Taiwan and China under the system of Daoist Yoga. This branch was called Dao Yin. Taoist priests taught it to Kung Fu priests to help with their martial arts training and aid in making them mentally strong as well.
I hope you can understand and feel the power and benefits of this practice! Life never feels right when we are constantly running around always on the go. Always in a Yang state of mind. You eventually have to find a balance or the Universe will force you into one. That is the balance most of us struggle with and strive for. Same goes for the practice. It is incomplete unless you are practicing both Yin and Yang forms.
Yin allows my Vinyasa practice to be this beautiful fluid moving meditation because my body structure feels stronger and more supported on a foundational level.
Yin has allowed me more freedom in the body by gaining mobility and therefore has removed some of the fights I was putting up before due to the tight muscles and lack of awareness to my approach.
Holding Yin postures for so long has helped my proprioception of the bigger body structure.
Yoga has so many different limbs and approaches to the practice and in the United States, the physical vinyasa practice definitely dominates. Although there is nothing wrong with that, you still need a well-rounded approach if you want to give your body longevity.
This is also where I see so many unnecessary injuries as the body is not being supported on a structural foundational level. What I’m talking about here are the connective tissues, joints, tendons. This is where most injuries occur; shoulders, wrists, ankles, and spine. These are all joints and connective tissues. It’s pretty easy in a public class to move through a fast pace Yang practice without alignment and a good understanding of how these poses affect the body.
In martial artists, many exercises focus on stressing the joints and bones in a similar style to Yin. When I started training with the Olympic Team in Romania, mobility training took place before strength. This not only helps to prevent injuries later on but should they occur, the body heals much faster.
Personally, Yin helps me to go from 100 to zero pretty quickly. It calms me down by stimulating by the parasympathetic system so I can relax. For a type A personality like myself, it is very hard to sit still, let alone relax into the moment. It changes my perception when I’m dealing with a frustrating issue by slowing down my thoughts. This allows me to go in the space between my thoughts where I am the observer. In this space, I can remember to respond instead of reacting. To be more receptive and be willing to receive instead of putting up a fight. To process life as it is and to realize there is beauty in accepting what is. It also helps me notice how easy it is to steal my peace when I’m dealing with a tough pose and how quickly I want to react and get out of an uncomfortable moment.
How often do we have the same reaction to life? In this sense, this has been the best and most honest life training I could receive. An honest look at my somewhat ridiculous thoughts, fears and patterns of behavior that hinder and stop me from reaching my limitless potential. An opportunity to see what part I play in all of this and take responsibility. A change to embrace all of me so that I may grow and put all my effort towards what I’m doing rather than working against myself as I often do.
So much of my identity is wrapped up in a handstand and I receive so much joy, peace, and calmness from that pose so of course I love teaching and sharing the process with my students. However, I always say that I feel most at service teaching Yin. I see students often come in still on a work call. Some of their facial expression gives away their mood. Living in Los Angeles and dealing with a tough, fast-paced, expensive city a lot of us are stressed and overworked.
To see how their face, body and energy changes in that hour is pure magic and a sacred gift for me to experience.
If you know anything about my past, you know it was turbulent and my adoptive father often reminded me that I should be in a mental hospital but my passion has always saved me. I am passionate about sharing the practice of Yin especially to type A yogis.
It is my biggest wish for myself to be at peace and it is a privilege if I can assist someone else to find a bit of peace through the practice of Yin.
What does Yin Yoga mean to you? Let me know in the comments!