While the passive nature and slow pace of yin yoga might seem like beginner territory, the practice provides many opportunities to challenge even an advanced yogi. The long holds of yin yoga poses require stamina, endurance, and mental focus, while some of the poses open the body to new limits. Below are several advanced yin yoga poses that show you yin isn’t just for beginners.
An important principle in yin yoga is finding your personal edge, both physically and mentally, in a pose. The goal is to feel sensation in the body (which may be uncomfortable) without pushing past your limits (experiencing pain). As a result, many yin yoga poses have multiple variations so you can adjust the pose to your needs. Advanced yogis will typically hold poses for 3-5 minutes or more by using props such as blankets, bolsters, or yoga blocks to settle into the posture. Try out these advanced yin yoga poses to find your edge and challenge your practice.
Like many backbends, camel can be difficult both emotionally and physically. As you move your spine in a different direction than normal, the vulnerability of exposing your heart and the activation of the “fight or flight” response are all challenges that come with this pose. Finding stillness in these challenges can mentally and physically test even an advanced yogi. To come into camel pose, begin by standing on your knees and placing your hands on your hips. Keeping your hips pushed forward, arch your back and drop your head back if your neck is comfortable. Hands can drop back one at a time to rest on your heels. The full expression of this pose might require a shorter hold of 1-2 minutes due to the strength it requires.
2. Twisted Dragon
Twisted dragon targets many areas simultaneously, including the wrists, shoulders, hips, spine, obliques, hamstrings, and groin. Beginning in downward dog, step one foot between your hands and walk your front foot forward until your front knee is right above your heel. Keep your hands on either side of your front foot. Drop your back knee, release the top of your foot and shin to the mat, and slide your back leg backward as far as you can. For the twist, the same hand as your front knee pushes your knee to the side as your chest rotates to the sky. Be sure to repeat on the opposite side.
This intense hip and groin opener requires a great deal of mental focus as it is easy to transfer the tension of this pose to another area of your body (clenched jaw, tensing the shoulders, etc.). To come into the pose, start in child’s pose and slide both hands forward while separating your knees to be in line with your hips. Finally, separate your feet to be in line with your knees.
As one of the most challenging poses in yin yoga, saddle is a deep quad stretch that can be very intense on the knees. To enter the pose, start by taking notice of how your knees feel while sitting on your heels. Any pain in this position indicates the need to discontinue the pose. If you’re able to go fully into the pose, open your legs slightly and sit between your heels. Lean back onto your forearms to create a small arch in your lower back, and gradually come down to lie on your back. Raising your arms overhead can open the shoulders, stretch the abs, and intensify the stretch in the hip flexors.
Because this pose puts a lot of pressure on the neck, it is better suited to advanced practitioners who have knowledge of proper alignment and body awareness. Start by lying on your back, then lift your hips and support them with your hands. Allow your back to round and your feet to fall over your head toward the floor. Position the weight of your body onto your shoulders and bend your knees toward the floor (resting next to the ears) for a deeper rounding of the spine.
This deep squat is an intense hip opener that challenges our normal day-to-day range of motion. Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart. Squat down and bring your arms in front of you, hands in prayer, and elbows applying gentle pressure against your knees or shins. Keeping your feet wide (hip width or more) works into your hips more deeply, while keeping your feet closer together works the ankles more. If you need some extra assistance, grab a block and place it beneath your sit bones.
7. Toe Squat
Though this pose appears to be beginner level, it can bring up rather intense sensations because our toes and ankles don’t typically get as much attention in our practice as the rest of the body. As a result, this pose might require you to start with a 1-minute hold (working up to 2-3 minutes) as opposed to 3-5 minutes like many other poses in yin yoga. Starting in tabletop, tuck all 10 toes under and then gently walk your hands back toward your knees. If you can comfortably sit all the way up, you can simply rest your hands in your lap. This pose offers the perfect opportunity to practice steady breathing as the intensity builds.
For more ways to put your advanced yin practice into action, try Yin for the Hips with Josh Kramer and Get Loved Up: Flexibility with Koya Webb, which provides variations of intensity for each pose. The advanced full-body class in Carling Harps’s Restorative Reset program is another great option to try!