RESTORATIVE-YIN YOGA involves supported body/mind relaxation. This is gentle, gentle yoga that promotes deep relaxation for stress reduction while also stretching and rehabilitating connective tissue.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Soft Power: A Remarkable Outcome of Restorative-Yin Yoga Practice

Copyright Lance Kinseth, Rivers Into Islands, 24”x48, 2006

THE QUIETNESS AND SUSTAINED poses of restorative yoga may not be just an adjunct to more active yoga:  Restorative yoga practice may influence the direction of general yoga practice. 

Restorative-Yin yoga practice suggests taking a strong look at the value of slowing down.  In slowing down, there is a rich opportunity for power [strength and flexibility], subtlety, deepening, centering, and receptivity.

The longer time spent in restorative poses may begin to be reflected in spending longer time in familiar yoga sequences that focus more on muscular strength and flexibility, as well as encourage more attention to Yin Yoga that holds poses longer to focus on connective tissue.

Yoga sequences involving longer time spent in poses [and that are repeated several times weekly(i.e., regularly)] might accelerate increases in flexibility and strength.  Staying in the pose for longer duration may allow for gravity to do its work, as well as further relaxation of tension that, in turn, allows for participants to release a little further into the pose to increase flexibility, as well as increase muscle strength that might be missed in shorter-held poses.  

In “Soft Power Yoga,” holding a pose for a longer duration is further amplified by doing variations on that pose before proceeding to a new pose.  For example, Wide Forward Bend [Prasarita Padottanasana] might involve a sequence of variations including:
  • support on hands,
  • followed by placing head on matt,
  • followed by clasping hands behind back with head on matt and extending forward/overhead,
  • followed by extending a hand to the right and then to the left for a twist,
  • followed by a pose involving hands extended out from the sides of the body and then forward in “prayer hands” and, finally,
  • followed by lowering down to elbows and lowering the central body to extend legs even wider. 
The “heart” of Soft Power Yoga involves an extended stay in a core pose with variations.  This practice may accelerate the strengthening of muscles and flexibility.  Further, variations on a single pose, continue to reinforce previous and ongoing work such as opening the upper back, twisting, and so forth.  Occasional counter-poses such as child [Balasana] allow enough recovery to sustain the intensity rather than compromise the continually held poses.  Finally, holding poses longer may really optimize stretching and strengthening connective tissue that responds best to sustained poses as Yin Yoga capitalizes on to strengthen lumbar and hip fascia.  In Soft Power Yoga, connective tissue is engaged throughout the body.  One place this may become evident is in the upper back and chest.

“Soft” essentially references  “slow,” and is a quite different experience than a more rapid flow.  This is not to say that doing sequences of poses much slower is better that moving faster.   Since each is different, each offers different qualities.  And since each is different, poses such as lunges, warrior variations, and triangle variations may be done in routine sessions, while other poses might be stressed in Soft Power sessions, enriching overall yoga practice.  However, doing vinyasa involving, for example, Sun Salutation variations, very slow, and holding each pose longer may produce rapid qualitative and quantitative gains in strength.  Doing the same, for example with seated variations— such as Standing Forward Bend, followed by a sequence of seated variations such as Head-To-Knee [Janu Sirsasana], Marichyasana A&B&C, Tortoise [Kurmasana] and Seated “West” Intense Stretch [Paschimottanasana]—holding poses for longer durations—may produce more rapid gains in flexibility.

One optimizing advantage of slowing down sequences of poses as well as doing variations on each major pose is that it provides time to stay in the pose and “listen to the body” in that pose.  Physiologically, a practitioner may experience the relaxation of tension and the ability to go a little further in the pose for increased flexibility or strength.  This conclusion is rather rational and anticipated.

Likely to be less recognized but just as rational, the stillness provides a contemplative quality that might be missed in the process of frequent postural shifts in vinyasa sequences.  A “Soft” [Pelava] “Power” [Zakti] orientation is quantitatively different from either a popular and dominant vinyasa sequence or a “Power Yoga” that involves rapidly shifting postures or that may quite athletic/gymnastic, involving shifts such as rollovers from plank to bridge poses.  In general, all “yoga” practices tend to be described by participants as consummating in a spiritual quality that basic exercise does not provide but, often, there is a sense that the practices may too-closely mimic the fast pace of modern life, and have their strongest appeal as “physical fitness workouts” that may be more appealing than traditional fitness options, but still be essentially popular, alternative “fitness” models.

Appealing to a general exercise population, “Soft Power” sequences satisfy a need for a fitness process that is oriented toward increasing flexibility and strength [and may provide more rapid results].  However, uniquely, “Soft Power Yoga” may better incorporate a process of slowing down, releasing tension, and going further into the opportunities presented by holding the pose to optimize flexibility and strength, AND “listen to the spirit.”

Holding poses longer may also allow for more intuitive practice.  In staying with a pose and listening to the body, variations in poses unique to each person may emerge, as practitioners listen more closely to the body and aspire to respond to that which is needed.

Why “Soft Power Yoga”? 

Simply, by any measure, “Soft Power Yoga” is appealing its concrete efficacy in optimizing—rapidly----flexibility and strength in the physical body.  And then, as a gateway to optimize our capacity to open and listen and develop, “Soft Power” offers something that is not new, something known and longstanding: a core drive toward deep calmness in yoga and other body-mind practices as well.


Child--Hero variations
Seal [Yin] /Cobra [Hatha] variations
Wide Angle Forward Fold variations [sketched above] / Frog variations / Saddle-
             Reclining Hero variations
Standing Forward Fold variations [+fold in Half Lotus]
Seated Variations: e.g., Janu Sirsasana, Marichya variations, Seated Intense Stretch,
            Tortoise, Heron
Supported Shoulder Stand variations
Sun Salutation [slow]
Squat variations: e.g., Garland, Balancing Bound Angle
Balance variations


An intermediate practice: a balance of rest, activity and illumination

“Hang out” in poses [slow and hold] and their variations to optimize increasing flexibility [Ayama, “flexible” to “open the door”] and strength; all with a strong sense of calmness or “softness,” listening to body-mind-spirit.


  • Hold/sustain poses longer to maximize stretch and strength: notice tightness, stretch and then release;
  • Do sequences that involve variations of each pose: child, wide-angle forward fold, forward fold, shoulder stands;
  • Explore poses not often done in regular group practice

  • Counters of muscle intensity and rest [warming and cooling];
  • Open relaxation/ explore “release” through slow flow through poses, finishing the practice session with an overall sense of relaxation;
  • Slowness and holding provides mental space to listen to body [sensations and imagery] vs. keeping pace with a cycle of vinyasa; and
  • Inner quietness by slowing activity.

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