Should you warm up before Yin Yoga?

I get a lot of questions from yoga teachers who've heard that yin yoga shouldn't be done with a warmed-up body, and that it also shouldn't be done in a warm room. 

There is no right or wrong way to do it. You can practice yin yoga either warm or cool, and there are a number of factors to consider when choosing. This blog will help you navigate the terrain and choose what's best for your situation. 

Yin yoga postures target fascia, which weaves through both joints and muscles. When you practice yin yoga with a cooler body that's not warmed up, you may feel the stretch over a broader area than if you were warmed up. This is the feeling of stretching the fascia that weaves through the muscles – which, for the purpose of this article, we'll call muscle-fascia. 

On the other hand, when you practice with a warmer body, you're more likely to feel the stretch in the ligaments and in the joint itself. This may feel fine for some people, but it may feel unsafe for others. Because yin yoga is such a slow and gentle practice, a measured amount of joint sensation is considered to be beneficial. It has the potential to therapeutically stimulate the production of synovial fluid to lubricate the joint capsule.

Like anything, however, this can be overdone.

The answer may depend on how flexible you are

The ideal body temperature may different for a yogi who's more flexible as compared to a yogi whose body is stiffer. A more flexible yogi may tend to prefer practicing Yin when the muscles are not warmed up. This is because she'll be more likely to feel the satisfying muscle-fascia stretch, whereas, if she warms up first, she might miss this and instead feel the stretch primarily in the joint. As I mentioned, a joint stretch is not a problem per se, but it can be a riskier place for an inexperienced yogi to be. For seasoned yin yogis who know their limits quite well, many crave the broader muscle-fascia sensation that's only available to them when their muscles are relatively cool.

For a stiffer yogi, no matter how much she warms up, since she still has more muscle-fascia tension to work through, she may actually be in less danger of injuring her joints. For this type of yogi, either a warm or cool body is usually fine, but warming up the body can help her to be more comfortable in her practice – adding a few degrees of range-of-motion to a forward bend, for example, which will enable gravity to help create a deeper stretch. 

If you're on the stiffer side, you might want to try it out for yourself. You could try doing 10 minutes of sun salutations as a warmup followed by one or two yin postures. See how your body feels immediately after you practice. Check in with yourself later that day, and also the next day. 

This video is a guided experience that begins with Vinyasa Flow and ends with Yin Yoga:


Hot Yin: Is It Safe? What's the Best Room Temperature for Yin Yoga?

About room temperature - warm or cool, it's yogi's choice. Warmth helps some people's bodies to relax, but too much heat can cause panic. On the other hand, too much cold creates tension in the body, which is the opposite of what we want to achieve in yin yoga. In my group yin classes over the years I've settled on 73 F (23 C) which, in a class of 30 people, makes most people happy, but there's always someone who thinks it's too hot and someone else who's too cold. You can't please everyone in a large class.

Pairing Yin with Hot Yoga or Vinyasa? Proceed with Caution

In an in-person vinyasa class, and especially in a hot yoga environment, the main concern is not likely the heat itself, nor is there anything fundamentally wrong with doing yin after a vigorous warmup. However, the culture of hot/vinyasa yoga classes may be a cause for concern.

If you find yourself being guided through Yin postures in a vigorous yoga setting, do your best to stay connected to yourself. There may be excitement and a strong desire to succeed by doing a posture that looks good on someone else body. Be mindful not to lose touch with what feels intuitively correct in your physical body. 

In high-pressure yoga situations it can help to intentionally stay grounded in your own awareness and not compare yourself to others, especially if you're new to yin. To make matters worse, some teachers who weren't properly trained in yin yoga may try to change your alignment against your better instincts. Stay attuned to what feels right, and don't hesitate to say "that doesn't feel right, I liked the way I was doing it before." You are the boss of your body. Any teacher who makes you think otherwise? Leave their class.

It's a very special teacher who can hold space for a room full of sweaty go-getters and then switch gears to take them into a mindful, patient, attuned yin sequence with the appropriate emphasis on safety. It can be done, but the teacher should be skilled at this. 

To hold a safe space for yin, I highly recommend that teachers study skeletal variation as I teach in my Yin Yoga Teacher Training.


About Hot Yin

Because of Yin Yoga's growing popularity with practitioners of Hot Yoga, it has become increasingly common to see Hot Yin classes. This may be safer for some practitioners than others. The cautions above apply: if you bend easily and tend to feel like it's hard to get a satisfying fascia stretch, then avoid Hot Yin and stick with a cooler room and/or a morning Yin practice. On the flip side, if you're a stiffer person who feels like you need all the help you can get, Hot Yin just might be your jam. 

As usual in Yin, there are no absolute rules

In summary, there is no rule or scientific reason that warming the muscles should be avoided in yin yoga. As a yogi scientist, I always encourage students to take the scientific approach: practice yin before vinyasa one day, then try it in reverse the next day. Then try them mixed together. Then try in a cold room one day, a warm room the next day. Feel the difference for yourself. Test and repeat, and see what you prefer.