Why the posture names are different in Yin Yoga
Postures in Yin Yoga are similar to familiar yoga asanas, but as you may have noticed, they're often referred to by different names. For instance, the Yin version of Bhujangasana (Cobra) is called Seal, Halasana (Plough) is called Snail, and Gomukhasana (Cowface) is called Shoelace.
There's a reason Yin Yogis use this new set of names. Conventional posture names often come with a bit of alignment baggage – rules that are not based in science, yet have been widely adopted in modern yoga culture. These rules are often not helpful during a Yin Yoga practice – they can make Yin poses uncomfortable, and can even make the practice injurious.
Yin Yogis understand that most yoga alignment rules are not as ancient as they're often believed to be.
For example, consider Pigeon pose. A Hatha yoga teacher may try to "fix" a student's hips if they're not squared, since that's likely what they learned to do in yoga teacher rraining. However, in a relaxed, Yin-like approach to pigeon, some yogis are much more comfortable with their hips askew. Un-squaring the hips in this pose is often an intelligent and intuitive adjustment that can relieve dangerous knee pain.
With this in mind, Yin Yoga is approached quite differently than other popular styles of Yoga. The goal in Yin is not to make the body look a certain way, but instead to feel the effects in the intended place – whether it be in the hips, lower back or spine. In classes, Yin Yogis are encouraged to develop their own intuitive sense of the best placement for their hands, legs, or feet. That's why it's not uncommon for every person in a Yin Yoga class to look like they're in a different pose – and why I often call Yin Yoga "the punk rock of yoga."
There's also a bit of rebelliousness in the alternative names. Many Yin Yogis feel that modern yoga is overly concerned with the appearance of postures – with form and beauty ranking higher than function and intuition. The rules that have been adopted over the past century can actually make Yin poses more uncomfortable, and less safe. Using a different set of names has been a way of reclaiming the right to align our bodies instinctively.
The originators of Yin Yoga used animal pose names in their practices for various reasons. the practice that inspired Yin comes from Paulie Zink, who believes that animal names invoke the attributes of the postures and movements. Paul Grilley, who established Yin Yoga in its modern form, chose to use alternative names to set Yin apart from other styles. This enabled Yin Yogis to start fresh in a way in a way that was more harmonious and less in-conflict with popular yoga. While the postures or names did not come directly from any particular Tai Chi practice, it made sense to create animal names since Yin Yoga is inspired by Chinese energetics and movement (aka Tai Chi) which very often uses animal movements and animal names.