As I have been taught, there is a difference between Restorative and Yin Yoga classes, and although many people group them together, I believe they each offer numerous benefits, some the same, but many different. I would like to attempt to explain the difference for you today.
In a restorative Yoga class the goal is restoration and healing. The body is generally very well supported by props (yoga bolster, blocks and blankets) so that the body can “rest” into the poses in a more passive way, while the practitioner stays with the pose for a longer period of time. People often come to a restorative class after an injury with considerable limitations.
Yin yoga also includes longer holds, however the goal is not specifically relaxation and healing – although this very well may be a welcome result! The reason for the longer holds in Yin is to activate and work the connective tissue and fascia in the body – not just the outer layers of muscle – which can greatly improve flexibility. You may still use props and supports in your Yin practice, but by holding the poses longer, it may allow a practitioner to go deeper into poses – something you likely would not work at during a Restorative class. Also, while Yin poses are derived from Hatha style yoga, the names of the poses are different – pigeon pose becomes swan in Yin, for example.
To sum this up (If I haven’t completely confused you already) I will leave you with a quote about the difference between Yin and Restorative from the Author of "The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga", Bernie Clark, from a Newsletter published in 2012:
“Restorative Yoga takes an unhealthy body and brings it (hopefully) back to normal, while Yin Yoga takes a normal healthy body and brings it up to optimum.”
It is important to point out that in both of these practices – staying in poses for long holds while the body is supported – often the most challenging aspect is staying in the moment, watching your breath and your thoughts, and remaining still in your body allowing it to open and release at it’s own pace. Although we all like to be challenged physically with our chatarunga’s, arm balances and planks, sometimes the real challenge is laying in savasana for 5 minutes at the end of the class without fidgeting and planning our grocery lists in our minds. If this is the case for you, I would encourage you to be open to the challenge of a slower paced class.