Recently I was invited to teach yoga teachers a course on Yin Yoga. I became a yin convert in the year 2013. Being primarily a yoga student who took classes in the “flow” style of yoga, I hadn’t been exposed to anything other than that. I was a runner, a swimmer, a biker and a skier most of my life. Basically, any sport or activity that involved speed and movement I was in!
As I write this piece, I think back to my life growing up. I come from a competitive family, where family time included lots of games and sports. My folks worked hard and played hard. They taught us the value of “producing.” I didn’t know anything other than that. I began to tie my self-worth to how well I did in school and what place I came in during a swimming competition. I was applauded for how fast I could get down the hill at Boyne Mountain ski area. And there’s nothing wrong with any of these concepts, except if you attach your self-worth to them.
During the winter of 2013, I attended a yoga workshop at Boulder Hot Springs. The hot springs is located in the beautiful Peace Valley, surrounded by hills and open spaces. There is a sacredness to this place. If you haven’t visited Boulder Hot Springs, you must. It’s magical. I went with my good friend Karen, for she was a student of Charles and Judy from Helena. They are Iyengar teachers who have stayed true to their lineage. I appreciated the discipline and precision which comes along with the Iyengar method of yoga.
The first day we spent an unbelievable amount of time in Mountain Pose. It felt like hours to this fast-flowing yogini! I remember thinking “when is this going to be over with!” several times during the pose. Gradually, I surrendered my resistance. My body and monkey mind were going crazy, but I also trusted these two teachers. My friend Karen kept looking over at me, with a somewhat worried look on her face!
In the afternoon of the first day we finally moved from Mountain Pose to some seated postures. Again, no flow, no movement. What was happening here? Was there something other than flow? Why didn’t we practice a vinyasa to get to the floor? Again, I trusted someone other than me.
A theme was forming here in my mind.
Trust and surrender.
My teachers invited us into a supported variation of Janu Shirshasana, head-to-knee pose. I was sitting on the corner of a dark, wool blanket. They gave me a moss colored bolster and two purple blocks with the words “you are going to need these.” The next instruction was to fold over our straight, left leg. I was sitting up on a blanket so that I could rotate my pelvis forward. I was encouraged to place a small towel under my left knee due to the tightness of my hamstring muscles. Thank you years of running with no stretching!
I had the impression I had been running from many things in my life, not just the road under my feet.
After what seems like an eternity, I felt the tears begin to roll down my face. Something magical was happening in the back of my left leg. I felt it begin to soften, to let go. And with this surrendering, came freedom! Freedom from tight hamstrings and freedom from limiting beliefs about myself. I tell this story today with a huge soft spot in my heart for these incredible teachers, for they showed me a different way. Did they realize it? I’m pretty sure they did, even though I was too shy and unsure of myself to speak to them about my experience. They silently handed me a Kleenex to sop up my tears that were puddling on my yoga mat under my face. Was my head on my knee like the pose suggested? No, but it was closer than it had ever been before. I was closer to something magical.
Today, 5 years later I teach Yin Yoga, the practice of quiet power. Was the term Yin Yoga ever mentioned at this Iyengar workshop? No. But I began my journey of this new style of yoga on my own. I researched and read all I could about long held postures.
What I discovered was this may be the “original” style of yoga.
The type of yoga asana that is written about in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is very yin in nature. Feminine, dark, yielding and cold. We are learning how to establish a comfortable and steady seat for the practice of meditation. Since most of the population of the West sits on furniture this comfy seat is challenging. Tight hips, challenged knee joints and ankles that don’t move are common among us Westerners.
I consider myself to be a reformed resistor.
Once in a while I catch myself resisting an idea, a dogma, a style of yoga. Now I trust myself. Those teachers opened the doorway to something magical, healing and liberating. I am now a certified yin instructor because I believe in the incredible benefits we receive from slowing down and turning inward.
Not to mention it feels fantastic to have hamstrings that do not resemble guitar strings!
Martha will be teaching another Yin Yoga workshop in Missoula, MT. You can read about and register for this workshop on the trainings/workshop page.