In an age of speed, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.
~ Pico Iyer, The Art of Stillness
When I first began practicing yoga, I found that staying in a pose for more than five breaths was near impossible. Anything longer and I would squirm and dance, often posturing as if I were carefully aligning myself deeper into the pose, but really I was doing anything I could to avoid the discomfort of sensation. Paying attention to sensations in my body was difficult, and my tendency to hurtle ahead full speed helped me avoid most of what I was feeling at any given moment. I unconsciously lived by the motto from the beloved Disney fish Dory, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.” The idea of being still for any length of time was not on my agenda.
I was not seeking out yin yoga, but yin yoga found me in my practice after the birth of my first child ten years ago. Exhausted with a colicky newborn, I had high hopes of rolling out my mat and plowing through my dynamic practice. Like many modern new mothers, my desire was mostly to recover some of what I had lost through pregnancy and birth: my poses, my body, and some semblance of control over my unraveling nervous system.
However, as I would come into seated poses, I found that I wanted to stay longer. I wanted to soften and let the earth have my body, my agenda, and my naive expectations of life returning to what it was before there was a tiny red-faced human at the center of it. I had very little energy for moving quickly, and I soon came to discover that this slow and long way of practice was deeply nourishing to my high-strung head and weary nervous system. I began to be able to touch into sensation and discomfort without the automatic impulse to flee it. I began to do less and feel more. And this increased capacity to be still with myself was life-changing for me.
Yin teacher Sarah Powers offers three simple and effective principles for yin yoga practice:
Come into the pose to an appropriate depth
Resolve to remain still
Hold the pose for a time
Over several years of practicing and teaching yin yoga, I have found that I could unpack a thesis on each of these very simple, but profound instructions. I have also cultivated a practice of being still with myself and discomfort that has set a solid foundation for my own deep emotional healing, a profound spiritual awakening, and a capacity to meet life as it is with trust and equanimity.
Join me and Laura Forsyth this spring as we offer, for the third year, our Foundations of Yin Yoga training. In this 20-hour course, open to both yoga teachers and practitioners, we will explore these principles in depth. Over two weekends, you will gain an understanding of functional anatomy for yin practice, the Chinese meridian system, and mindfulness as both a principle and benefit of yin yoga. You will learn how to tune in to the life of sensation within your body, and how to find the balance between Yin and Yang in all aspects of life.