What would happen to pain if we did not label it as such? What would happen if we turned to face our obstacles instead of pushing them away?
I teach vinyasa flow and yin yoga. Yin yoga is a style that is still unfamiliar to many yoga students. It doesn’t make you sweat and you don’t feel like you’ve gotten a “workout” — “you mean you’re not moving? you’re just on the floor? no way can I do pigeon for 10 minutes, are you kidding?!?”
I believe that if you have strictly a “yang” practice like astanga or vinyasa, you are only giving yourself half the gift of yoga.
Because of my training with Paul Grilley and Sarah Powers and my own personal yoga and meditation practices, I feel that a yin/yang yoga practice offers a complete practice not only on the physical level, but more importantly on the psychic level. Working on these deeper levels is what leads to our personal transformation, and the changes we make in our soft tissue have a profound influence on the emotional, mental, and energetic levels. My own yoga practice deepened when I moved away from an alignment-based, precision-obsessed practice.
A quiet yin practice reveals our subtle body. We move from the gross muscular level into our bones, into the connective tissue deep within us. Many yoga students don’t practice in a way that invites stillness because many times the contemplative aspects of yoga are ignored in western yoga classes. How many of you sit in stillness for 10-15 minutes DURING a vinyasa class, i.e., at the end of class, not AFTER the class, only as an option? My study at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram in India showed me how different yoga is there compared to the fitness classes labeled as yoga here.
In my training with Sarah earlier this year she said that “yoga is a process of fully inhabiting ourselves — body, heart, and mind.” Sarah believes that as a society we are so fixated on our bodies looking and performing a certain way that we neglect the spirit body. She said that Ken Wilber calls this “bodyism”, and I see it all the time in vinyasa classes.
There is nothing wrong in trying to perfect an arm balance or headstand, nothing at all. But if the only thing behind it is Ego, then it is only a performance. Non-attachment, non-Ego, is accepting yourself just the way you are in that present moment when your legs smash the wall and you crash down from a very shaky headstand — and smiling about it instead of swearing. I ask my students, “what is going to ultimately transform you? holding an arm balance for five minutes or sitting in stillness for five minutes?”
The stillness of yin yoga allows us to observe the rising and passing away of physical and emotional sensations. All of our life experiences reside in our body, and the emotional afflictions we all carry affects the body and hardens us, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Yin yoga is not just about cultivating physical flexibility, but our inner flexibility as well. Sarah believes that we can never truly soften if we do not investigate these sensations and turn toward our pain and discomfort, instead of running from them. This process is similar to vipassana meditation — watching, arising, abiding, passing away.
Sarah’s teacher training included a workshop called “Working with Emotional Obstacles Along the Path.” She suggests that we explore our personal responses to our sensations, and instead of pushing them away, confront them, because if we do not, our obstacles continue to live in our bodies. Sarah recommends a five step process:
* Recognition — Identify what is disturbing you the most. Emotional pain, illness, addiction, self-hate?
* Acceptance — Acknowledge the issue and explore how and where it lives inside you. Does it have a shape, color, size, temperature, texture?
* Impartiality — Let go of defining the issue as right or wrong. Let go of assumptions and just observe.
* Personification — Imagine this issue as a living being in front of you. Notice its gender, color, size, etc. Ask It what It needs of You, and if this need is met, how does that make You feel?
* Compassion — Give yourself permission to have this need as you begin to open to the expansiveness and clarity of your newfound Awareness.
Yoga, done with mindfulness, allows us to come home to ourselves.
TADA DRASTUH SVARUPE VASTHANAM
(Yoga Sutra-s 1.3)
“Then, the ability to understand the object fully and correctly is apparent.”
“In the state of Yoga, the different preconceptions and products of the imagination that can prevent or distort understanding are controlled, reduced, or eliminated. The tendency to be closed to fresh comprehension or the inability to comprehend are overcome.” (Reflections on Yoga Sutra-s of Patanjali, TKV Desikachar)