Yin Yoga Off the Mat
The first time I went to a yin yoga class, I hated it. I thought it was boring and my monkey mind was spinning around as we held poses for what felt like an eternity, but was in reality, 5-8 minutes. I thought it was a waste of my time and preferred to spend my evenings getting a better “workout” by going to a vinyasa class or the gym. As I continued to train for marathons, my body continued to accumulate injuries. Eventually, my knee, foot and back pain brought me back to yin classes and although it took time, I begin to love it. It was in these classes that I first begin to soak up the philosophy and branches of the yoga tree and learn the benefits of time and stillness.
I teach yin yoga once per week now and often tell my students that I used to despise the practice. I can see looks of fear from some new students and can sense their discomfort and even anger in poses that are getting them deeper and deeper into their bodies, yet we continue to hold and hold and hold.
Dragon pose is one that is pretty confrontational. It’s a big stretch for the hips and groin. It gets deep into the hips and peels through emotional layers of the heart. It is very revealing about how one reacts when they are in an uncomfortable situation. I am sure that I have had a face of tension and agitation many times in this pose.
In my life off the mat and in my yin classes, what I have been trying to work is lengthening the time between a stimulus and a response. I tell myself that length of time should at least be five deep breaths and sometimes, even more.
In my yin classes, after my students hold a pose from anywhere between 5-8 minutes, I have been leading them to slowly come out of the pose and hold stillness for 5 breaths, before finding the movement that their mind and body is so strongly craving. I have been discussing how even though the stimulus of holding a pose is strongly leading to the response of wanting movement, can they add just five breaths of stillness between those two things and be at peace with the agitation?
I am finding this difficult to do off the mat, but very beneficial when I actually succeed. This week I tried to be mindful of practicing the five breaths, when I felt the same discomfort that Dragon pose brings. I practiced the five breaths before replying to a triggering email, I practiced it before I analyzed something someone said to me at work, I practiced it before choosing my words with a student who was in trouble, I practiced it when my desire to stress eat rose up.
I think it definitely helped me make some better decisions and I am also sure there were times I forgot to use it and jumped to a less desirable reaction (an eye roll, an unkind word, a snappy comeback, a unnecessary Starbucks trip). However, just like asana, the other branches of the yoga tree are a practice. I hope to continue being mindful of this breath practice and become more aware of the time between my stimuli and response.