Today I had a 3-hour workshop on Yin Yoga. I had never taken a yin yoga class before, and really didn’t know what it was about, so thought today’s workshop would be a great way to get exposure to the style, and to fulfill one of the workshop criteria for my teacher training program.
The first hour of class was a “lecture”; and I put that term in quotes because really, the teacher wasn’t as stuffy as the term “lecture” might imply. She did a terrific job of leading what could be described more as a one-sided conversation – and I mean this in a good, positive way. She kept her tone to one of sharing versus lecturing, she addressed us more as fellow interested yogi than as uninformed students, she displayed an attitude of positive helpfulness versus an “I’m-in-charge-listen-to-me” tenor; she tried to make the workshop an informative-yet-open-sharing kind of experience, and I appreciate her thoughtfulness and all of her efforts. So, anyway, for the first hour of the class, I learned about how yin yoga came to be, the lineage of the methodology, and the theory under which yin yoga operates. Basically, from what I gathered, yin yoga is all about working on the more “subtle” areas of the body. Whereas hatha yoga is primarily about working/lengthening/strengthening muscles, yin yoga is primarily about addressing/opening/healing connective tissues and energy meridians. Yin yoga seems to be a friend of restorative yoga; but where restorative yoga is about bringing energy into the body (i.e., restoring energy – hence the name), yin yoga is about clearing energy from the body so as to purify it.
With the talk of “subtle bodies”, “energy”, and “meridians” comes the concepts, language, and practices around chakras, mantras, and chanting. And this is where I started to question (and, I admit, judge) the yin yoga practice a bit. At this point in my life, I feel uneasy whenever I hear about how I should chant a certain syllable/word/sound a certain number of times in order to produce certain results in my life (physical, emotional, spiritual, or otherwise). Similarly, I feel hesitant when people begin discussing how treating chakras can solve maladies like gall stones and urinary tract infections and the like. I do believe that body and mind are connected, and that one absolutely impacts the other; but I also believe in surgery and antibiotics – and often, these two worlds seem to be in direct opposition with one another. So I become nervous when either side begins to speak a bit too confidently…
Anyway, this was the first hour of the session – lecture, sharing information, and my own internal/mental processing. The next 90 minutes of the workshop had us go through an actual yin class. The basic structure of the class was the teacher showing us a pose to get into (generally some form of a seated, folded posture), and then we settled into the pose, going as far to the edge of the place where comfort meets pain as we could (i.e., the pose shouldn’t be comfortable, but it shouldn’t be overtly painful, either; it should be “comfortably uncomfortable”). We then held the pose for a minimum of three minutes to a maximum of six minutes; then released, paused, and proceeded to the next pose. Now, do the math with me here: each pose took approximately 7 minutes to do (30 seconds of set-up, 6 minutes of holding, and 30 seconds of release); so in a 60-minute class, we got to do seven total poses.
I confess, I wasn’t totally grooving on holding poses for such a long period of time. My personal preference is that I like to spend some time in a pose so that I can explore it, and let my body process it, integrate it, and develop muscle memory around it – but my holding duration preference is around the 45-to-60-second mark. But okay, cool, I can sit in a pose for 3-6 minutes, whatever. However, what I had more of an issue with (and quite a strong reaction to, actually) is that as we held each pose, we were told what to focus on: what colors and images to mentally visualize, and what mantras to repeat silently in our heads. At this point in the workshop, I learned that yin yoga is as much about cultivating a meditative state as it is about working the physical body, subtle or not.
Now if you know me, you know that I’m a fan of meditation, I really am. I meditate every morning, and I have found (and continue to find) amazing benefits in my meditation practice. But. I also believe that meditation is a very personal practice; and just as I would never dictate a religious path to any person, I would also never dictate a meditative practice to a person – this is how important and significant and personal I feel meditation is. And yet, in this workshop, the meditative method used for the poses was very much dictated to me. And the methods used in yin yoga lay in direct opposition to the meditation methods I employ every morning, the methods I value and respect and honor. So at this point in the workshop, I pretty much checked out. Oh, I held the poses physically, but mentally, I was gone. And so, by the end of the practice portion of the workshop, I was simultaneously fatigued and irritated. Not a great advertisement for a yoga method, in my opinion. :(
The last 30 minutes of class discussed how to create a full yin class on our own (should we teach this style at some point), as well as how to integrate some yin poses into another type of yoga class (for example, how to begin a hatha yoga class with a yin pose as a warm-up). This portion of the workshop got me slightly interested and engaged once again; but I was also still in a state of semi-resentment about the whole yin meditation stuff…so at this point, I took the notes I needed to take, and left the studio just as soon as the workshop was finished.
All in all, this afternoon wasn’t a “great” one for me in that I didn’t feel comfortable with many of the concepts of yin yoga (and simply don’t like others of them outright); but it was a “good” experience in that now I at least know what yin yoga really is all about. Today I learned; and while I didn’t exactly “like” what I learned, I *did* learn – and the acquisition of knowledge is always valuable to me.