I think it was about 4 years ago that it began. This is when I went to my first yoga class ever. I started attending classes a few times a week and found that I really enjoyed it. The breathing, the movement and being in community with other people all doing yoga together. I couldn’t tell you much about yoga at all except that I always felt calm and peaceful when class was over. The start of my yoga journey also happened to coincide with the first time I decided to be sober in my adult life. Not just being sober, but it marked the beginning of me learning how to come into my body and coming into being present in this world and out of my fantasy world. So, in ways I didn’t know at the time, I would need yoga as a tool to help me on this journey I was about to embark on.
Then things took a turn in the world of my yoga practice from Vinyasa to Yin. (Vinyasa is more of a flow based practice that moves along in like 1 to 5 breaths, where yin is held for like 1 to 5 minutes). It was 2 years ago this January that I happened upon my first yin class with Joella (of JEM Yoga in Duluth, MN). I had just returned from Troncones Mexico with my friend Dana. We spent the Christmas and New Year’s holidays down there and took quite a few vinyasa classes while away. It was on this trip that I overcame my fear of doing headstands on my own after the instructor said that generally people who are afraid of being inverted have a fear of death. Whether it’s true or not, I don’t know, but I was like forget that noise, I’m doing it! I had him stand beside me, so I knew someone was there to catch me because falling out of a headstand as an adult hurts, but he didn’t actually assist me hands on and I stood on my own head alone! Ever since then, I headstand on my own. Anyways, I digress… So, Joella had just started offering yin yoga at her studio that January. I didn’t even know what it was when I went to class that Saturday morning. I liked Joella’s classes and I liked yoga, so yin sounded good to me. Why not!?
I wasn’t worried that we were holding poses longer, but with all the deep breathing, relaxing muscles and going through this practice, something would happen in my body. I would cry. In fact when I started doing yin, during every class I would cry and I would have these realizations about things in life. Like things that I was hanging onto that no longer worked for me. Realizations about what I wanted to do with my life. I would be laying on my mat and have tears streaming down my face in the middle of class, but they weren’t tears of sadness, they were tears of shedding things that no longer served me. Tears of awakening! And after class, I felt great, like a layer had been shed from my skin.
I always felt eager to continue to go back each week because I wanted to see what would surface during the next class. I know, I’m a glutton for punishment or maybe just wide open to moving beyond life’s mud puddles that kept me feeling stuck. I mean, who goes to yoga to see what kind of emotional things they can stir up and set free? Me!
Eventually, I started practicing at home on my own. It would be a half hour, then an hour or an hour and a half… I started to lose track of time in my practice. I came to feel that no matter how crazy life got, on my mat I knew that everything right then and there was ok. For a time, it was actually the only place in my life where I knew that everything would be ok. Sometimes I still feel that way. Somehow that rectangular mat is like a little bubble that protects me from life’s craziness.
During a particularly difficult time when I felt lost for direction in my career, personal relationships and life in general, I knew that I needed to cultivate more self-love, but also to cultivate more spirituality and trust in what was unknown in order to get me through my struggles. I knew my failed relationships of the past and difficulties in many aspects of life weren’t due to other people as much as they were a result of my own behavior. My self esteem, my trust in myself, my belief in myself…I was ultimately the common denominator. I can’t dismiss that other people play a role in how life roles out sometimes, but it’s how I deal with those things that’s my business. Not changing or fixing anyone else. I can only do me.
During this time, I would get on my yoga mat in extended child’s pose in the mornings and again in the evenings, sometimes not for long, other times for much longer and it was like my time and my way of talking with the universal creator. Child’s pose always feels like a prayer pose to me. It’s like a surrender which is exactly what I felt I needed to do, surrender.
From my child’s pose, I would repeat these mantras to myself, “I love you. I trust you. I respect you. I will not abandon you. I will not betray you. I honor your past and where you are today. I hold open door of possibilities for all that is to come.”
Each line, one complete exhale, like a whisper to myself. Each moment, a surrender to knowing that I am not in charge of this crazy life, but that I trust myself to do my best, that I trust the universe to take care of me and to keep on going. Then I would ask for guidance and protection and the courage to lead my life from a place of love.
Yin practice is the way I really am able to connect my body to my mind. It’s my time to check in with myself and reconcile all the things happening in my brain. My breath is like an ocean wave. It’s the ocean wave moving out to sea and crashing into the shore. In and out, mechanically, but without permission, it happens in a pattern, the breath like an ocean wave. With each inhale comes new life force, new energy and more fuel for the body. With each exhale, a gentle letting go of all that no longer serves me. I can begin to notice what I’m hanging onto in certain areas of my body. The exhale brings a settling into the pose a little bit more. The settling is a trust I am developing with my body that I can let it stretch a little deeper because it is safe to relax.
After practicing most days over the last 2 years, I can now fold into poses I didn’t think I would ever be able to. And now I can see how my body really fits itself. Like from a seated straddle (as pictured above) when I fold over one leg, the space from my forehead to my nose fits around my knee cap. It’s a perfect fit. And in happy baby, when I grab the arches of my feet (which also fit my hands) and pull my knees towards my armpits, they also fit. It’s not a mistake. It’s a divine design that works for all of us when our bodies are healthy and are able to fold as they were meant to.
When I let go of all that I’m holding onto with the tension in my muscles and let go of the fight in my mind that doesn’t want to feel all the feels, I come into this place of quiet peaceful, love and acceptance and trust within myself. It’s a secret little love affair with myself. A form of intimacy like no other. From the outside, no one knows and from the inside it’s a smile, a hug and a knowing that what I need is already inside me.
Yin teaches me life’s lessons. Like a metaphor for all the things that feel a little bit uncomfortable in life, that I don’t really want to do, but have to do anyways… It’s like easing into a yoga pose that I’ll be holding for the next 3 minutes. I go into it and breathe, stay calm, and trust myself that I’ll make the right decision when I need to. And knowing that I’ll only be in a pose (or that season of life) for a short time. Everything changes, but I don’t just run away when things are a little uncomfortable. I keep walking towards the difficult things, the new relationship, the job interview, the new business, whatever it is…and sometimes when I get out of my way and drop my ego, my expectations and my old hurts or habits, I find that my body already knows what to do… It is then that I can let go and exhale…but I have to exhale all the way and get real empty to fill back up. The secret is that more was already inside me, but I just didn’t know it because I kept getting in my way. I wouldn’t exhale fully and didn’t trust that my body was a perfect fit for me because I had been looking outside for what’s already here.
I believe that Yin is the quiet place inside where all truth is held, waiting to be uncovered, waiting for the love to fill me (and you) up so we can give it back to the world. It’s all the lessons of life, the time to reconcile with myself about what I’m hanging onto, where I want to be going, what I’m running from. It’s the internal struggle to live truthfully and have the courage not abandon myself when things get difficult. Yin is the middle space of mediation and meditation between the pulls of life. It is the magic of this humanness. The place between seduction and suffering where everything becomes clear. My secret love affair with myself.