Here’s a yummy lunch I’m about to eat. I’ll share the recipe, below. What does chickpea and dumpling soup have to do with Yin Yoga? How about: expectations?
In the vinyasa flow yoga class I taught last evening, I shared some of what I learned in a workshop over the weekend. This was while my students were in lizard pose (Utthan Pristhasana). Usually, once I’ve helped everyone get limbs into the proper and personalized arrangements, I say something like the following: “it’s more of a passive pose. It’s one you set up, then let gravity do the work on the connective tissues. It is more of a “yin” pose than most of the other asana we had done in class, up until this point.”
What I added last evening: “try to remain still. Something interesting about yin poses is that they are kind of a mind game. Or at least a different kind, than the one presented by more active, effortful ones you’ve just done. Listen to how your body talks to you. Then listen to your breath. Finally, try and listen to you mind. What’s it doing while you are in this pose? What kind of topics arise?”
That “interesting” thing about Yin Yoga is something I tend to describe as “annoying” in my own practice! A few weeks ago, I went to a Yin Yoga class, at a new studio near my house, with a teacher I hadn’t met before.
I’ve had students ask me if I teach Yin or if I know of any good Yin classes nearby. I can count on one hand, the number of Yin classes I’ve been to. Despite the reason for that -I find them unpleasant- I endeavored to try out some nearby classes so that I could send my students there.
I went to the class. The teacher was earnest, cheerful and careful. I learned from her that most Yin poses work on the hips and lower spine. Despite enjoying meeting her, appreciating her playlist selections and experiencing nothing to complain about specifically: while leaving the studio, I was irritated and definitely not relaxed. I had expected, or at least hoped, to get relaxed. I was told there would be calm.
This experience validated my general feeling about Yin Yoga: it gets marketed as something that is restorative, at least in the long game. It can be beneficial to circulation and elasticity in connective tissue. But it is not “Restorative Yoga,” though it has this similarity to a restorative practice: it could never be confused for a Vinyasa Flow practice. It’s unlikely to induce sweat, at least from physical effort, though I can see it inducing sweat from frustration. It’s not necessarily a pleasant practice. It is always low down on the floor – you do all poses while seated or prone and you use at least two props for most poses. Blankets, one or more bolsters, a strap and a few blocks are helpful to have on hand. This practice, as usually guided, appears to be mostly about the body, maybe also about the breath. Not so much, about the mind.
I’m determined to find a Yin class to recommend. I’ll keep looking.
Over the weekend, while in a 3-day workshop covering “preparation for meditation,” I and my fellow teacher-trainees were guided though more than one Yin practice. The morning after one of them, we workshopped the prior day’s experiences. I shared how things went for me, in light of some sacroiliac discomfort I’ve been dealing with for the past year. I shared thoughts on my inability to accept that my body’s not ready to lie flat on the floor, at all. In retrospect, I could explain why I didn’t just go get one of the folding chairs so that the many minutes lying still on the floor would do more for me than force my sacrum and the soft tissues near it to bring tears to my eyes: ego.
I keep thinking today will be the day it plays nice. I think I see signs, in other things from my day. Maybe a breath or two will give it the time it needs. I expect it to improve. Maybe I expect it to forget it is irritated, and perhaps injured.
In sum: I shared my feelings about Yin Yoga: I hate it. And then the instructor said we’d be doing more of it, soon. GREAT.
Over the course of the weekend, we did some in-depth study of the Koshas: a map of our being, presented in the Upanishads, one of the ancient texts that inform yogic life. It’s one way to help us make sense of the relationships and relative profundity of the physical body, energy, thoughts, insights, and, finally, if you can wrap your mind around it, joy/bliss/happiness.
It’s often drawn as five concentric circles, with the physical body starting the sequence on the outer ring. Below I’ll share a personal interpretation of it that I drew at the workshop, as a mandala:
During the 2nd Yin session over the weekend, our instructor guided our minds while in various propped-up floor poses. She used the Koshas as a guide, starting with what’s in the outer ring, and moving inward:
- She instructed us to set the body up so that there is sensation, but only to a degree that the arrangement will not become high intensity sensation or pain. Decisions, decisions. This concerns the outer ring, the physical body: annamaya kosha. Sometimes it’s called the food body, in the way that food is physical matter. (I drew some fruit, growing, in that ring.)
- She then told us to set a breathing pattern and rhythm, and after a few cycles, observe what it may be telling us. We had moved inward a ring, to the energy body: pranamaya kosha.
- Next, her words moved on to where the mind goes. Is it fixating on anything in particular? Or is it flitting about, from one thing to the next? Or is it doing something else? Maybe the mind is calm, or at least, not settling on anything in particular aside from awareness of the breath. This layer is about thought processes: manomaya kosha.
- One layer deeper is where insight -the fourth ring- may arise. Perhaps it will manifest as a deep welling up of emotion -sobbing, or laughter- or an “aha!” moment. Experiences relating to discernment happen here in the vignanamaya kosha.I can think of two particular moments in yoga classes where an “aha” happened. Here’s a description of one of them: while in malasana. Squatting low to the ground, heels wide apart and glued to the mat in a very warm studio, surrounded by at least 25 others, doing mostly the same thing, or so it looked. I could think of little else but the sensations in my groin, middle back, and soleus areas. I was gazing forward at my reflection in a mirrored wall that was maybe 3 feet from my face. Zeroing in on my pupiles, I felt a flood of compassion for the woman looking back, who was me. Hasn’t happened since, and I still am not fully sure about the why or the action items to follow up on, but compassion is a good message, in general and even in particular, to self-study.At this workshop, I drew some blue taffy on my mandala, in this fourth ring. Sometimes when I’m in a relaxation pose, I manage to let go enough of mind and body that I start to feel like taffy in a taffy-pull machine, in a candy store window. I must have a stronger sweet tooth than most people: this is my way of describing the floaty feeling that some other yoga practitioners experience. I love watching those machines; I find it meditative and even joyous, which is funny because I much prefer the fudge those shops sell, over the taffy. This feeling in yoga is yummy and very positive, when I feel it and it never lasts for very long. In fact, once I recognize, it I suspect it will disappear soon. I wish muscle cramps worked that way!
It’s possible that the blue taffy represents a jump to the bliss ring or perhaps it’s just the “blank” state of the third kosha: I’m not sure. I learned that Yoga Nidra is a practice that is good for focusing on the fourth ring, and in Nidra is when I sometimes turn into taffy.
- The center ring is joy. Something we all have, but it’s buried in all the other
crap, er, layers. Sheaths. Bodies. All those things that make us walking, breathing, creative humans, rather than simply free-floating motes of smiling souls. Maybe blue taffy isn’t joy, but it is lovely nevertheless, though so ephemeral for me. This one is called anandamaya kosha.
Ahh, philosophy. Bliss. Huh. The second yin practice that weekend went better. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it, but at least I was more engaged in it. Time in poses passed a little more swiftly.
If you dare, here’s an explanations of the Koshas in little more depth.
At any rate, I learned a technique over the weekend that may help me appreciate my next Yin Yoga class. Maybe I’ll return to the class mentioned above, with my new tools and knowledge about how Yin is supposed to work.
Not rough on my mind and body last evening: the delicious Chickpea and Dumpling stew that my husband had ready for me, hot, when I returned from teaching. It was lovely and unexpected to have hot soup, waiting for me with my husband. Also a surprise: it tasted better than any chicken and dumplings I’ve had!
You’ll need to find a copy of Lindsay Nixon’s Happy Herbivore book: the internet doesn’t appear to have the recipe and I have no idea what volumes of extras and substitutions that Steve put in. Ours was a variation that made it nonvegan (chicken broth), and also employed a few other shortcuts (Italian herb blend) and creativity (Jamaican curry powder and soy lecithin granules). The latter is what happens when the nutritional yeast hides in a different cupboard than expected.