10 November, 2015
Everybody has an entry point for their journey with yoga. For some it might be a particular teacher or studio that resonates. For others it might be a interesting practice or technique. It could even be the impact of a amazing book, that gives you such a change in perspective that it leaves you wanting more.
My entry point was a style of yoga popular in the US called ‘Power Yoga’. This is championed by celebrity yoga teachers like Baron Baptiste and Brian Kest, among many others. Like it’s name suggests, it is a strong, athletic asana sequence about 90 minutes long. Power Yoga is not dissimilar to the Ashtanga primary series, and many of the ‘founding fathers’ of Power Yoga were Ashtangis in a past life. Often Power Yoga is practised in a heated room, not quite as hot as Bikram (about 29 – 30 degrees, whereas Bikram classes are taught in sultry climes as high as 40 degrees). These days the term ‘Power Yoga’ is used less frequently, more common is ‘hot yoga’ or ‘flow yoga’.
The practice was hard – and that’s what my ego liked about it. It was predominantly about releasing the body, almost no pranayama or meditation techniques were taught. After pushing, over-stretching and pummelling the body for 85 minutes, I felt the final 5 minutes lying back in shavasna was absolute bliss. I would feel weightless and serene. I quickly became addicted practising 5 – 6 times a week, completing 40 day challenges and putting my practice above all else. My body toned up like never before and I noticeably lost weight. Friends started to comment on the change.
Of course this practice was not sustainable. Life got in the way. I moved countries, a teacher and studio were no longer at hand and so I experimented with other styles of yoga. One of the first classes I went to in London was a yin yoga class. I had never heard of this before, although I was familiar with the idea of yin and yang. A yin style of asana practice is 95% completed on the mat. In a 60 minute class you might only perform 7 or 8 shapes, for each side of the body, holding for 4 minutes per pose. Arriving with my expectations of a strong style practice I could barely sit through the whole class. My mind complained the whole way; ‘This is so boring’, ‘Nothing is happening’, ‘I’m not even working here’. I couldn’t be still with myself for very long back then. I gave up on yin and didn’t revisit it for many years.
Continuing on my yoga journey I experimented and read about many different styles and teachings. As many of you know, my vedic meditation technique has had a huge impact on my life. Meditation – stillness of mind – is the purpose and essence of all yoga. The more I meditated, the less appealing practices like Bikram and Power Yoga became. I realised I could treat the body a lot more gently and get the same benefits and results. But of course like any good journey, and like other experiences in my life – relationships, work, school, money – sometimes it’s what you learn on the hard way that helps you to recognise the peaceful way (and I’ve chosen MANY hard ways).
In Chinese philosophy the polar energies of yin and yang are actually very complimentary. We all have reservoirs of both yin and yang in our bodies – however in our busy, stressed, Western lives it’s easy to get out of whack and be too much yang with not enough yin. Yang is all that is masculine: the sun, the day, heating and active. Yin is his opposite, all that is feminine: the moon, the silver night, the cooling hand when the fever hits, the deep rest. With my degree in hindsight, I see now that my power yoga practice was an overdose of yang. In fact when I started introducing more yin yoga, weekly, my yang practice actually improved considerably. Not only was I releasing tension in my muscles, I was working deeply to release the connective tissues in the joints, ligaments and even bones. My posture improved. My weight stabilised. I found balance in the mind that could be carried over in to months and years, not just days and weeks. Even though I wasn’t sweating a bucket and exhausting myself, I was still working deeply and effectively.
I am a passionate believer in women’s rights and equality, however there is an imbalance growing which removes us from our feminine heart. As modern girls we are raised up encouraged that we can be, do, embody anything that boys can. Truth! However I also notice a stripping back of the feminine, and an embracing and championing of the masculine. We want the power, the money, the fame, the ownership, the confidence, the fearlessness and muscle - whereas on an authentic level we can be part of those things, but we are not those things. We have lost the auto dial for our feminine soul. Compassionate, maternal, loving, giving. The nourisher, the giver, the healer. Unconditional love and protection. Aren’t these roles of equal importance in the world if we are to keep the place balanced?
Let’s not even worry about the world here. Let’s just worry about our own internal world. Our own balance of yin and yang and what we can do to rebalance, reconnect and refocus on our own authenticity. Not victims but owners, responsible for our own shit, our own ‘stuff’, letting it go and moving it on, so we can embrace more of who we are truly meant to be.
If you’re curious to reveal a little more of your true potential, to remove a little more of the old mask – please join me on Saturday 28 November at The Workshop, Hinemoa St Birkenhead for a two hour workshop on the basics of yin yoga and meditation. We will be delving deeply, gently and purposefully. Stress will literally come streaming off you like steam in a Rotorua hot pool!
Click the link for more info and to book your mat.
Only ten spots available!