The Gentle Beauty of Yin Yoga – Love It Or Your Money Back!

Yin yoga was developed to penetrate deep into connective tissue expanding flexibility while invigorating the energy centers of the body (nadis) to release blockages and increase your energy flow.

Yin yoga was developed to penetrate deep into connective tissue expanding flexibility while invigorating the energy centers of the body (nadis) to release blockages and increase your energy flow.

Many people have asked me about Yin yoga after seeing it on our new October schedule – what it is, why they should try it and why it’s different to our usual flow classes. And since we aim to please at our little riverside yoga studio, here is some information that may help you to decide whether it’s something you want to add to your practice (the answer is yes, by the way):

A quiet, meditative yoga practice, also called taoist yoga, Yin focuses on lengthening connective tissues and is meant to complement yang yoga—your muscle-forming flow that is most often practiced in Western studios. Yin poses are passive, meaning you’re supposed to relax muscles and let gravity do the work. And they’re long—you’ll practice patience here too.

Yin Yoga uses gentle long held postures practiced with an attitude of compassionate acceptance to awaken the more Yin parts of our physical, emotional and spiritual selves. It is an amazing practice that is dominantly seated, that focuses on bringing health and vitality back to body/mind/spirit through the manipulation of the fascia (connective tissue), the energy body and all sensations and emotions that come along for the ride. Its a profound practice, very insightful and carries a wealth of healing knowledge that can be applied to anybody. A lot of yin is allowing yourselves to be tender and wise within our own forms.  There is so much wisdom in the water and tissues in the body, we simply must create a safe and relaxed setting for this wisdom and energy to flow. Yin helps to still the body, setting it shapes that allow us to target the areas where energy tends to get stuck.

Yin focuses on the hips, pelvis and spine mostly but because the body cannot be separated into parts and sides, yin yoga examines the body as a connected unit of tissues that communicate, contain or liberate other aspects of the body. We can all relate to that feeling stuck or out of place feeling in the body. We know what it needs to flow, with inside and out.

Yin has a few simple principles. Find the shape that works for you. Victoria will guide you into the pose but you may find that you need to adjust it slightly to suit your own body (as with ‘normal’ yang yoga) – until it feels right. Turn the muscles off, relax the body, deepen the breath, stay present and hold for time. Seems simple right? Looks like it from the external appearance,but on the inside we are looking for and hanging out in the places in the body where we tend to hold, resist and feel stuck in. It’s in the tension in the body that we can unlock the keys to healing, realigning and becoming stable in who we are. The long holds and focus on breath in Yin means that classes have this air of meditation and the same feeling of otherworldiness only long breathing sessions and moving of blockages can do. I recently did one of Victoria’s Yin classes and I felt like I was floating by the end of the class – even speaking felt like it was too loud and jarring after the peaceful atmosphere she created so masterfully. Her beautiful Norwegian accent and her ability to hold the silences without needing to fill them with words just helped to make it a truly magical experience.

I really, really, really recommend that everyone tries one of these classes at least once. See it as the biggest and kindest gift and token of self love that you could give yourself this month. You will not regret it. In fact, if you don’t like it, I will give you your money back. So please, go to one and feed back to me how it was, so I can put my money where my mouth is. No pressure, Vic!

I took a lot of this information from a lovely site called ‘Love Light Yoga’ – check them out if you want to show them some love.

“How do I know when I’m getting better at yoga?”

This is something that I am asked fairly regularly by people that come to my little Stellenbosch yoga studio. Another question is: ‘How often should I practice ideally, in order to get the maximum benefits?’

There is no one or simple answer to either of those questions, and they are both worth asking. At the risk of being one of those annoying people who doesn’t give a straight answer but rather launches into a long-winded anecdote, allow me to tell you a quick little story…

I took a few days off work (my day job, not teaching) this week so I could go with my family to the gorgeous coastal town of Hermanus for a short break. It was such a treat to give my kids the undivided attention that they deserve and thrive upon, and I specifically didn’t take my laptop with me because I felt I needed to switch off and relax and recharge after a couple of pressurised weeks in the office . I was introduced to a lovely little studio in Hermanus called Yoga Heart by my dear friend and fellow teacher Leli Hoch a few years back and whenever I am nearby, I make a point of dropping in for a class. So, I was extremely excited about fitting in a ‘still’ class yesterday morning, at 10.30am on Wednesday. I elected to walk along the magical cliff path, my favourite thing about the town, rather than drive, and ended up hopelessly underestimating how long it would take me to get to the studio – I would have been almost half an hour late.

And this is where the answer to the above question started becoming clear: although I was initially annoyed with myself – really pissed off actually – at having got my planning so badly wrong, swiftly followed by a real sense of disappointment at the fact that I was going to miss my class that I had looked forward to for a while, both those feelings were gently wiped away by a real, deep-seated sense of ‘oh well, that clearly wasn’t meant to be; I guess that means I’m supposed to be doing something else then’. And to cut a long story short, I ended up finding a lovely secluded bench along the path where I rolled out my mat and did some fabulous breath work and meditation instead.

It was one of those really lovely moments where I really, genuinely felt that I have made progress in my yoga practice. At a time that I’ve been pulled away from my mat a lot, what with work pressures and family commitments, and through which I’ve been aware of a little voice in the back of my mind nattering on about how long it’s been since I tried out a new arm balance, for example, or why I haven’t taught a workshop for a while, or why I’m not meditating for as long as I would like to each day, it was almost a relief that find that I actually have come to a place – after all these years of practicing yoga – where I am finding a growing flexibility. And I’m referring to a flexibility in my mind and heart, rather than my body.

I am a bit of a control freak. I like things to work out, especially when I have taken time to plan well. I have often felt that people who say ‘it wasn’t meant to be’ are subtly making excuses for not having got out of bed early enough or who are just sugar-coating real disappointments because that’s what they think that they should do or say. And sometimes I need to think carefully when I find myself saying yogic cliches, like ‘everything happens for a reason’ (I say that a lot) as to whether I really think that or if it’s just another platitude. So, it was a wonderful, liberating, uplifting and reassuring feeling to find that I really didn’t mind missing the class after all. And that I didn’t beat myself up about not making the class. And that I really, genuinely, felt in my heart of hearts that I was supposed to be on the cliff path on my own rather than in a studio with a bunch of other people.

So, I guess the short answer to the question is you know you’re getting better at yoga when not just your body but your mind starts showing distinct signs of increased flexibility. The ability to go with the flow. When you find that you are having a real shift away from the negative ways and thoughts and habits that hold you back and keep you trapped. They can be big or small. They can change. I’ve been practicing yoga for almost twenty years and this is the first time I’ve really felt this particular shift. Made the entire trip to Hermanus worthwhile.

As for the question about the ideal amount that one should practice, I’ve always said that it’s whatever you can manage. Some folk say you should aim for at least 2 classes a week… I say that there’s no point in stressing yourself about getting to a class if it’s not working in your life. Do as much as you can, but by that I don’t mean as many classes a week as you can: just do whatever you can – even 5 minutes a day is good (my go-to home pose is Cat Cow) so that it’s a pleasure in your life and not a chore. If it works for you, you will probably find that you start gravitating towards making more time for yoga in your life. If it doesn’t work for you, don’t force it – but that’s probably a good indicator that there’s something that you may want to have a little look at, to figure out why there is resistance towards getting on your mat. We all have it sometimes. Nothing to freak out about, just a little flag that pokes up and says ‘hey, you may want take a deeper look at this’…

More about that in my next post!

Life Lessons Learned from Riding a Bike

I’m busy going through the wonderful, if harrowing, rite of passage of starting to teach my 4 year-old how to ride a proper bicycle. Harrowing for me, that is – he is as fearless and plucky as can be. I have it on good advice from my sister (mum of 4 and, along with my BFF Cath – another mum of 4 – my go-to person in most questions in the child-rearing department) that the 2 or so years he’s spent on his ‘balance bike’ (otherwise known as a JD Bug, or a ‘Lady Bike’ as my Danny fondly and misguidedly refers to it) will ensure a smooth and painless transition to a proper bike, and that the stabilisers / training wheels supplied with the bike are wholly unnecessary and will in fact have the undesired effect of making him question his balance and start to rely on them instead. We’re both willing to try this theory out and so far so good, in that I’m spending long afternoons running up and down the driveway and path outside our house, hanging onto the saddle while I push him along, his little legs pumping up and down like pistons but not doing very much in terms of actually propelling him forward. I’m getting fit, he’s having a ball, and I’m confident that it’s just a matter of time before he gets the hang of it.

This whole experience has made me think about some very simple similarities between riding a bike and living a happy life. Indulge me, if you will, this is hardly rocket science.

You need to have a good idea about where you’re going, and you need to keep your eyes on the road, but at the same time you’ve got to expect, and be prepared for, obstacles to crop up when you least expect, want or need them to.

When they do, inevitably, occur, it seems that there are two ways of dealing with them. One is to tighten your grip on the handlebars, squeeze your face into a tight ball, hold your breath, speed up and try to blast through whatever is in your way. You may get through to the other side but you may well get hurt, and it’s not going to be much fun. The other is to loosen your grip slightly, slow down, take a few deep breaths, and have a good look for detours or ways around the blockage. Maybe even stop and take stock for a while. Perhaps put your bike down, lie back against a tree and listen to the birds for a while. Maybe go back to where you came from and try again from a slightly different angle. But go easy and go gentle.

I guess it’s all about not being too hell-bent on staying on a chosen course, but being prepared for things to change along the way, and finding a way to adapt so that you still get to your destination. Or choosing a new destination altogether.

Balance is an obvious one that is hugely beneficial. Not going too far one way or the other, but finding a middle ground that works for you. Or even if you’re not a middle ground kind of person, at least knowing where it is so you can get back to it if you need to.

The ability to recover, to dust yourself off and get back in the saddle if you hit a tree. As many times as necessary. Although if it’s the same tree you keep hitting, maybe it’s time to take a good long look at the path you’ve chosen and trying to figure out why you keep making the same mistake over and over.

It all makes me realise how this parenting thing is just so much more complex than going through the motions of getting the kids to eat, drink, brush teeth, bath, ride a bike, walk, talk etc but that ultimately you are their role model for much more important lessons. It simultaneously terrifies me and thrills me. The pressure! – especially when I am still learning so many lessons myself each day and have a semi-infinite number more to learn. And then I remind myself to loosen my grip slightly, show a little more flexibility, and instead of focusing solely on the destination, to live in the moment and enjoy the beautiful ride.