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Yin and Yang: A Story of Two Yogas

Friday prayer at the Jama Masjid, Dehli
Image via Wikipedia

Morning yoga, as predicted, has been shelving off pretty dramatically lately: cool, dark, foggy mornings do not inspire early rising.  There are only 2 more mornings left of 6:15 yoga classes, then morning yoga goes away until April.

When I got to the studio on Wednesday, no one was there, so I decided to do as much of the Ashtanga Primary Series as I could fit into an hour.  I got out my David Swenson book (I tend to forget the sequence in places), my blanket for Tiriang, my pranayama bolster for sivasana, and my headband, and as I was just about to start, Irene walked in.

Irene is a new student, a college student, and a very interesting, mature, intelligent and disciplined student as far as I can tell, but she hasn’t been practicing very long.  I asked her if she’d be up to doing an Ashtanga practice with me, and she agreed, so we began.

I forgot how much I love that practice!  I really do, despite the fact that I can’t do half the poses.  The sequence makes me happy, the athleticism of it makes me happy, and even the fact that it shows me up as far as my limitations go, makes me happy.

It does derange me a bit if I do it too much, though.  It’s very yang, and especially in the winter when my vata is challenged, too much strong pranayam and too much striving and pushing, cause me to become twitchy and irritable, rather than grounded and unflappable.  Ashtanga can definitely kick up my dust and flap me!  But, in moderate doses, it is just the ticket for breaking me out of the winter “slugs.”

Yin Yoga, my latest love and obsession. is very still, introspective and grounding.  I have been practicing steadily for the past few months and it reminds me of the yoga I used to do when I was first doing yoga back in college, using only books as guides.  Since I didn’t know any better, I’d hold the poses for extraordinarily long times, getting lost in sensations and wiggling deeper into the forward bends particularly.  I’d end my practice in a whole new country within the universe of my body.

Now I am teaching an 8-week session of Yin, and it’s really strange. I feel like I’m ripping my students off.  In a yang-style class, I talk a lot, cue a lot, make suggestions based on what I am seeing, and do physical adjustments.  From a “teaching” perspective, it’s very active and busy.

But in Yin, I basically just time them.  I guide them into a pose, and then while they hold it, I might offer some encouragement for a deeper release, but after that there is a lot of silence and I simply watch them.

Tonight as I looked out over the room of rounded backs deeply engrossed in their private struggles with Caterpillar, I was struck with the beauty and the holiness of what I was seeing.  It looked like prayer, or a moment of deep devotion. It reminded me of the old men prostrated in the Jama Masjid in India, and how their just being there on their prayer rugs caused a whole gaggle of chatty tourists to immediately become quiet and still. And just watch in reverence and awe.

There is a place for Yin and a place for Yang.  Too much Yin, and I could just mush out.  Too much Yang and I break like a guitar string: twang!

But in balance, I play sweetly, softly, and with reckless abandon.

Author:

I’m a small town yoga teacher who says motherfucker a lot. I hate anything woo. I’m into neuroscience. And facts. I’ll lead the chanting of “om” sometimes, but it makes me feel awkward. I want to access flow states. As far as yoga helps me do that, I’m into it. Dopamine is my fave neurotransmitter. Don’t tell anyone I told you this.

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