Embracing the Silence of Yin Yoga

It feels so good right now to just let my brain go to mush. This week has been awful - the sort of things that go wrong at work that you wish you'd wake up from and realize were just another Sunday night work nightmare - and it's only going to get worse. It feels so good though to let my mind just go, to release, to let it gooooo, let it goooooo, I am one with the wind and skyyyyyy.

Okay, Disney references aside, I have never been so happy to just sit on the couch and be a bum. To turn the phone off, to shut the laptop off, to shut the TV off, to just be analog and disconnected for a minute. To be in a place where you have to physically walk to find me. To find my center.

Confession: it's been a while since I did yoga. I used to practice yoga at least once a week - easily! But then there were conflicts with soccer, I had to work late too many times, it conflicted with the running group, I couldn't find a class offered in the morning or evening (seriously, why are all the intermediate or advanced classes only offered at 11:30am?! Don't these class attendees work?!), or the yoga studio was too hot or too far away or too expensive or didn't have parking. It was a pile up of one thing after another and eventually I just stopped trying.

It was a harsh reality check when I compared this year's resolutions to last year's resolutions and realized I'd lost my way with yoga over the past year. In 2015 I was mastering some of the peak poses after doing yoga for over five years and I had ambitions to do more, and then in 2016 that all just fell away. And I know there's a limit on what all I can do - it's impossible to do everything - but I've always believed that the flexibility and balance I've cultivated with yoga, as well as the mindfulness and awareness of what my body needs, has been a major factor in keeping me injury-free.

Besides some chafing, black or missing toenails, a short bout with plantar's fasciitis, and a couple concussions from soccer (haha, okay, so besides A LOT of things - not to mention the daily minor scrapes and bruises) I've luckily been injury-free. My IT band hasn't turned into a constant point of pain, my ACL has never snapped, I've kept shin splints at bay, and I've never really had persistent musculoskeletal pain, and it's all because I listen to my body, constantly adapt my training and diet, and keep flexible. But these are skills that I have to practice and cultivate. I can no longer just grab my feet and tuck my head between my knees and ask, "Am I supposed to feel a stretch here?" I can no longer plop into pigeon pose, fold over flat on the ground, and take a nap. I can't even perfectly swing from warrior two to warrior three without a bobble, and I miss that. I feel stiffer when I run and I need that balance more than ever when I'm climbing a rock wall, trying to shift my weight to the outside of one foot and step up blindly to the next hand- and foothold. I need that balance and flexibility.

So I finally prioritized going to a yoga class again. And then I realized my favorite classes still don't match my schedule, that one studio is still too hot, that other one still has no parking, that other one is all the way in downtown Raleigh, and omg I'm already paying for a gym membership so why can't I just find a class there?

I forced my schedule fit though and I snuck into my old yoga class that I loved and I was so excited to unroll my mat and greet my favorite teacher. 

And then we got into the first pose. And we held it for five minutes. And then we got into the next pose. And we held that for five minutes.

"Oh no," I realized. "It's the third Tuesday of the month. That means it's yin yoga today!"

Yin yoga is a slow, meditative practice where you may hold poses for a minute or so for beginners to five minutes or more for more advanced practitioners. The idea is to really settle into the pose and let your connective tissues relax and become more flexible. It's a great complement to other practices to really help you explore all the nooks and crannies of a pose, but for just getting back into yoga? My connective tissues ached, my feet kept going numb, and, worst of all, my mind whirred and buzzed like an angry beehive.

I made it through the session, eventually finding a mental happy (or happy enough) place, but it wasn't without struggle, and, disappointingly, I struggled even more at the "restorative" yoga at the climbing gym that turned out to be yin yoga with five minute asanas (poses) as well. It's so frustrating to not be able to turn off the chatter. Even if we turn off our phones, tablets, laptops, and TVs and unplug entirely there is always this residual noise bouncing around our heads - echoes from the latest angry soundbite, a vestige of that disappointing email, a reminder of that embarrassing thing you said. We can shut off our electronics, but it's so much harder to shut off our brains and just be mindful and present in the moment.

This is what I miss more than anything with yoga. Yes, being able to put my head between my legs and do a headstand is cool and everything, but the ability to settle down, quieten, meditate, and be mindful is just as important (and arguable more so).

It's with this reminder then that I go forward with my yoga practice: to forgive myself my shortcomings but to guide myself to a better mental state. To embrace the silence instead of filling it with pointless noise every second of the day. To check in with myself and with others. To constantly reassess and make microadjustments. To be steady. To be strong. This is the way forward and now I can practice and improve.

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