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Thursday, January 17, 2008

i'm in with the "yin" crowd

my recent affair with antibiotics forced me to temporarily shelve all hardcore strength-based yoga classes and focus instead on classes that were more relaxed. in other words, it was out with the fast and furious; in with the slow and gentle.

because of that, i'm becoming quite the yin yoga connoisseur :)

i've discovered that just as there are different variations of vinyasa flow and power yoga classes, there are also many versions of yin yoga classes.

there's the original taoist yin/yang yoga, fine-tuned and taught by paulie zink (with whom i was fortunate enough to take a class at santa monica yoga last year):

The style of Taoist Yoga taught by Master Zink was originally developed by Taoist priests in northern China and used for maintaining physical vigor and mental clarity. It encompasses flexibility training, movement exercises, visualizations and breathing meditations which are designed to increase suppleness and stamina, cultivate vital life force, release tension, calm the mind, and enhance self-awareness.

Taoist yoga draws upon the doctrine of the five elements and the principle of yin and yang used in Chinese medicine and acupuncture. Yin and yang are the polarities of a whole, the complimentary opposites of dark and light, cold and hot, soft and hard, female and male that allow all things to come into being. They are the two sides of a coin. One cannot exist without the other. Yin and yang are contraction and expansion, the crest and peak of a wave. Yin and yang are the pulse of the universe, the vibration of energy that is inherent in all life.

then there's the more commonly-practiced version of yin yoga, based on taoist yoga and made popular by zink's student, paul grilley (btw, he'll be teaching a series of classes next month at yoga house in pasadena):

A Taoist analysis of Yoga practice emphasizes the critical difference between Yin and Yang tissues of the body. Muscles and blood are Yang, connective tissues and joints are Yin. Yin and Yang tissues do not respond to training in the same way and a student’s practice becomes more effective when the difference is understood.

Most forms of Yoga practiced today are Yang, they emphasize muscular movement and contraction. By contrast Yin Yoga targets the connective tissue of the hips, pelvis and lower spine. Yin postures are held three to five to ten minutes at a time. This type of practice complements the more muscular styles of Yoga and is a great aid for learning to sit in meditation.

being a yoga student here in LA has its advantages; i've been able to practice with teachers who've clearly been influenced by both yin masters.

on one hand, there was cindy fraser's slow deep stretch/yin yoga class at santa monica yoga on saturday afternoon. cindy's one of the few teachers here in southern california who've actually trained with and have been teacher-certified by zink himself. her class consisted of slow, controlled movements that worked on stretching and loosening up the joints in the body. we rotated and shook our shoulders, arms, and legs to get them to ease up. we flexed our backs and swayed our hips to help them become more pliable. we held poses for a few minutes until our muscles let go. i emerged from her class feeling more limber, more relaxed. ahh...

and on the other was catherine moulding's yin class at harmony yoga on tuesday evening. instead of a loose, free-form practice, her class was more structured. it seemed to mimic the version described online at yinyoga.com, a site that describes in depth the yin form taught by grilley:

In Paul Grilley's book Yin Yoga, he lists eighteen yin poses, along with five yang poses to be used in between the yin poses. If you are planning to hold each pose for five minutes, and if you allow a one-minute rest between postures, a five-minute meditation at the beginning of the practice, and a five-minute Shavasana at the end, in a ninety-minute class you will have time for only thirteen poses. There will be even fewer if you are doing two sides or other variations in each posture.

of course, i didn't know this when i showed up for class, so finding out that i was being exposed to a version of yin yoga with a fixed repertoire of poses was an interesting discovery.

but unlike the other yin teachers who spend a considerable amount of time describing how to get into each pose and how to make modifications if needed, catherine merely called out each pose, gave us a brief description of what went where, then remained silent for the next five minutes or so. which was fine and dandy if you knew what the "seal", "swan", and "dragon" poses were. but since they were neither the english nor sanskrit names i was familiar with, i had to look around to see what everyone else was doing. problem was, i really couldn't see any of the students around me because it was pitch dark in the room! you see, to make it more conducive to relaxing, all the lights in the room were dimmed way down. but it was so dark in there that half the time i couldn't even tell where catherine was as she roamed around! to make things worse, there were times when i couldn't even hear what she was saying. that's because the music was cranked up so loud that it drowned out what little she said (can someone please tell me how to relax when music's pounding in your ears?). so since i couldn't hear nor see what i was supposed to be doing, i ended up making things up as i went along. by the time class ended, i found myself frustrated and annoyed. which was in stark contrast to the regulars in her class who were cheerfully bidding her goodbye. argh... to each his own...

and then there are the yin instructors who teach variations of zink's and grilley's style of teaching.

like aaron reed who taught at exhale sacred movement monday night (he was subbing for denise kaufman); his teaching style is more aligned with the taoist method, so we spent most of the time moving freely and fluidly through the poses.

and lynda carre, whose class i had taken the prior saturday, again at sacred movement. she focused on stretching the connective tissue of the body by having us hold poses for long periods of time. somewhat like the class at harmony, but it just seemed like a more soothing experience to me.

other yin teachers i've practiced with in the past are denise kaufman at sacred movement and guin lyster at santa monica yoga. there are many others whose classes i'd like to visit; i'll make sure to try them out the next time i need to stretch more... which is pretty much all the time. oh well.

on the days when i couldn't find any yin classes that fit into my schedule, i took some restorative classes to stay within the slow stretch theme, like sharon skok's wednesday evening class at city yoga and shari goodhartz's sunday evening class at still yoga. and like all other restorative classes, it was all about using props -- bolsters, blankets, and straps -- to remain in supported poses to help calm down and restore my mind and body.

sometime during the week, i felt the need to the waters and see how my energy level was doing; i attended the IGNITE celebration of yoga and activism at sacred movement on friday night. it was team-taught by hala khouri, seane corn, and shiva rea. i was instantly reenergized as i flowed through 36 sun salutations, then moved wildly and freely while suzanne sterling and her band filled the room with ecstatic chanting and drumming.

it was then that i realized that i was back to my normal self... and could finally take a break from the "yin" thing and veer back into "yang" territory... at least for now...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks--you're always so generous and open in your comments---but there really are classes where i've asked the teacher to show me a whatever (because there's no demo or expanation and sh'es said "just do what everyone else is doing, but they've each being doing something different( I have a pretty good eye) and she's not given any corrections or adjustments to her regulars. Or, in most classes "If you bind, do it" or if you're an advanced student do blank(no demo or explanation) or "If you're a jumper, jump into chattarunga" all when you're in no position to see even if the lights ere on.

2:40 PM  
Blogger joni said...

hi pb :)

i'm assuming you're referring to my "yin in the dark" experience...

it's true that there are times when you just have to ask. i've noticed, though, that most good teachers can instinctively tell when a student needs help, so they immediately head over to assist them. in larger classes, sometimes the students have to catch their eye or flag them down before they come over.

in my case, rather than spend time looking for the teacher, i gave up trying to figure out what i had to do and reverted to doing familiar poses just to maximize my stretch time. besides, i wondered: if i can't see nor hear her, can she actually see or hear me?

6:42 PM  

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