Yoga and Me – from tightness to teaching
| Simon Bradley | Décembre 2018 |
My first ever yoga class was in the Union Hall of the University of Otago in Dunedin in the South Island of New Zealand. I was 19 years old and had finally given in to the persuasions of my girlfriend at the time. So instead of joining my university mates at the local student bar for jugs of beer, that fateful day I ended up doing the Downward Facing Dog, Chaturanga Dandasana, and various other strange sounding, and equally astonishing looking Asanas or postures in a yoga class in that Union Hall at the University.
If you had told me back then that many years later I would be teaching yoga as a career I would have probably assumed you’d been with my university drinking buddies that day and had consumed too many jugs of that same beer! But indeed I now have a thriving practice in London, teaching people of all ages, experiences and walks of life.
But let’s go back to that class at the student hall, because my teaching journey didn’t start right there and then. It came a bit later. At that time, I was very much into weightlifting and bodybuilding, and if you can picture a fairly heavily muscled nineteen year old guy attempting some of the more complex yoga postures for the first time, you’d have a clearer picture of me in that first class!
It was tough, because as well as being a lot bigger and more heavily muscled than I am now (which in itself puts to rest that old myth that when you cease lifting weights it all turns to flab!), I have never been naturally very flexible. And so to me it was a revelation! I could see its immense value on at least a physical level, and it was the start of a lifelong practice, alongside a continuing interest in weight training and fitness (I am also a Fitness Instructor and Personal Trainer here in London).
That first yoga class resonated powerfully with me, and I would continue attending classes wherever I was in the world and whenever I could find a good yoga class to go to. But teaching came a little later, and indeed my own yoga practice also didn’t become serious until an injury led me down a new path in life.
I am still to this day not sure exactly what caused the injury, but I was subsequently in and out of hospitals and various specialists rooms trying to establish a cause and a cure, until finally I ended up in one of the most well known and respected orthopaedic surgeon’s offices in that same (medical) university town in Dunedin in New Zealand. He told me I needed “fusion” surgery to immobilise my spine, and if I would agree to it, he could book me in to do it the following week.
I told him I wanted to think about it. To this day, I can still hear the words this surgeon offhandedly threw at me as I left his surgery. He actually said “you’ll be back”.
I didn’t take his words lightly, because at the time I was in agony! But not long before the injury I had been to that very first yoga class, and it had shown me how incredibly tight and inflexible I was. And at the time of this injury, I couldn’t even bend forwards beyond ninety degrees, let alone get anywhere near touching my toes! So I made an agreement with myself – that if I can stretch and practice yoga to the point where I can in fact “touch my toes”, then and only then, if I still had this level of pain, I would agree to the surgery.
The first yoga class after the visit to the surgeon, we did shoulder stands, and I had to leave the class because I was in so much pain. To this day I don’t ever do shoulder stands in my class, and the experience was a valuable one because it taught me that yoga should never hurt, should never aggravate or make an injury worse, and that you have to find postures that help and work for you. I went back to more classes, and was lucky to have a brilliant and understanding teacher. (He was an Iyengar teacher, and Iyengar style yoga still infuses all my own teaching).
I also practiced on my own, and slowly things improved. In the end even though I still couldn’t reach my toes, my back pain subsided to the point where I didn’t need the surgery. The practice I’d started would continue and eventually take me to India and a teaching qualification. This in turn would combine with a Fitness and Personal Training Business in London. I never completely left behind the weight training and consider the two disciplines as supremely compatible and complimentary.
As for the surgeon I saw in Dunedin in the South Island of New Zealand? I never saw him again. I didn’t need to. To use some of his own words…. I never went back.
What is Yin Yoga?
The concept of Yin and Yang is if Chinese origin, but can very much align itself with Yoga. Yin and Yang refers to opposite but complimentary parts of the one whole. They are interdependent and go together. One often doesn’t make sense without the other – think good and bad as an example.
In yoga, “yang” refers to the dynamic, the faster paced practice, the movement and sequence that often feature heavily in such styles of yoga as Ashtanga, or Vinyasa Flow. There isn’t (as far as this writer is aware!) a style of yoga that has been called Yang – but there is in fact an ever-increasingly popular style referred to as Yin Yoga.
In Yin Yoga, postures are held for longer periods of time. In a more traditional 90 minute Yin yoga class, each posture would typically be held for around 5 to 6 minutes, in an one hour class, perhaps 3 to 4 minutes. The time given to each posture will depend on the teacher giving the class, but the thing that defines Yin practice is a longer hold, and in minutes as opposed to anything shorter in duration.
Students new to the practice need not be alarmed into thinking they will be asked to hold a “Warrior” posture for 5 minutes! Every posture in a Yin yoga class with few exceptions is either sitting on the ground or lying down. It is all “ground level” as a practice, and consists of postures and shapes that lend themselves to holding for this length of time. Think of postures like the Cobra, or a lying down twist. You won’t even be doing a Downward Facing Dog in Yin Yoga!
The benefits of holding postures for longer are many, but shouldn’t be thought of as “better” than a more “Yang” style practice. The philosophy itself is built around the two going together. Sometimes your body will feel like more like a Yang class, and sometimes there may be more need for a Yin practice. Most classes in fact are a mixture of the two, involving some movement and a certain amount of “static” holds. It is just Yin that focuses on these longer held postures.
The longer holds in Yin yoga reach further and deeper into the “connective tissue” of the body. This tissue takes longer to respond to movement and exercise but has been shown to respond to longer held stretches and postures. The result is a deeper stretch, more release of tightness in the body, realignment of joints that require a bit more time to adjust and realign, and a deeply relaxing overall practice. Students are often surprised how quickly a Yin yoga class can go by!
Yin Yoga is suitable for all levels of yoga practitioner, and while unique and a little different to more traditional styles, is often nice for beginners who can get used to a postures shape and feel by being in it for longer. And of course such a practice is also an often welcome change and release for the more seasoned Ashtanga practitioner too! After all, this is what the concept of Yin and Yang is all about!