Yoga on the Yinside

by Eena

I write this one day before I begin my 351st hour in yoga teacher training, this time around to deepen my Yin Yoga practice.

"God Almighty, I bow to you, Divine Teacher. Can I come up now?"

“God Almighty, Divine Teacher, I bow to you. Can I come up now?”

“Does vulnerability have a certain charge for you?” A question posed by one of my yoga teachers last week, a question prompted again by a bloody experience in Yin Yoga last night.

Another yoga teacher led that class, one who was miffed that since many beginners had decided to join the class he had to modify our meditation. He explained to said students that Yin Yoga is healing because it is a practice that trains one’s ability to relax. But in order to do so, one must surrender to time and gravity by easing into a pose for about five minutes.

Well, screw me, because in the middle of that class I felt like a beginner all over again.

One of the poses, called Twisted Root, requires the practitioner to lie on the mat facing up and twisting with the legs crossed. It is an intense stretch for the side body, made more horrible by the five minutes she is asked to hold it.

The legs in Twisted Root

The legs in Twisted Root

In some of my attempts to do this pose, I’ve had to struggle to quiet my chitta-vritti (mind fluctuations or noise) and usually failed in the process. The body would feel relatively at ease (even my über-tight IT band since I chose the reverse leg option), but the mind would play games–panic rising and falling in rhythm to a familiar anxiety attack that used to plague my earliest yin practices and that mimicked some of the toughest emotional rides of my life.

Last night I tried to concentrate on my breathing to dispel the feelings within. But when this didn’t work after the tenth cycle, panic rose again.

By the time we entered Pentacle (savasana in the vinyasa system) I was anything but relaxed and I had to resort to troubleshooting. Successfully, thank Shiva.

Through experience I’ve found the easiest “cheats” to make my brain shut the hell up:

  • Curl up on my side like a fetus for the duration of savasana
  • Lie on my stomach in reverse savasana
  • Roll into child’s pose for three minutes before retrying Pentacle

Interestingly the anxiety visits me only in supine poses (e.g. Bananasana,Half cradle, Tiger). I’m easily able to deal in vertical poses (e.g. Butterfly and Dragon).

I understand this is because forward bends are more calming, more grounding, with the senses less exposed to environmental stimuli. When I’m supine, however, the world opens up to me–air, temperature, sound, light, someone’s fancy perfume. There’s so much energy that I allow to fuel the chitta-vritti.

Serene on the outside, roiling on the inside

Serene on the outside, roiling on the inside

A second look at the situation reveals to me that the frustration stems from a feeling of lack of control. I say ‘feeling’ because the yogini in fact always has control; she can choose to breathe, she can choose to find space, she can choose one thought over another that doesn’t serve her.

But despite months of taking Yin yoga classes, the occasional pose–even in a beginner class–will challenge me. In my imagination some unnamed authority (okay, it’s obviously me) commands me to stay, stay, STAY for another three damn minutes. Don’t you dare go anywhere else.

My teacher who posed the question at the beginning of this post says that supine poses can make one feel vulnerable. This clearly extends beyond the physical.

To answer that question, yes, I do have issues with vulnerability. I do not cope well with uncertainty (how much longer must I stay here?) and with the possibility of punishment (retreat means self-defeat). I do not cope well with limits, with authority, with lack of control.

How then does this yogini heal herself when the practice is all about learning to surrender?

Looks like this yogini has a long, long way to go. Namaste, Teacher, and touché. Yoga never fails to humble me.