I’m beginning my yoga blogging a little closer to home, with the class that started my yoga obsession. Perhaps surprisingly for someone who enjoys exercising to the point of sweaty, scarlet-faced, endorphin-fuelled exhaustion, my first consistent yoga practice was yin yoga. Shortly after I moved back to Nottingham in 2008, I went along to one of Mike Morris’ yin yoga classes, and from that point onwards I was hooked. I went every week, and (sometimes!) even remembered to practise in between.
Yin yoga is a slow and mindful practice, where you hold postures for much longer periods of time than in most forms of hatha yoga, typically 3-5 minutes. Rather than muscular effort, you use gravity and your own body weight to go deeper into the postures. This allows access to the fascia and connective tissue, which in the Taoist tradition are thought of as the “yin” tissues of the body.
I loved it. The stillness, the calm, the letting go, and even the discomfort. Because for all its deceptive gentleness, yin yoga can be really damned uncomfortable. While you may not be holding the postures through muscular exertion, you still feel it. Trust me on this one. Five minutes of “allowing gravity to do the work” while you lie in sleeping swan with your leg tucked beneath you and your thigh externally rotating from the hip, and you really know about it. Gravity might be doing the work, but it’s certainly not going to take the discomfort for you too.
Yin yoga became my touchstone though. That class every week was the closest I could get at the time to practising meditation. I learnt to sit with my body, sit with the postures, sit with the sensations and not fight them. The idea of accepting and even exploring discomfort taught me more than months of therapy could have done.
I’ve since moved to Birmingham, where I haven’t found a yin yoga class yet, so it was with genuine excitement that on a trip back to Nottingham this month I was able to go back to Mike’s class. Returning to the practice felt like coming home. The discomfort, which my memory had dulled, was horribly and beautifully intense. Moving into each posture was fascinating. I felt the difference in my joints that the last three months of daily yoga practice have made – more openness in some places, and new aches, tender points and restrictions elsewhere. It was like checking in with myself again.