An alternative to seated meditation
I discovered Yin Yoga with Louise Ellis, an ashtanga yoga teacher who offered Yin classes in the afternoon. Right away though, I started practicing yin on my own, even outside of classes. Admittedly, part of it was that I wanted my hips to be more flexible in order to be able to put my foot behind my head, but I do not honestly believe that this was the real reason. I had known for a while that if I wanted to have more flexible hips I should sit for long periods at the time in box pigeon… and yet I was not doing it. I think what made me stick to the practice was how it enabled me to stay with my mind, offering an alternative to seated meditation. When I practice yin, I enjoy the sensations, I enjoy the calm and peace it brings to my mind – it is not strenuous the way ashtanga can be, and yet I am still focused enough not to be constantly thinking about what I should be doing else.
When I sit still and try to meditate, my mind often becomes agitated – what should I do? How should I conduct this meditation? Why isn’t anything happening? And yin took this pressure off. I can make my practice last long, posture by posture, without wondering when it will end and what I will do afterwards. I especially noticed this when I started practicing, which was in India, when I was staying in Rishikesh. Now that I am back in my home in Paris, I do notice the difference in my mind and how it is not so easy to simply stay with the practice – how I sometimes cannot help but think about what I should do afterwards… and how I often end up shortening the practice to get up and write an email, do an errand…!
Having faith in the power of the practice rather than wanting to be useful
When I first started teaching yin, I talked a lot during class, giving indications about the postures, speaking about what Yin Yoga is… I think I feared the students would think I was not doing anything if I did not.
Just recently, I realized how ironic it was! There I was, teaching a practice where you are to accept where you are, calm the mind, stop striving to accomplish something – and yet doing exactly the opposite myself, as I was teaching! There I was worrying about what others – the students – would think! Not only did I worry about what students could be thinking about this class, but also I think I was uncomfortable with not feeling useful. Which made me wonder, even in a vinyasa class, or in a Mysore style ashtanga practice, how much of what I say or adjust is really useful to the students, and how much is just I trying to feel useful?
During the retreat at Hermancia, we talked about how helping others might sometimes have more to do with fulfilling the needs of the helper… And that clearly resonated with my teaching experience.
On the day I came back from the retreat, I gave class directly, actually straight after arriving at the train station from Geneva. I still felt the atmosphere from the practices during the retreat. I think it was the first time that I was able to feel the same concentration I do during my own Yin practice while giving a class. I tried not speaking at all except to move the students from one pose to another. And I realized that probably a great deal of being present, for a teacher, depends on having faith that each student will go through what they need to go through – in fact it comes down to having faith in the practice.
So in that sense, teaching yin actually made me realize what the practice was about, perhaps even more than practicing it on my own.