I didn't go into this training as a yoga teacher, nor with the intention to craft a carrier out of teaching yoga. I expanded on my reasons for doing the course in my last post, but my main intention was to be able to become confident in integrating yoga practice and philosophy into my own daily life - to become my own teacher, so to speak. I can learn a lot from books and online resources, but somehow there is nothing like immersing myself in an interactive and engaging way with people who really know their shit! And doing this course renewed the value of this to me.
The night before starting, I couldn't hide that my joy was also mixed up with a little bit of anxiety. Not having the experience of a yoga teacher, or being a fully dedicated yogi as of late (weight lifting has been my main focus - another reason why I felt I needed to re-immerse myself in yoga haha!), I was concerned that all the other participants would be super competent and advanced teachers and practitioners, and that I would fall behind or feel out of place. The requirement to the course, as stated on their website, was a minimum of 2 years of yoga practice (non-specified). While I've been exposed to yoga for around 7 years now, I have gone through on/off periods, and lately more off than on! Well, I couldn't have been more wrong!
Yes, a lot of the participants were experienced teachers of varying degrees, but not at one point did I feel out of place - maybe I had to study more and do more background research than others because of experience, but I felt completely welcomed and accepted ;)
Also, even though many were teachers, quite a few were not yet familiar with Yin Yoga, and were trained in other styles of yoga. So we were all learning together :)
A difference I observed that it did make in class, was that I was more observant and asked less questions than others who were teachers - which makes sense as they had more technical and pragmatic perspectives to consider for teaching their own classes.
Daily Schedule and Set-Up
8-8:30am: Meditation (Anapana)
9-10:30am: Morning Yin Yoga Practice (long)
10:30-12: Morning "Lecture"
12-2pm: Lunch Break
2-2:15pm: 10 minute meditation
2:15-4:30pm: Afternoon "Lecture" (with a break somewhere in between), usually with hand-on labs and pair work
4:30-5pm: Afternoon Yin Yoga Practice (short)
Everyday, we were to be in the hall precisely by 2 minutes to 8 (so at 7:58am), sat ready and comfortable for the 8am Gong that marked the start of the 30 minute morning meditation.
For the most of Level 1, we used the Anapana meditation technique, and also got introduced to the counting method, for those who found it hard to focus solely on the Anapana spot (the space above the upper lip and below the nostrils). The object of meditation was the natural rhythm of our breath, without trying to modify or change it, just observing the sensation of the breath on the Anapana spot, at the expense of all else.
The teacher(s) often guided the mediation, and as the week went on, the talk became progressively less, allowing more and more silence and stillness to fill the time.
I absolutely loved the little lectures during meditation that were usually about the meditation technique or benefits, and sometimes philosophical, or stories and anecdotes relating to the concepts of mediation and yoga. Or just simple cues for us to come back to the breath, and not to feed thoughts and our thought process that is bound to arise.
After meditation, we had a 30 minute break until 9am, and then we started our first yoga practice of the day: 90 minutes of Yin Yoga. I looked forward to this every single day!
After a 10 minute break post practice, we would then start the first lecture of the day.
Lunch was 2 hours from 12-2pm. At first, some found this break too long - after all, the normal work day lunch break around here is a rushed 45 minutes! What to do with all of this time!? :P Someone asked if it could be shortened, and the teachers smiled as if they had been almost expecting this reaction, and said they had shortened the break down from the 3h in their trainings in Asia, down to 2h! So 2h was the accommodated and Western-adjusted time :P As the week went on, we quickly realised how valuable it was to have 2 hours - when they say intensive course, it really was intensive! 2h at lunch went by very fast using it to absorb everything learnt (and have a nap!), and also look up on notes and work on the assessment we had been given. I wouldn't have minded 3h in the end :P
The afternoon had a longer lecture, and ended with a short half hour of practice at the end of the day (and sometimes only 20 minutes depending on how many questions we had!) - I always hoped for a longer class, I loved it so much! We finished at 5pm.
How Yin Yoga is different
Yin yoga is not a trademarked yoga style, not does it claim to be the latest hot new yoga trend! It is simply a yoga practice that embodies the Yin qualities of the Yin/Yang concept within Taoism. Yin yoga juxtaposes Yang forms of yoga from a practical and conceptual perspective.
Many other yoga styles, especially the ones so popular in the West, tend to be much more towards the Yang side, such as Bikram, Vinyasa Flow and Ashtanga - any practice where repetition, dynamic movement and rhythm and muscle contraction dominate. In Yin yoga, you surrender and yield, and it is physically more passive, static, soft and gentle. It emphasises relaxation and comfort, while gently stressing tissue in a beneficial way, to enable connective tissue to adapt. It affects and focuses predominantly on the Yin-like tissues in the body, like connective tissue and bone, as well as the joints and the fascial system in a gentle and non-invasive but very deep manner. This juxtaposes more Yang forms of yoga that work on the Yang-like tissues of in the body, of the muscles, blood and skin.
The pose is then followed by a 1-2 minute counter or rebound pose that allows the body to absorb the beneficial effects of the practice, and creates space to release deeper layers of tension, and open up to deeper levels of relaxation. It moves beyond just the muscle tissue, and targets the release of fascia (which surrounds every muscle bundle and sarcomere - you can't separate the two), by playing with the 2 stimulations of tension and compression. Research suggests that a minimum duration of 2-5 minutes is needed to influence the tissue, and up to 20 minutes is beneficial. After 20 minutes, the tissue can "rebel" and contract again, so the window of beneficial influence is generally 2-20 minutes.
Instead of dynamic movement, Yin yoga celebrates stillness, and instead of looking at yoga though an aesthetic, alignment-based approach, it looks through the lens of functionality - how you feel in a pose, vis a vis how you (are supposed to) look in a pose.
One pattern I noticed when being exposed to this type of yoga is the encouragement of surrendering and accepting the present moment and current condition of the body and mind, and does not encourage or push the achievement of the "ideal posture". In Yin yoga, the "ideal" posture does not exist, as every body is so diverse to one another - as we saw through the anatomical and skeletal variations I expand a bit below on. Instead of trying to reach a standardised alignment or aesthetic, Yin yoga works wth these individual skeletal and anatomical variations to facilitate the actualisation of what is possible for each individual by understanding his/her limitations in order to bring awareness of what is possible to improve (experiencing muscle tension in a pose? Possible to improve! Experiencing joint/bone-to-bone compression during a pose? This is not possible to improve, and is the end of a range of motion possible!).
Personally, although all the yoga sessions and styles I've come across do help release stress mentally and physically, I found that the quality of stillness that is omnipresent in Yin yoga facilitates the stillness of the mind.
Realising this really enlightened me to the phenomena of why I DIDN'T feel more relaxed or energised after yoga sessions! My lifestyle and training was already so Yang, that a more Yang yoga style was doing nothing to balance the Yin/Yang equilibrium. Just because it has the name "yoga", doesn't mean that it is relaxing enough for everyone! My muscle didn't need extra contraction, even if it is a different form of stimulation than when doing weight lifting, but muscle contraction is muscle contraction, and holding warrior pose is no exception!
Functional Approach to Yoga
This Level 1 Yin course was heavily anatomy-based, and even those who had done previous yoga teacher trainings in other styles commented that they had never done so much anatomy! The purpose was to understand skeletal and anatomical variation and grasp the fact that every BODY is unique and has different ranges of motion, which means that there can be no one ideal standard for a pose!
For example, a state of (bone to bone) compression is the endpoint of a range of motion for an individual. This endpoint can vary greatly from person to person due to skeletal and anatomical variation. When compression becomes a limitation during an asana, this is a parameter that cannot be improved with practice as it is purely mechanical, and will determine, after tension of the muscle and connective tissue is addressed, the possible extent of range of motion for that individual in that particular pose.
We got to explore this concept in practice during the course by doing labs and practical work, and manually touching each others bodies (in a very respectful manner of course!) to get a hands-on view of how mechanically different we were, even in a room of only 30 people. It was quite amazing! One lab involved half of the class lying on the ground, and the other half got to go around and gently press on the ASIS of the pelvis to see the difference in size, shape, prominence and anatomical features - there was, of course, a remarkably distinctive difference between the male and female pelvis, but EACH and every person differed. This also includes the hip socket location, rotation, shape, size, which then in turn effects the rage of motion in so many asanas, etc. Sometimes it is NOT because you aren't flexible or enlightened enough that you can't seem to reach the "ideal" of an asana, but simply because there is a MECHANICAL, anatomical limitation present!
The lesson here was to acknowledge this, and then be encouraged to work on what we CAN improve (muscle, fascia and connective tissue tension), while accepting what we cannot (compression indicating the endpoint of a range of motion). Throughout the whole course, and especially during our daily practices, we were guided and encouraged to cultivate the ability to distinguish between the (sometimes very subtle) sensations of tension and compression within the framework of our own body.
Tools to teach yoga from a functional perspective
To help guide the teaching of yoga from a functional approach, we were introduced to 3 main tools in this Level 1 course:
1. The Thigh Mandala
2. The Torso Mandala
3. The 14 skeletal segments of the body
End of week assessment
Personal experience: body & mind changes after 8 days
I began relating to my body in new ways, and with this unblocking of the fascial system (and I'm sure there is much more to go!, and many more layers to it), I felt this subtle energy flow that I've never consciously experienced before.
And beyond the physical body, my psychology also responded - I felt a shift towards deep relaxation, and a new appreciation for the present moment. Even during other yoga classes and practice, I have never felt so deeply relaxed, nor felt that SPACE be provided and accepted, where I could BE so deeply relaxed. This was all about MINIMUM engagement and stimulation, and MAXIMUM relaxation.
As someone who is coming from a go, go, go mentality, and doing crossfit and triathlon and weightlifting, I never would have thought that this is what I would be attracted to, and I think some at first may get bored during this type of yoga and think that's it's useless and a waste of time - but it is really what I NEED to balance that extreme Yin side of my training and attitude. It's made me feel more whole and balanced, and made me realise that the more that I want to go to the extreme side of sport and performance and life in general, the more I NEED deep relaxation and the other extreme of Yin - they complement each other, not contradict each other.
And 5 random people came up to me yesterday (even stopped their car as they were driving past!) on the street (our 1 day off), and asked if I did bodybuilding! One guy asked if I boxed and how I had "SO" much muscle haha - I found this so funny as the past 2 weeks I've been doing mainly yoga - and YIN yoga at that! Apart from being rather random (albeit very nice complements!), I feel that I carry myself differently, and my body feels more supple and fluid, in the best way possible! And apparently I havent lost any muscle ;P
I think this carries over perfectly to strength training, and also to my recovery time as Yin Yoga truly activates my parasympathetic nervous system, and targets the fascial and connective tissue. This is especially needed as my body has been in a high sympathetic nervous system state with chronic illness and autoimmunity, and the Bioresonance testing I did a few weeks back suggested that I was still in a slightly sympathetic state (at a point were I was past the "worst" and in recovery already).
The best of both worlds! I find that with applying stresses from both extremes - the Yin side of rest and deep relaxation and connective tissue work, and the Yang side of intense movement and muscle stimulation, my body is balancing and becoming healthier!
How I will plan differently for the Level 2 ahead
So even if the intensity and volume of my training went down the past 9 days, I kept up with consistency, which keeps the momentum going. I also then focused on being more on point with my nutrition, and followed a modified IF (Intermittant Fasting) approach. In the morning, I would drink around 1/2L of water upon waking, followed by coffee (ah, I don't like to use it when my NS is drained, but it saved me!). I would then drink 1-2L of water and fluid (including this medicinal mushroom drink I get from 4 Sigma Foods - it's the bomb!) throughout the morning. I started eating around midday most days (some around 10am), and then my next and last meal was usually post weight training around 7pm. Considering how busy I was, and with everything that was going on, I actually found this eating schedule pretty effortless and suitable! In fact, I felt the best I have in a long, long time, and felt like I found a rhythm that my body really likes.
The "surprise" that burst my bubble
And then - WHAM! Gut wrench as I couldn't spot my bike, and upon assuring that it wasn't there, feeling sick with anger and sadness. My road bike was stolen! I think loosing my road bike is the ONLY material thing that could cause me to go into meltdown: out of everything, it is my one possession that I am (was) truly, truly attached to! I would literally be happy if I had nothing but my bike (and maybe some underwear for dignity) - something maybe only fellow bike friends can comprehend!The first day of the teacher training entailed me going through a roller coaster of all spectrums of emotion. Biking to the course in the morning, I was filled with gratitude, and coming out at the end of the day, I was literally elated with the purest joy and contentment, feeling that this was one of the best experiences of my life.
And well, it certainly gave me a lot of material to meditate on!