The Power of Yin

For most of us Yin yoga is an anecdote to the busy and fractured lanes we live in. You'll traverse through discomfort in the hips, hamstrings, upper back and chest but you'll end up in a different place to where you began. It just may not be where you expected.

The Power of Yin
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So much more than time is needed

Mainstream dialogue over the past few months has tried to make us aware of something. The abundance of time we were all delivered. Albeit the gift of time was wrapped in a blanket of highly contagious germs, but it was time nonetheless.

Someone told us we should use our gift of corona wrapped time wisely. Actually a lot of people said it. The Deans of uni’s who gave us discounted courses. Medico’s trying to make home as appealing as possible. Outnumbered cops.

It also seemed like a fine time for self-development.

In your time starved pre-corona life you might have been restricted to yoga only once a week, maybe twice if you played your cards right.

But since time started showing up in droves, we can do yoga as one hashtag puts it #everydamnday.

Whilst the theory is sound, in reality it’s all BS.

In reality so much more than time is required.

The obvious requirement is motivation. It’s either internally or externally grown. The ideal storehouse is internal so external ripples don’t influence your goals and plans. All rain does is change the location of your run. An unreliable training partner delivers a solo session with music instead of talking.

I was in the Navy with someone who asked me repeatedly to run behind and yell at her to keep running. Whilst I found it absurd and the best way to ruin a peaceful run in the park, she knew her enemy.

Based on the conversations I’ve had with people over the last 12 years and especially the last three months, motivation doesn’t feel like the entire answer.

A fear of not doing the postures right. An expectation that it can’t possibly be as good as in a studio with a teacher. The restraint of time – I don’t have an hour and yoga is always an hour.

Just like my friend, knowing your enemy is powerful.

Some of the following words are yours, some are mine. They are snippets of conversations I’ve had over the past few months that seem to highlight these categories of enemies.

“If you move with awareness, you actually have to go out of your way to hurt yourself.”

“The worst case scenario in doing the postures a little bit right and a little bit wrong is the net value ends up neutral so physically you’re where you began. However what you’ve increased is internal motivation, habit and self-sufficiency.”

“15 minutes of yoga a day is more beneficial than one hour a week.”

“I now realise the value in curiosity.”

“I’ve heard a particular instruction for the past seven years but it wasn’t until I was in my house, doing it by myself that I got it.”

“I forget stuff that is said to me all the time but I don’t think I’ll ever forget the realisations I’ve come to on my own. These realisations I feel rather than think.”

There’s also another big player in the enemy game. It’s been at the heart of many conversations.

Who’s responsible?

I find the answer to this baffling, interesting, infuriating and provoking.

As humans we crave independence. It’s liberating. But of all the independence we seek, wellness doesn’t seem to be one.

We routinely hand ourselves over to doctors. We follow chains of referrals without asking questions. We pop whatever pills. We follow apps and trainers and years later still have no idea about our biology.

I couldn’t wait to be self-sufficient in yoga. I viewed it as a mark of independence. The interesting thing was that entering into self-sufficiency didn’t result in my never attending a class, enrolling in a course or interacting with a teacher. I did all those things. I did it with purpose though. I actively sought out information in areas I wasn’t yet self-sufficient in.

So who is responsible?

When you view responsibility through one lens it can look a lot like hard work. When you view it through another, it looks a lot like freedom.


Internal Heat

The gold standard in awareness.

The purpose of the practice is to generate heat, not from an external source but organically. As with everything, it always feels a little sweeter when you work for it.

The practice culminates in what has become the gold standard in self-awareness.

Perfect for the morning or when you need to wake up during the day.

Internal Heat
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Move to Meditate

FLOW | MEDITATION

This practice is designed for the morning, taking you from lying all the way to standing, gradually and deliberately moving and warming the spine. The culmination is not more movement but the ability to sit in comfortable stillness for a short 10 minute meditation.

Move to Meditate
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A friend to sleep

MEDITATION | YOGA NIDRA | BREATHWORK

Sleep is essential but can be elusive. Yoga Nidra is a tool that induces the precursors to sleep, warmth and heaviness. This practice will be a friend to your sleep.

A Friend to Sleep.mp3
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Release deeply

RESTORE

The body can’t be forced to relax. It has the opposite effect. This practice creates cues so relaxation is gradually inevitable.

Release Deeply
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The art of disruption

YIN

It is very possible to have disruption and steadiness exist side by side. This Yin practice is about that contrast.

The Art of Disruption
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Deep not Wide

YIN

The edge of discomfort is a place you’d really rather leave but have the ability to stay. It’s essential to visit this place to cultivate change. This Yin practice takes you to less places but drops you in deeply. It’s about finding steadiness at the edge.

Deep not Wide.mp3
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Repetition Builds Rhythm

FLOW

Small movements when strung together create a flow. This practice encourages you to apply your efforts on the small, simple parts and let that effort create the overall motion for you.

Repetition Builds Rhythm
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Resistance as Opportunity

FLOW

This practice is an opportunity to not only take advantage of restriction but appreciate how essential it is for cultivating strength, stamina and discipline.


Resistance as Opportunity
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No Effort Exhale

RESTORE

The relaxation response happens when you breathe out. This practice takes you to an effortless exhale by applying a little bit of effort on the inhale. The more body rises on the inhale, the more it will fall on the exhale.

No Effort Exhale
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Transforming Tension

RELAXATION

The state of relaxation is becoming elusive, rather than something we can easily and spontaneously drop into. Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a technique where we consciously create more tension in specific parts of the body to then access an even deeper release. This audio will guide you around the body, releasing every drop of tension, to a state where the body can let go completely.

Transforming Tension
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Mountain Savasana

RELAXATION

Savasana is the most coveted of all the postures. It’s the perfect antidote to our hectic, multi-tasking and constantly turned on lifestyles. During savasana we practice the most desirable way of being, deep relaxation alongside calm, steady alertness. This audio will take you, breath by breath, deeply into savasana.

Mountain Savasana
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Just Breathe

MEDITATION | YOGA NIDRA | BREATHWORK

The process of breathing is as simple as it is complex. Your experiences are coloured by what you choose to focus on; either the simplicity or the complexity. This audio will guide you around the simplicity of breathing, expanding and contracting.

Just Breathe
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Hero pose, overalls and Tim Tams

At sea, my home was a little communications centre. It was tucked away directly behind the bridge and had just enough room for two (preferably small) people. It had a cool design feature in that it was all modularised, like old school Ikea. The idea was if a module broke, it could be slid out and a new one slid straight in. New modules could be shipped all across the globe, to places where specialised technicians couldn't. They stayed in Sydney, building and fixing, shipping and receiving.

For the three years I was on one particular ship the HF mod never worked. I think it had been broken for years and years, its broken-ness handed over to each new crew. HF, or high frequency is the backup frequency and used to send distress signals. It has the power to transmit anywhere, ovaries included.

I used this convenient little 6x4 space to store Tim Tams. I could comfortably stack 6 packets side-ways. I had worked out I could relocate four packets at a time, from the galley to my comcen. One of the small joys in wearing overalls.

Yes, I used to pinch Tim Tams.

Not too soon after I arrived on HMAS Hawkesbury, the crew realised I was a little different. No surprises there. Very quickly I found my quietness and the comcen created the perfect outlet. I had a fairly steady stream of visitors from 5am through to midnight and whilst I sent signals, destroyed crypto, fixed internet issues, hoisted flags and deciphered morse code, people told me their secrets. There were a lot of secrets onboard.

I figured that along with my ears, the least I could do was supply Tim Tams (courtesy of the galley).

In comms school I learnt the ins and outs of HF, the technical aspects, the functionality, the design features. In reality my experience of HF was deliciously different. My version of HF was far from broken and ironically still served its purpose as an invaluable port of call in times of distress. Long stints at sea were all the more difficult when travelling with secrets. There were drug issues, palliative family members, broken marriages, affairs, secret relationships and mental health issues.

The point is that everything has a purpose. Every posture has a purpose. The purpose is what unites us but how we get there, is what differentiates us.

Lately knees, wrists, shoulders and lumbar spines have been getting in the way. Getting in the way of many postures, for many people. Getting in the way of the purpose. Supta Virasana (reclining hero pose) is a perfect example.

B. Tight quads creating a compressive arch in lumbar spine.

The main purpose of this posture is to lengthen the quadriceps. If the quads are short and tight, they will pull on the lumbar spine, tipping it forward which compresses and creates discomfort in the low back (image B).

Variations: Reclining back on a bolster means the recline angle is decreased. Keeping the opposite knee bent with the foot flat on the mat gives greater control over the lumbar spine. Ensuring the pelvis is tilted back means the tailbone tucks under. If the quad is really tight and therefore short, it can lift off the mat so rolling up a towel and wedging it under allows the bent back knee to release.

If your low back is uncomfortable and you stay, you've unintentionally modified the purpose to create discomfort in your low back. If your knees are screaming, your new purpose is to destroy your knees one hero pose at a time. Some people need a block under the bolster, others don't recline at all, while some bring both legs back at once. How we get to the quads is what differentiates us, what connects us is a sensation in the quads.

I didn't feel reckless or unsafe not getting the HF mod replaced. We needed those Tim Tams as much as we needed, in times of distress, to dump the weight of the world. I knew that if HMAS Hawkesbury and its strange, loveable crew got into real trouble, we had the VHF radio, the UHF radio, the LAN, the flags and the lights. If all of those options failed and the only other thing was the HF mod, it probably wouldn't have worked anyway, Tim Tams or not.


Meet Trish

Meet Trish

Life in the corporate world took its toll.

Travel to work swallowed up spare time. Mental exhaustion extinguished motivation. When Trish looked up, she was in her 50’s and her once regular yoga practice had faded to a distant memory. Over the years she dropped in every now and then on a class, in a gym, in a run-down hall, perhaps a little at home but nothing became a committed practice like it had in the early days.

As the years went by Trish developed injuries and discomfort she’d never had before, arthritis crept into her left knee and plantar fasciitis crippled her feet for a time. She didn’t realise she didn’t know how to breathe.

Now in her late 60’s, there is one place that Trish is every Thursday night, without fail. Yoga.

Trish is testament to the power of showing up.

She’d never experienced slow, restorative yoga until she arrived at Yoga Emporium almost two years ago.  She was amazed at the power of yoga nidra, a practice where the physical body is led into deep rest while the mind remains alert.

In the early days the security blanket Trish had wrapped around her knee was obvious. No to pidgeon pose, no to kneeling for an extended period. No, my knee can’t do that. No. No. No. But yoga is accommodating, there are variations for every posture, variations for every injury or ailment you could possibly arrive with.

Then yoga did what yoga does. It worked.

Trish attempted pidgeon pose, a manipulated version to accommodate her knee and the result was empowering. Her knee no longer holds her back, physically or mentally. The security blanket has gone.

Meet Trish

Meet Andrew

Meet Andrew

When he first came he couldn’t lie flat.

He couldn’t lie flat on his back because it felt the way an extreme backbend would feel to you or me. The tightness around his neck and shoulders restricted his head from resting back on the mat. With his head propped up on a block, Andrew came religiously to yoga once a week. No more and no less. At the 6 month mark, the block became redundant. His head was happy on the mat.

A lot had to happen in 6 months for the block to become unnecessary.

A shift in the thoracic spine, erector spinae, trapezius and rhomboids in the back and pectoral muscles, anterior neck muscles and jaw in the front but the most important thing that happened was the showing up week in, week out. Andrew now comes religiously to yoga twice a week. No more and no less. He also brings his teenage daughter with him once a week.

Meet Andrew

“The main thing I take from yoga into everyday life is awareness. I am more aware of my body – my posture, the way I sit, stand and move. I am also more aware of my mind – my thought processes, my self-talk and my emotions.” Imagine being empowered with this as a teenager.


Meet Jayde

Meet Jayde

She’s a visual masterpiece of tattoos.

Perhaps they’ve all got a story or maybe it’s just because they look good. Jayde’s story starts with an unlikely job in the corporate world, a job she fell into, in the same company her mum and dad work for. A job with a secure pay check, good prospects but one that doesn’t deliver much in the way of satisfaction. The truth is she’s funny, she’s really bl**dy funny but don’t tell anyone at work.

She came to yoga because she had too. Plus she knew there was a lay-down at the end of class.

With a deep hate of exercise, sweating and a self-declared uncoordinated person, she felt she should do something that ticked the health and wellbeing box. Two years later and hot yoga is part of her routine. She comes now because of the unexpected benefits she gets, “I sleep better and I can deal with the stress of my corporate job. I’ve learnt to clear my mind. Yoga has been an essential part of my personal growth.”

Meet Jayde

Jayde is preparing for her first stand-up comedy gig later in the year. Perhaps a new career trajectory or just some weekend satisfaction. In the same way she loves arriving at yoga not knowing what the class will focus on, what she’ll find challenging and what she’ll learn about herself, she’s happy not to focus on the outcome but really enjoy the getting there.


What yoga has to say about injuries

Our recent Tea and Talk Satsang unpacked the topic of injuries, added a few cups of tea and refreshing conversation. We ended up with these thoughts on the relationship between yoga and injuries.

First thought.

Yoga works in layers and is always prompting the question “what’s behind this layer, and then what’s behind the next?” If there’s an injury in the skeletal layer, say with the shoulder joint, yoga wants to know what’s going on deeper. If you take yoga’s prompt and start to enquire about the layers, you might follow a shoulder injury to a fundamental lifestyle issue. Your lifestyle might not allow you to strike a balance between moving and being sedentary. Fix the shoulder and you’ll be fine for a while but fix the lifestyle issue and you’ll experience much deeper restoration.

Another example are tight hips, a common muscular layer injury. Yoga views the pelvis as a big storage area, holding onto emotional and physical trauma, sexual and childbirth scars. These traumas will continue to accumulate unless we regularly clear out and release what’s been captured.

Working on deeper layers takes time and the deeper you go the less you can outsource. It’s often a case of it getting really uncomfortable and cloudy before you break through into clarity.

Second thought.

The way yoga was originally designed is not often how we practice it. If we have knowledge of the system and practice with it in mind, our practice would start with very subtle movements, rotating and manipulating each and every joint, limb and muscle. First sitting, then standing, moving from top to bottom, side to side, moving slowly in every direction. This conscious rotation of movement allows you to paint a picture, clearly signposting the locations of tightness, discomfort, pain and injury. In the same way a meditation practice shows you the landscape of the mind, a physical asana practice shows you the state of the body.

The postures you then do specifically target the imbalances you’ve observed. Yoga thinks it absurd to practice a whole lot of forward bends if the issue lies with bending the spine backward. In this way our practice caters to what we need, not what we want or what we’re already good at.

Other gems that came up:

  • Nobody is as vested in your wellness as you are.
  • Most people feel inferior a lot of the time. This is especially true in the company of GPs, specialists and other health care providers. While they specialise in their field, they don’t specialise in you.
  • Long-term injuries do so much damage to our expectation of wellness. We start to accept that feeling like crap is normal.
  • We often don’t know which questions to ask. This makes getting the right answer near impossible. The question is just as important as the answer.

Some injuries are left unexplained for people. Sometimes no x-ray or scan can explain how something came to be. They walk away thinking that’s the end of the story, that’s how they are going to be for the rest of their days. If that’s the end of the injury story, if no amount of research and questioning can give you answers, then what’s the start of the next story? The next phase of becoming friends with our injuries and inviting them home for tea.