Taking the Middle Road

During this past week, I have been considering the concept of moderation. It is so easy to fall into habits and extremes – mostly when it comes to diet, sleep and work. Many of us choose to see things as black or white, yes or no, never or always, right or wrong, too much or not enough…the correlations are virtually endless with this idiom which makes it understandable and relatable in many situations. Deep awareness and dedication are required to keep steering ourselves toward that middle road.

I have taken my yoga practice in moderation this week by applying the principles of yin yoga. When doing my initial research for teaching many years ago, I stumbled across the term “Goldilocks principle” or “position” as defined by Bernie Clark. It means just as the storybook explains, not doing too much, nor doing too little, but doing what is just right. Yin yoga is a very good practice to hone the concept of moderation. It permits you to judge for yourself how deeply you would like to descend into a posture. It is good preparation for knowing the difference between “stressing” the body and “pushing” the body – keep in mind that stressing the connective tissue is the intention behind yin yoga. If you want to learn more about the theory behind the practice, click here.

In general, yoga has taught me that too much flexibility is just as damaging as too much strengthening – one can lead to instability and the other, rigidity. You need to practice with both principles in your sights in order to be healthy and balanced.

If you have never heard of yin yoga or are unfamiliar with the asanas of yoga in general, then consider the concept of moderation with other activities that you do on a regular basis. An interesting examination would be to measure how much you overload the senses with screen time. This is a very common way that we tend to unconsciously overdose ourselves.

The remedy to balance and get back on the middle road is to generate awareness. I find spending time walking outdoors to be the best treatment for avoiding extreme routines. Communing with nature is equalizing, centering and definitely gives me a wiser perspective. It allows me to think more openly – in technicolor, rather than merely black or white.

As promised, I am now using this blog to supplement my new book, Yoga Posts: Building a Steady Yoga Practice One Day at a Time. This week’s post refers back to Chapter #11: A Modicum of Moderation. If you wish to start at the beginning of our journey, please look to my first post.

Do You Have a Yen for Yin?

All of us do whether we know it or not.

Our fast paced worlds yearn for a yin-like existence; one that is slower, more reserved, sensitive and quiet. Because most of the time we live in a yang domain that is full of activity, fluctuation, and intensity.

In yoga, a yang practice is certainly a dynamic one. More vigorous practices are usually labelled as ashtanga, vinyasa or power but yang yoga can be any style that is connected with active major muscle movement.

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On the contrary, yin yoga is associated with passive movements that are held longer. The specific yin poses are designed to bypass the large muscle groups and delve into the deeper connective tissues; the areas concerning the ligaments, the bones, or the joints. These connective tissues are the more sedentary elements of the body that provide stability and subtle movement within the hips, pelvis and lower spine.

Although a yin yoga practice can be restful, it is not to be confused with a restorative practice. Great awareness and a keen focus should be taken when performing these poses. Sharp sensation or pain is to be avoided at all times. Over-extension and overexertion can lead to dire repercussions for these tissues due to their slow healing times.

Yet, the benefits are plenty.  The object of Yin Yoga is to stress these deeper tissues through traction as opposed to active stretching. By bringing yourself near the edge of your limit and holding for a significant length of time, you are fully stimulating the ligaments and the joints to provide greater opening, suppleness and health.

“The essence of yin is yielding. Yang is about changing the world; yin accepts the world as it is.”   – Bernie Clark

Yoga’s Mind-Body Connection

After a class last week, one of my new students shared that she appreciated the opportunity to do restorative postures in our Basic Yoga sessions.  This brought a smile to my face – I have always believed that any yoga class is better digested when you take time within the session to do a supported pose.  Whether it occurs at the beginning or end of our class time, I try to incorporate a posture that we can marinate in for a few minutes.

I thought about why slowing down is so important. Especially when we share a class experience.

1.) We tune in.

Often times in class we are caught up in our surroundings and what others around us are doing.  Sometimes we are asked to focus on the breath but it’s rare to find the opportunity to tune in with our mind and become still.

2.) We find our center.

We need moments without instruction, interaction or stimulation to center and find the deeper connection.  Time to allow an opening or balancing to come from the pose. For many, it is only when the pose slows down that the breath joins in and the body begins to truly “feel” the yoga.

3.) We get into our bodies.

There is so much going on in a traditional pose.  The right leg does this, the left arm does that, the head looks up and through it all the spine tries to remain aligned…  Restorative poses, especially when guided with props, allow you to just be.  The pose is doing you.  We receive the support for our bodies and breath – and our minds respond by opening.

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We don’t use the body to get into a pose – we use the pose to get into the body.

– Bernie Clark