Why Yin?

peppermint patty dancingWe’ve had a weirdly warm September here in Toronto, but with some truly beautiful days.  A few inspired me to get outside and move my body — I went for a random solo 100km bike ride on what turned out to be the hottest day of the year, and Kim and I got out for a 75 ride together, finally (Hi kim!).  And I few times, I managed a couple of those short runs where everything works that make me feel like Peppermint Patty dancing.  (Or doing aerobics — who knew Peppermint Patty had a fitness video?  The world is indeed full).

But — as Sam has written about, September grinds a bit hard on me.  I’ve had a ton of tiring work to do, including a four day intensive I teach in, and a few quick work trips that tuckered me out.  So although I shoved a few workouts in here and there, and managed to get to spinning a couple of times, I just felt tired all the time.  And most of the time, when I was working out, it was either a horrible slog or I’d rev up suddenly and madly and end up overdoing it.  Off balance, a little?

Last week, I was in London (Ontario) for a two day work trip, and I was on my own after my work finished.  It was another glorious sunny day, and I went for a 5K run down on the multi-use path by the river.  It should have been delightful… but it was just… a plod.  I stopped more than I should have, and was sort of vaguely conscious that things just didn’t feel… right.

Earlier that day I’d had the instinct that maybe I needed some yoga, so I’d signed up for a Moksha hot yoga yin class at a studio I’d never been to before.  (Tip:  sign up and pay in advance, because I sure didn’t feel like going after my bleh 5K run).  After my run, I changed my shorts, swiped off the sweat, and grabbed a hotel towel.  I walked over to the studio, through a mostly nice, somewhat sketchy park.

A woman wearing pristine white yoga clothes doing eye of the needle pose

Yin is basically a form of yoga that focuses on connective tissues, where after a warm up (in this class, we did a series of sun salutations and warrior poses for about 20 minutes), you hold a few postures for a long time.  (These tend to be the stretchy deep postures like twists or pigeon, not balancing or strength postures).  I’ve done yin a few times before, but I tend to put it in the “I should do this more” category instead of the “I am actually doing this” category.  It seems like a lot of effort to find my yoga matt, pay $20 and go lie down on the floor in someone else’s studio for an hour or so when I could just lie down on my own living room floor.

Except, of course, I never lie down on my own living room floor.

Cate with messy hair and a certain … glow… after a 5k run and hot yin class

As soon as I sank down on the mat I paid $2 to rent, I listened to what I was feeling.  For the first time in weeks, I let myself notice that the bottoms of my feet hurt.  My hips were tight and sore.  My calves were almost knotted. I used a strap to pull my leg straight up to stretch out my hamstring and it was as taut as an overtuned viola string.  The hot room loosened me up, and I still couldn’t fully stretch out my legs without them yipping at me like a tiny angry dog.  My neck was tight and my big toe and thumb — both showing early osteo-arthritis — downright hurt.

How had I not noticed how much everything ached?

I’m not gonna lie here.  This was not a comfortable class.  I focused on form in the vinyasas, and it was an effort. I wobbled in warrior.  The most basic backbend gave me that “eek I’m being strangled” feeling.   Even the simplest twist — legs one way, arms the other while lying on your back — was a challenge.  Very quickly into the class I realized that while I have been pushing my body through work, through travel, through workouts, through long days in shoes that make my knees hurt — I’ve been ignoring what’s happening under one layer of it.

I’m 52, and I’m really quite fit, and I’m working a lot… I’m tired.

I think, when I get busy, I have this quite phenomenal capacity to keep moving myself forward — I can do a LOT of work and switch gears quickly, I can juggle many things.  I can push myself through a hot 100km ride on sheer will.  But I can easily stop paying attention to the next layer underneath — both physically and emotionally.  When I’m pushing myself through a busy life, I stop stretching and I stop breathing.  And when I start listening, I notice the soreness beneath.

And all of those tuckered out, bickering connective tissues are a built in alarm system telling me “do something different or something is going to break.”  The last time I ignored that alarm system I ended up training for a marathon through a grindingly askew hip/IT-band/knee/calf system, and hurt my knee irrevocably.  Then, I put a postit on my bathroom mirror that said “listen to your body.”

Lying on that mat in yin class, my body squawked loudly.  More stretching, more sleep, more care, please.

Okay.  More yin, I think.

What are your signals that it’s time to lie on the floor and stretch?

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives in Toronto.  She works in education and sustainable strategic change, primarily in the space of academic healthcare.  She writes for this blog on the second Friday of every month, as well as at other random times when she feels compelled to yammer.












4 thoughts on “Why Yin?

  1. This resonated so much! My biggest sign is when I realize the bed is filled with massage balls, the foam roller and a heating pad, so I have all the tools handy when I wake up in pain ot can’t sleep because of it. The earlier warning comes when I’m not excited to go to dance class, or ride my horse, or feel like skipping swim practice.

  2. What a great post! Loved the images of the wobbly warrior (I do too sometimes), and the overtuned violin string hams. And they are soooo familiar. I received a loud-and-clear signal about a month ago from my body: I had shooting pain from my left shoulder blade up my neck and down my arm. Sitting and typing and driving all hurt a lot. Really– a lot. I got a bunch of acupuncture, which helped temporarily with symptoms, but whatever it was didn’t get a lot better. Until…. I decided to do some yoga every day. I’m now on day 8 and my shoulder/neck/arm are considerably better. Will be writing about it this weekend. Keep it up with the yin and let us know how it goes.

  3. I practice yoga daily, I teach yin twice a week.
    Yin normally has no moving in the class. It’s all about softening into poses, so you don’t want to warm up…you should try a non heated yin.

    I know I need less when I find myself rushing around at loose ends and feeling defeated. That means I need some quiet time.

    Recently I’ve actually felt I need more sometimes, and tried a spin class instead of yoga. I used to spin a few times a week., but haven’t for a while. My butt hurt.,.

    It’s all a balancing act.

  4. I love Moksha and frequent that studio (mostly Saturday mornings). I’ve missed the Yin class and your post is a good reminder to get back to it. I had to chuckle at your description of Victoria Park as “somewhat sketchy.” It’s actually not, but after dark it’s probably to be avoided (as any park).

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