The Yin to your Yang

I have been practicing yoga for over a decade...since 2001 to be exact, and I started teaching in 2007.  Before becoming a yoga teacher I thought that the only kind of yoga was FLOW, Vinyasa, fast-paced, and challenging...because that is what I practiced and that is what I fell in love with.  My "yoga world" was a bit small and I had not branched out to discover new avenues.  It was in June 2008 when I met my teacher Dani Ibarra with YogaWorks that I had my eyes and heart opened up to the MANY different styles of yoga including a more "cooling" style of yoga we refer to as "therapeutic" or "restorative" or "Yin".

In my studies with the amazing teachers at YogaWorks I was introduced to the concepts of Yin and Yang, Sun (Ha) and Moon (tha), flow and restore, Sukha (ease, softness) and Sthira (strength, steadiness); all with the idea that we are constantly working to establish "balance" on our mat, in our body and in our lives.  We need the calming and cooling effects of slower-paced practices such as restoratives or therapeutics to balance out the invigorating and heating practices like vinyasa and various cardiovascular exercises.  Up until meeting Dani I had only been doing strenuous exercising like marathon running, weight lifting, power flow yoga (believe it or not, I even dabbled in Bikram yoga) and paired all of these with a stressful job...and I wondered why I was suffering from anxiety and migraine headaches!  My body, mind, and soul was in desperate need of cooling and healing.   

This newfound realization completely changed how I approached my yoga practice and my lifestyle which has ended up shaping my teaching as well.  Now, don't get me wrong, it is a wonderfully healthy thing to be exercising, going to the gym, running/walking, etc...BUT...if it is not being balanced out with the appropriate amount of down-time then we could be doing more harm than good in the long run.  Our nervous system needs the opportunity to heal and decompress so that we are not in a constant state of "fight or flight" stress.  By adopting this concept of Yin/Yang (cooling/heating) into our lives it will help us sleep better, metabolize our food better and be more calm and patient in our relationships; among countless other things.  

* You can only love and serve others from your overflow of Shakti; your energy power!  If you are depleting your own energy reserves with a stressful lifestyle (also, take an honest look at how and what you feed your body) then you are not building an overflow of positive energy and prana to properly take care of your loved-ones in an honest and sincere manner.  Overflow your container!  

So how do we achieve this in our yoga practice?

If you are my student or have been to one of my classes then you know that I am a big fan of "Work hard, Rest even harder" - starting slow, picking up the pace, heating up with flow (sun salutations), lovely slow cool-down, long quiet savasana, LOTS and LOTS of breath and mindful intention.  This is also how I like to live my life, just FYI :)  It is so important to be aware of where you put your focus, how much time you spend in a stressful environment and how often you make self-care a priority (if at all).  Being a stay-at-home mommy as well as a yoga teacher can be very draining of my energy resources because I am in the constant state of "giving" of my love, attention, and energy.  So everyday I have to make that choice to take the time to close my eyes and breathe.  I may even do a home practice, go to a group yoga class or simply lay in some kind of restorative pose (even if only for 5 minutes) so that I can remain calm and present in my daily life --pictures of examples are below!  

Here is the KEY - You HAVE to make this a priority. Period. It's a conscious decision and you have to make it important, because nobody else will do this for you!  Empower yourself and take the reigns!

Case in point - My husband, Bob, works a very stressful (and often fast-paced) job at a desk where he is on the computer and telephone all day long.  So, after work he likes working out at the gym, going for a run or bike ride, essentially whatever he can do to move his body after sitting all day...but he is also overloading his system with Yang-type practices in which his nervous system is bombarded with heating and stressful situations.  We have found that he LOVES therapeutic and restorative yoga at home.  We open his shoulders, upper back and hips without getting up off the floor of our quiet and calm bedroom.  I then put him in poses where he stays for 5-10 minutes and after a total of 30-45 minutes he is calm and more relaxed.  His nervous system needs the cooling yoga (not more vinyasa flow) to open his body slowly and deeply in order to release the stress. -- pictures below!

A few of my favorite "gentle" yoga poses:

Bob's new favorite Restorative poses with the sandbags!

Put YOU at the top of your priority list! YOU deserve that!

A few tips to finding a balance:

1.  Give yourself at least 5-10 minutes every single day for quiet and calming "You-Time" - whether it is 5 minutes in savasana on your bedroom floor, a full restorative or gentle yoga class, or a long hot bath (add essential oils for super yumminess!).

2.  Bring in props and mix things up! Sometimes our bodies stop responding to the same stimuli, so try something new - our new favorite props are the sandbags that my friend Tom gave me...thanks Tom!!

3.  Try myofascial release (or self-massage) - - or foam roll!

4.  After a vigorous or cardiovascular workout (running, walking or working out at the gym) spend some time slowing down your breath with your eyes closed and then stretch and/or foam roll.

5.  Balance your breath by making your inhales and exhales the same length - try inhaling to the count of 6 and exhaling to the count of 6.

6.  Take a quiet walk outside if you spend the majority of your time inside.