I’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions – I don’t like the pressure of self-imposed expectation and the subsequent self-criticism when I (invariably) ‘fail’. However, I do like to try new things - and the start of a new year is the perfect opportunity to do so. Trying something new may be a one-off experience; but it could also lead to a life-long hobby and source of wellbeing and pleasure.
Last September I went to my first ever yoga class – as I’ve always worked in education, autumn is my equivalent of a ‘new year’. I’d ‘expressed an interest’ online, on a whim over the summer, and then promptly forgot about it until I received an email at the start of September telling me – to my surprise - that I was on the class list. I almost cancelled but went along just to see what it was like, and because it seemed impolite not to. Four months later, and my Sunday evening ‘Yin yoga’ class has become a regular and much-loved part of my week; and just as significantly, it’s become an important accompaniment to my therapy.
I am very much a ‘yoga novice’, and know virtually nothing about forms of it other than Yin. Yin is a more meditative approach to yoga, carried out entirely on the floor, and involves holding postures for longer periods of time, usually (in the context of a class) ranging from a minute to five minutes. Yin yoga nourishes the body’s connective tissue with its stretches and holds, but it is also an exercise in finding an inner stillness, and so is intimately connected with mindfulness. The idea is that by ‘breathing into’ the postures and by closely observing the breath while holding them, we can focus on the present moment and reduce the constant ‘chatter’ that goes on in our minds.
It is calming and slow-paced, but it is not easy or comfortable. The postures shouldn’t hurt, but they should take us outside our comfort zone. My yoga teacher talks about finding our own point in the pose, and then committing to staying still. We push ourselves to just a little beyond where it is comfortable, we mentally commit to staying there in stillness, and then we discover what it takes to do so. And what it takes is mindful attention, ‘breathing into’ the pose, and accepting how it feels.
For me, committing to sitting with the discomfort and being fully alive to how that feels, is significant because of its emotional parallels. One of the toughest lessons I’ve had to learn through therapy, is that my need to ‘do something’ to distract from, negate, or push away grief or pain, is not always helpful and can often be counterproductive. Opening myself up to feeling and to vulnerability, and accepting that often what I need to do is just sit tight while the waves of emotion hit me, pummel me, and eventually wash over me, has been both a painful and a positive experience. In a much less intense way, surrendering to the commitment to ‘sit out’ a yoga pose may be difficult but it is also its own kind of quiet satisfaction and joy.
There is also a very personal dimension to my experience of Yin yoga that makes it a valuable accompaniment to my therapy; though I don’t know if it has any connection or consonance with ‘yoga theory’. The class gives me a vital opportunity not just for internal awareness, but for internal connection and relatedness.
Over the last few months I’ve come more and more to see myself as composed of different ‘internal personas’. People often talk of the ‘inner child’, and that is certainly part of my experience, as is the ‘inner teenager’, my ‘work persona’, and various others. An awareness of these aspects, as well as an active internal dialogue with them, has directly contributed to a period of much greater growth and progress in my therapy. This has gone hand in hand with becoming a more integrated person, and gaining an ability to ‘mother myself’ better and to practice more self-compassion.
During yoga my mind comes alive with pictures of my different personas and their interactions. I watch these ‘wordless daydreams’ mindfully, without trying to control them. I discuss them with my therapist and have found that, like dreams, they can lead to insights and self-awareness. However, this process provides more than ‘information’ – it is time spent with ‘parts of myself’. And like a weekly catch-up with a dear friend, there’s a real sense of absence and loss, when that relating doesn’t happen. I can’t wait for classes to start again – and I’m incredibly glad I tried something new ‘on a whim’, and that it has lasted far longer than any New Year’s resolution I’ve ever made.
Clara blogs at LifeinaBind