Call me a fitness extremist: In the warm months, I’ll bike fifteen miles and practice yoga at least three times a week, sometimes even before sunrise. I’ll eat my leafy greens and drink my wheatgrass shots and down gallons of water and coconut juice. Brimming with energy and good cheer, I am a sunshine magnet; a plant reaching for every last bit of light it may capture. And like James Brown always declared, I feel GOOD.
Come winter, I am a different animal, and a less friendly one at that – most likely a bear. I desire only to hibernate within fluffy pillows and warm blankets, and this set-up should be punctuated only for snacks like sweet golden squares of fresh, buttery cornbread and hot, steamy cider. This winter is no different. I can barely remember the last time I got on a treadmill, touched an elliptical machine, or stepped onto a yoga mat. Unfortunately, my somewhat stiff, too-creaky winter body won’t let me forget.
Eager to make a change this winter, I headed over to OM Yoga to take one of their Yin Yoga classes, a recent re-addition to the schedule. The class is taught by Corina Benner, who herself was certified by Mother-of-Om Cyndi Lee, at OM. OM turns out respected yogis and yoginis worldwide and even has a night school program for teacher training in NYC – possibly the only one that exists. Additionally, Benner has over 150 hours of study with Paul Grilley, widely respected authority on Yin Yoga, and the man who wrote the book on the subject – literally (Yin Yoga by Paul Grilley). If you’ve practiced yoga in the West, chances are it has been Yang Yoga, which is muscular in nature, and often somewhat active. Poses are held briefly in Yang Yoga compared to Yin Yoga, where a student may sink into a posture for five-minute intervals (talk about “meeting your resistance”). These Yin Yoga postures are held a long time, and done with relaxed muscles, as connective tissue doesn’t stretch the same way muscle does; additionally, it does not respond well to ‘brief’ stresses.
As class begins, Benner shares with us that she used to say we “hold” postures, but now believes this to be incorrect language. She explains that with “No muscular effort to maintain your shape; it’s much more a melting. I love the image of melting because you know that your boundaries, or borders, become less distinct and in melting, you are absorbed, within whatever is holding you.” This is just the kind of talk I expect to hear at OM; after all, the walls of the large, clean studios — there are five, and they are busy – i.e., not a one is superfluous — are inked with a Buddhist reminder about “dwelling in equanimity.” Many OM teachers echo this sentiment during their classes.
Benner explains that one physical intention of Yin Yoga is to microscopically ease bones away from bones. Another intention is to stretch ligament, tendon, and fascia, so as to unblock the energy pathways (meridians) that feed our organs and make us vital. Some believe both physical and emotional Injuries may block energy pathways: suppressed memories, unexpressed thoughts, and negative thinking or incorrect thinking habits, may all create blockages. Benner informs us that furrowing our brows, or squeezing our jaws, or tightening our shoulders are all like unconscious armory. “If you notice that you’re doing something like this, you could consider that you’re taking your energy, which you might consider to be your most vital resource, and you’re investing it in something that’s unnecessary. So do your best to get into surrender, and receive,” Benner gently suggests.
“For many people, being in those shapes, and practicing surrender and receptivity, can bring up quite vulnerable feelings,” she adds. “People often weep in yin yoga, and it’s just nice to know that that could be considered a normal response. So you don’t have to fight with yourself if you’re feeling some deep or strong emotion…Yin yoga is a chance to be really soft; really tender with yourself.”
I heed her advice, drifting — excuse me, melting – into the most heavenly Savasana ever, and disappear into the city chill softened, and more pliable: more woman, less bear.
OM Yoga offers classes from restful and restorative to vigorous and realllllly sweaty (and oh-so-much-more in between). OM Yoga is located at 826 Broadway, 6th floor. Call 212.254.YOGA or email [email protected] for more information. See http://www.omyoga.com for class schedule, teacher training info, and more.