I’m not a ‘yin’ kind of girl.
I’m a make-me-stand-on-the-edge-where-I-can-glimpse-the-very-real-possibility-of-my-own-death-reduce-me-to-crawling-to-the-top-of-my-mat-bring-me-to-my-knees-bring-on-the-fire kind of girl.
Nick me down to the rawest edge of my own life where I can feel the heat of my own pilot light. Make me tired. Burn it all away till I reach the point of no return to the incessant onslaught of thoughts that typically crowd my head.
Naturally, I practice ashtanga.
Naturally, yin yoga scares the shit out of me.
Here’s what I knew about yin yoga before I went to my first class—a first class I’d assiduously avoided for the better part of my life: nothing, except that the class would involve holding poses for a long time and not any jumping or sweating.
I’ve got a dirty little yogi secret to share: I look really flexible, and in a way I am. I’ve got a killer forward bend and I can backbend like its nobody’s business.
But ever since I had a baby over two years ago, my muscles in certain areas have a tendency to get really tight. Indeed my right hip, all over, is kind of tight now. The idea of being in any stretch of the psoas, hip flexor, or front-of-thigh/butt anything for any period longer than five quick breaths was enough to make me ignore yin like the plague, thank you.
Until I had an outpatient surgery and my usual ashtanga practice went on hiatus for a few weeks. I woke up the day after my first post-recovery yoga feeling like I’d been beaten all over with a baseball bat.
And then I saw it: yin yoga, that night, just a few blocks away. In my badly sore state, it sounded like just what the (evil) doctor ordered—a bit of the hair of the dog that bit me, but not too intense for my just-getting-back-to-normal body.
For once in my life, no jumping or sweating sounded okay.
Still, I almost backed out. “Maybe I’ll just take a long walk,” I said to my husband. But then, no, something in me really wanted this absolutely awful, terrifying form of yoga. Plus, I’d heard from ashtangis that yin yoga could help with getting one’s legs behind the head.
Thankfully, the instructor, Coleen, did not hit me with my worst fear—a psoas/hip flexor/front-of-thigh-anything-stretch.
The first few hip openers were no problem—although one, kind of like frog pose, had me worried that I might split apart like wish bone. (The teacher did say we could adjust if we got into a pose and it was too much, but, you know, I’m not that kind of girl).
Enter pigeon pose on the right side.
How long were we in it? Ten minutes? Five? Three? Two? One? I really couldn’t tell you. I only know that in the time we were there, I fantasized about bolting from the room screaming only about fifty times.
I did everything I would tell yoga students not to do. I fidgeted like crazy; I moved my hands; I turned my head this way and that way; I adjusted and readjusted my hips. At one point I started clenching and unclenching my fists.
My motions were telling: deep inside the centre of my right butt cheek, I imagined an entrenched tight ball, not unlike a fist. And as we stayed and stayed and stayed in this pose, I realized that I was holding on to my mat with every muscle in my body, gripping it, tense all over upon it.
An image of the doctor who performed my surgery floats inside my head. When I asked him how long it would be before I could go back to normal, he responded:
“You need to be in control of everything, don’t you?”
I’ve heard a lot of people say that trauma is stored in these hip muscles, the front of thigh area. Part of me thinks it’s bunk. The again…
I had surgery because of what some call a “failed miscarriage“—a baby that stopped growing but nevertheless held on in my body.
Was I the one refusing to let this baby go? That, along with about a million other things?
Bring pregnant again forced me to relive the trauma of my first birth, which ended up being caesarean, over and over and over again as I searched high and wide for a care provider who could give me a real shot at a natural vaginal birth after caesarean. I found that over two years later, the trauma was still very much there.
What wasn’t I holding onto? I saw myself over that past six months, clinging, unhealthily at times, to my ashtanga practice, scoring my days of practice like some sort of test of my mettle. I saw myself clinging so tightly to my relationship with my daughter as she rebelled and literally pushed me away with a constant chorus of “go away mommy.”
Holding on was so ingrained, so unconscious that maybe it’s not so odd that a baby whose time had unfortunately but clearly passed, could not leave my body on his own even five weeks after his heart had stopped beating.
I handled the need for surgery well, until it became real—until the anaesthesiologist jabbed something into my vein. Then I started to cry. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I’ve never had general anaesthesia before. I’m just so scared of being…knocked out.”
“You need to be in control of everything, don’t you?”
In that never-ending pigeon pose as all of this stuff flooded my system, as I became aware of my body gripping the mat like a life preserver, I did something I’ve rarely done before.
I let go.
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Assist Ed: Renée Picard
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