Yoga teachers often say, “yoga is not about touching your toes.”
One day, I decided to attend a short yoga class. It appealed to me because it was short and free. I fumbled and flopped around. I realized how uncomfortable and unaware I was of how my own body moved.
The instructor then took the class into a seated, wide-legged posture. With tight hips and hamstrings, I managed to open my legs to a narrow V. Ugh.
To make it worse, I looked in the mirror and realized I had barely moved. I told myself to hang in there and thought about how this posture or class wouldn’t last forever.
It was about to get worse.
The instructor told the class to fold forward from the posture. The mere thought of folding forward was enough for me. I barely moved as some students leaned forward and others even had their bellies on the floor.
I sat nearly upright in the posture, like a lighthouse overlooking a harbor. I felt so awkward.
I wanted to feel like I could kind-of, sort-of fit in with the yoga class. But I couldn’t touch my toes.
Not feeling “flexy” or sexy, I couldn’t think of a good reason why I would want to spend my money or my time on being the odd girl out in the yoga room. Class was dismissed, and I left.
At that time, I was critical enough of myself—I didn’t need to voluntarily put myself through more of it. I had tried it and made the decision that yoga was not for me.
Over the next few months, a friend who was also a yoga teacher approached me several times. She encouraged me to come to her class. I avoided it for a long time. There was no way I was going to put myself through that hell again.
But eventually I decided to give it a try.
She taught class with the lights out. She encouraged us to shut our eyes. She encouraged us to be still in longer-held postures—and feel.
In this class I learned to be with my Self: physical and emotional, good and bad, tight, stiff, indifferent.
I came back to this class once or twice a month. Gaining comfort in my body and spirit, I began to grow—more confident, more calm and more flexible. I fell in love with something called Yin yoga.
As I practiced more, I wanted to know more. I read the books, crawled through all the websites and even did a weekend teaching certification. In my quest for knowledge I learned about Yin yoga founder, Master Paulie Zink. There was something mysterious about him. He is a master of flowing movement, and there is very little written about him. I jumped at my first opportunity to train with him.
My first practice with Master Zink was a balance of stillness and flow which left me feeling energized and refreshed. Master Zink teaches Yin yoga as a complete practice. He talked about Yin yoga’s Taoist origins and taught postures based on animals and the Chinese five alchemical elements.
Paulie told us that we should embody and feel the posture instead of just doing it. It was refreshing to feel like a caterpillar instead of focusing on theories as to why I should or shouldn’t be able to touch my toes. Since I wasn’t used to feeling like a caterpillar, I found it fun.
I laughed, I relaxed, and for the first time in years, I found comfort and ease in my own body and spirit. I was able to get out of my head and into my whole being. I connected with stillness to grow space in my body. And as I grew it enabled me to flow; I was able to move more naturally and explore movement within the newly found space in my body.
Paulie told us that he sees the “unlimited potential of each student.” He also said something in that first class that resonated deeply with me:
“The harder you try, the less you achieve.”
When I stopped trying to “do” movement and instead started to “be” the movement, I found that, just like the caterpillar, my body, mind and spirit just opened naturally to the processes of transformation. Somewhere along the way, I folded forward in my caterpillar posture and I touched my toes.
A movement that eluded me for years had occurred, without my even taking notice of it.
It was in this training that I was introduced to the complete practice of Yin yoga—a practice that transcends theory and allows me feel at home with my body, mind and spirit.
Author: Kerri Mersereau
Image: Courtesy of Author, Credit: Jeanine Bolman Davis
Assistant Editor: Hilda Carroll; Editor: Toby Israel