I remember the first time a Yin yoga posture made a deep impression on me. It was one of the first times I had gone into a deep static long held stretch for so long; long enough to notice something other than the physical sensations unfold.
It was actually during an Ashtanga class and we had done a few rounds of sun salutations in a cold damp primary school classroom and the teacher had subsequently spent far too long telling us about how he could travel to the moon with his mind :-s …..By the time it came to stretch I was cold, stiff, fragile and fidgety and my focus had begun to wan. We eventually got to the ground, and with legs wide apart, proceeded to fold forward.
First came the physical sensations of the stretch coming from the back of my legs, I could feel the dullness deep in the back of my thigh and a more acute pulling tension in my groin and medial knee as if another millimeter would splinter my cold quivering bones.
Almost simultaneously came the automatic subconscious feeling of aversion and dislike. My mind wanted out at the same time my mind wanted to stay in. How is this possible; the mind working against itself? I remember looking curiously at the thoughts, feelings and emotions that arose, as if I were a fly on the wall of my mind, observing my whole experience with neutral and slightly bemused curiosity.
I stuck it out through the posture and though the body was still, the mind was doing summersaults; and it only jumped higher the longer I stayed, and the deeper I went. It wasn’t so much the thoughts that I struggled with, but the intense penetrating feelings and emotions that came up and how it pervaded my whole body. It was as if my hamstrings and adductors had held the weight of all my accumulated life traumas and they were now ripping their way out of my body through the centre of my chest; heart-wrenching unbearable agony as if I were suffering a huge loss. I almost cried. I resolved to stay there and objectively observe all the feelings, whilst at the same time being hopelessly and subjectively ‘in’ the feeling.
When it was time to come out, I curiously observed the mind’s automatic feelings of relief, the mind’s intention to move, the physical action as I rose up, and the sensations as they eased off. It was over and suddenly my mind was calm again.
It’s fascinating when we start to observe our minds. There is a real depth and complexity there waiting to be deciphered and understood. The more we sit and consciously watch with a detached but compassionate curiosity, the more we recognize that we don’t have to be governed by the passing thoughts, feelings, emotions and beliefs that the ego (your sense of ‘I’) normally automatically clings to. The more we can observe the ego (your sense of ‘I’), the more we realize that that too, is not who we really are. Who or what is this ‘I’, this ego that is being observed?
Which leads to the question…. who or what is observing?
A wise Indian guru once told me, ‘if you can observe it, then it is not you’.
It is my dream that my students can one day experience this wonder in their practice: to be able to expand consciousness and awareness through and beyond the mind and ego.
This is what I love about Yin yoga.
In the meantime, enjoy the yummy stretches.