Back to the original (or orig-yin-al)

In what now feels like a completely different lifetime, I borrowed Yin Yoga: The Foundations of a Quiet Practice on DVD from my local library—and kickstarted my love of yin yoga. 

Laura settling in to a yin squat pose
Me settling in to a yin squat

The DVD led me to seek out yin yoga in real life and I stumbled into an amazing class at a local community centre with the knowledgable, approachable, sensitive, fantastic Brenda from Beautiful Yoga. Eventually, I was able to stop repeatedly borrowing the DVD when I received it as a Christmas present. Again and again and again I followed Paul & Suzee Grilley (its ‘stars’) through their slow, mindful sequences—and went to a real-life class one evening a week.

I left Foundations of a Quiet Practice behind when we moved to Europe in 2013 as the Canadian DVD would be about as useful as a Frisbee in German DVD players. But I never left behind the practice of yin yoga. 

After unsuccessfully searching for a digital edition of Foundations of a Quiet Practice and contacting Pranamaya (the distributor) several times over the years begging for online access*, I had brilliant revelation. My husband’s Xbox, which includes a DVD/Blu Ray player, is from Canada and works in Europe! I’m slightly ashamed to admit how long it took me to realise that I could play North American-region DVDs in Europe by simply using the Xbox. 

This delight was short-lived, however, as I realised that I no longer had the DVD itself. 

My mum came to the rescue, digging through the media cabinet in my parents’ house and unearthing my original Yin Yoga: Foundations of a Quiet Practice, minus the case. And who needs the case!

She brought it along when my parents came to Europe this past April and I’ve been practicing alongside Suzee, with Paul guiding the practice, in our Zürich apartment since then. Hearing Paul’s straightforward cues, watching Suzee’s smooth flow, and getting back to the original handful of simple yin poses has taken me back to the roots of my yin yoga practice—and let me re-discover why I love it so much. 

As I shared in a post long ago about the ‘Why’ of yin yoga, the practice is more than physical; it’s really the psychological impact that keeps me coming back to yin yoga. The quietness of the poses helps me quiet my mind, while the introspective nature helps me be more patient in my life off the yoga mat.

Returning to my orig-yin-al yoga practice with Paul and Suzee feels a little like coming home—and it’s so nice to feel at home. 

Suzee and Paul Grilley (photo from paulgrilley.com)

*Of course, a couple of months after my mum brought the discs to Europe Pranamaya released Yin Yoga: Foundations of a Quiet Practice online. Ha!

Friday Evening Yoga Escape in Copenhagen

Person lying in effortless pose on the grass under leafy tree branches

While I’m starting to feel more settled in Zurich, Copenhagen remains my yoga home. And since I’ll be back for a quick visit in May, I’m squeezing in teaching a class!

If you’re in Copenhagen, you can join me for an extra-long, extra-relaxing class on Friday, 17 May from 19.00-21.00 at Østerbro Yogaforening.

It may seem like this is a ‘workshop,’ but I didn’t want to use the word work anywhere in the name of the session, as it’s the exact opposite of what I hope students will do. This extended class is an escape from the everyday and encourages deep relaxation with well-supported yin yoga poses and rejuvenating yoga nidra (guided relaxation). It’s perfect for both beginners to yin yoga or regular yoga practitioners and ideal for anyone feeling stressed or fatigued.

This extra-long class, and my almost hypnotically relaxing voice, will bring deep relaxation to the Great Prayer Day holiday – and let you play hooky from your everyday life!

The cost for this extra-long class is 145 DKK (non-member price: 195 DKK) . Space is limited and online registration is available through the Østerbro Yogaforening membership system.

Østerbro Yogaforening is a co-operative yoga studio and everyone is welcome to become a member.

The season of yin

Beige woolen socks with bokeh effect in the background
Photo by freestocks.org on Unsplash

The weather in Copenhagen has turned colder, greyer and windier. The leaves are changing and this morning was the first dog walk in a long time that I needed gloves. Likewise, I’ve put away my sandals and lightweight dresses and embraced wooly socks again.

With the sun setting noticeably earlier, there’s an invitation to be inside more, to get cozy, to hygge it up.

Bring on the yin yoga!

While I love yin yoga anytime, autumn and winter are natural seasons for this slow, restful, meditative practice. This autumn, I’m teaching yin yoga classes at Østerbro Yogaforening most Thursday evenings and a few Sunday afternoons.

I’m also really excited to see that there’s a restorative yoga class with Louise coming up on Sunday 7 October at Østerbro Yogaforening. I won’t be teaching that one, but I’m definitely going to be wearing my fuzziest socks and letting Louise guide me to perfectly propped, seriously deep relaxation!

Perhaps I’ll see you at a yin yoga class this autumn? Or practice alongside you for Louise’s restorative class?

Yoga classes for the long, dark, rainy winter

Rain drops with pavement and temporary tens
Photo by Ryan Wilson on Unsplash

Copenhagen’s winter nights are long, dark, and often rain-soaked, which makes this the perfect season for cozy yoga classes!

Join me for Tuesday evening restorative yoga classes and the incredibly hygge Ground Yoga + Økotea in Østerbro. Classes start at 19.00 and are 75 minutes of very supported, super relaxing poses like gentle twists, soft backbends and soothing forward folds. It’s normal to do only four or five poses in a 75 minute restorative yoga class because they’re are held for up to 25 luxurious minutes!

I’m also teaching a regular yin yoga class at Ground on Sundays at 10.00. Yin is not quite as slow as restorative yoga and it’s a wonderful complement to the rest of our yang (simply meaning active) lives. It’s also a great way to cope with a bit of a hangover!

Confirm that you’re coming to classes at Ground on the studio’s Facebook page.

I also teach periodic yin yoga and mindfulness meditation classes at Hot Yoga Østerbro on Nordre Frihavnsgade. Rest assured the classes are not sweaty, just warm! I generally teach on Thursday evenings or Saturday/Sunday afternoons.

Check out my schedule for up-to-the-minute details of when and where I’m teaching.

Better living through technology (aka better yoga through props)

Yoga props and Laura in easy poseI’m co-hosting a Restorative Yoga workshop next weekend (21 May) with my friend and fellow yoga teacher, Constanza. As part of my preparation, I’ve been re-reading Your Body, Your Yoga (yin yoga teacher Bernie Clark’s latest book) in which he talks a lot about physical differences in yoga students and how important it is to practice for your own body.

I love Bernie’s philosophy because he’s clear about the why behind doing yoga: “to use the pose to get into the body.”1

And he’s a huge advocate of using props to support the pose – as am I. Props can make all the difference in a pose and I encourage their use extensively in my yin yoga classes. They’re even more necessary in restorative yoga!

Restorative yoga is a practice of being, rather than doing. Opening and softening, rather than stretching. Deliberating resting, rather than sleeping. It’s all about comfort and it’s much easier to be comfortable when we’re supported and the body is at ease.

I know that there are many yogis who feel like props are cheating. For me, it’s just plain stupid not to use all of the tools available to make your yoga practice (or your life) the best it can be. It’s like eschewing technological advances in  because they make life too easy and too comfortable.

Just like technology creates the opportunity for better living, props create the opportunity for better yoga!

 

 

ps – I had no idea that ‘Better Living through Chemistry’ started as a DuPont advertising slogan. Always new things to learn!

1 The full quote from the January 2014 YinYoga.com newsletter is:

Yangsters hate props – are you a yangster? The use of a prop is unconsciously equated to cheating. The inner dialogues goes something like this, “I can do this pose! I don’t need no stinking prop!” But yinsters know something that yangsters haven’t quite grasped yet – the intention of their yoga practice is not to look any particular way; it is not to get into a pose: the intention is to feel a particular way; to use the pose to get into the body. Yinsters don’t care if a little extra help is needed to get sensation into the targeted area: if props can help – let’s use props!

Let tension dangle

Laura dangling on a Mediterranean beachThere’s a spot in my mid-back that sometimes feels as though it holds all the tension in my body. Like every keyboard stroke, knife cut, sponge scrub, page flip, steering wheel turn, and slouch collects between my shoulder blades and knots together.

The best method I’ve found to release that tension is a long-held standing forward fold. The yin version of the pose is different than an active standing fold (called uttanasana) as the focus is on holding for a minute or more, relaxing the back body and releasing the shoulders. Bent knees, supportive arms, and resting against a wall are all welcome!

A yin standing forward fold is known as a dangle and that’s exactly the hope: that your upper body hangs and allows the muscles and fascia loosen.

Because your head is below your heart, this pose isn’t great for people with high blood pressure and anyone with low blood pressure should come out of it really slowly. Be cautious and slowly release the posture if you feel any pain.

Dangle

Why it’s good

  • Releases tension from the shoulder blades, mid-back, and neck
  • Helps decompress the lower spine and sacroiliac region
  • Stretches the backs of the legs – if you straighten them
  • Promotes good balance
  • Compresses the digestive organs, which can improve digestion and alleviate menstrual cramps
  • Encourages relaxation and can reduce anxiety and stress

How to do it

  • Start by standing tall with your feet parallel and hip width apart
    • let your spine stretch upwards and your shoulders drop away from your ears
    • feel sturdy and balanced – your hips stacked atop your feet, your shoulders square above your hips, and your head floating above your shoulders
  • With an exhale, bend your knees and allow your torso to drop towards the fronts of your thighs
    • don’t feel any pressure to have your chest rest on your legs; most people will have significant space between upper and lower body
  • Straighten your legs to intensify the stretch along the backs of your legs or keep your knees bent to encourage the stretch in your back
    • do not lock your knees
    • try leaning against a wall for additional support
  • Experiment with arm positioning to find what works best for you
    • clasping each elbow with the opposite hand draws more of a stretch into the upper back and shoulders and can make your torso feel heavier
    • resting your hands on your thighs lessens pressure through your lower back
    • allowing your hands dangle freely or rest softly on the floor helps open the mid-back
  • Let you head release and encourage the muscles in your back, shoulders, arms, and neck to be heavy
  • Soften your gaze or, it’s comfortable and doesn’t mess with your balance, close your eyes
  • Stay dangling for at least a minute and up to five minutes
    • mindfully move your arms and bend or straighten your knees to find the best version of the pose for you, but try not to fidget
    • if it helps, visualize your spine flowing out of your pelvis like water flowing out of a pitcher, allowing tension to ebb away
    • if the pose doesn’t feel right, you can get a similar stretch in a seated forward fold with a rolled blanket or bolster under your bent knees

To come out of dangle:

  • If you’ve held the pose for several minutes, be cautious! Slowly come out of it using any of the methods below, then take a few deep breaths to regain your balance before moving to your next pose
  • Option 1:
    • Engage your abdominal muscles, bend your knees, and take several breaths to roll up to standing
  • Option 2:
    • Bend your knees and lower your hips downwards to come into a squat. Rest in a squat for at least a few breaths before lowering onto your seat or slowly moving to standing
  • Option 3:
    • Rest your hands on your shins and straighten your back; strengthen your abdominal muscles and inhale to come halfway up with your back parallel to the floor; exhale and let your upper body and hands release down again. Repeat this halfway raise a couple times before inhaling up to standing with your back straight.

It’s normal to feel some dizziness after your head has been down for a while. Take a few moments to regain your composure and allow the blood to flow throughout your body before progressing with your practice or continuing with your day.

As dangling is a strong forward bend, it can be nice to follow it with a back bend. Even standing and simply drawing your shoulders back as you lift your face and chest to the sky can be enough to release any tension in your front body that may have built up as you dangled.

Repeat whenever that congested mid-back feeling arises. This is a great pose for airports and offices because it requires no mat and no props!

Summer camp sukasana

Summer campers sitting cross-legged - with Laura in neon pants!For a few summers, this time of year meant going to camp on Gambier Island. I discovered a bunch of photos from camp a while back (including the one to the right), which triggered a memory of my first exposure to yoga.

One of the camp counsellors was obviously a yogi; she led the cabin in meditations and would help us prepare for sleep by doing guided relaxation. Summer campers sitting in sukasana (easy pose or cross legged) now seems a little silly (or maybe that’s a reaction to my crazy neon pants!), but that introduction to yoga obviously sparked something.

Summer camp was likely where my appreciation of yoga nidra stems from and the childhood connection is probably part of why teaching and practicing this form of guided conscious relaxation is so powerful for me.

The yin yoga class I’m teaching tonight at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre taps into that summer camp spark: a short sequence of yin poses, 20-ish minutes of guided relaxation, then a long savasana.

Join me at 6:30pm tonight and say farewell to any stresses you’ve accumulated in July with a deeply relaxed practice. I might even wear neon for a little nostalgia 🙂