I'm asked reasonably often what it is that drew me to yin yoga, and why I teach it. People are sometimes surprised that I teach such a still, quiet practice, when, well frankly, I'm active and chatty and seemingly quite the opposite. Yup, yang comes fairly easy and naturally to me, yin not so much.....
My first experience of 'general' yoga had an incredibly profound effect on me, leaving me feeling like I'd been smacked across the cheeks with the change I felt in myself. I was so disconnected from my body, from myself, and yoga gave me the connection that I'd never experienced before. I left not knowing what had happened to me - I couldn't articulate then that I'd connected, felt and inhabited my body - I just knew that it felt good and that somehow I felt better about everything in general. I didn't know then that I had found a way to feel better about, and within, MYSELF, but in reality that was what was happening.
I grabbed yoga by the horns and went regularly to classes. I relished the routine that came with ashtanga yoga, the flow that came with vinyasa and I found teachers that I liked and I could feel at ease with. I relished in the new-found strength I was feeling in my body and I decided I was going to 'nail' yoga - from forward bend to arm balances and back down again. (hmmm, and just maybe my tight hips might eventually loosen up a little bit too)
My first experience of a yin yoga class was not the life altering event that my first yoga class had been. Quite the opposite, infact. I went along because I'd heard it was good for active people like me, a good compliment to my sport, and that it worked with the connective tissue. Connective tissue meant nothing to me then, but I thought it had to be a good thing to be working with it?
The reality of my first yin class was that I left 90 minutes later wondering what that was all about! I wasn't entirely sure what we'd done other than spend time with my head which I wasn't at the time so convinced was a good thing. Someone at the end of the class asked me how I'd found it. I'm not sure how I responded, maybe I just smiled, or maybe I said I found it good - I know it wasn't a question I actually wanted to answer.
But yet, the next day I felt surprisingly good. Like, REALLY good. My run felt bouncier and things felt different. I felt a bit more steady on my feet, and seemed to have less tension.
Now, I'd love to say that I was sold, embraced yin and never looked back. But that wouldn't be the truth. Yin crept up on me, found it's way within me and finally I came to love yin, and the yin within me.
It was a long time before I went back to a yin class. But I discovered that the bits that I enjoyed most about yoga classes, and the bits that I felt most benefit from, were the slower sections, the longer held poses, the breath work and the stillness. My overworked and punished body was allowed to slow down and be cared for. The volume of my harsh inner critic reduced and I could hear kindness inside my head. As my practice of yoga slowed down, I found my way back gradually to yin yoga. It was about 3 years before I went back to my next yin class!
This time, I could cope with being still with myself. I could be with my head, and my thoughts, while feeling the sensations in my body. I relished in the permission that I had been given to stop. I loved the concept of meeting my edge. Bizarrely it fitted so much with what sport meant to me. In my triathlon racing I loved the place where I sat on an edge - never so uncomfortable that I needed to stop, but never so comfortable that I didn't have to focus on keeping myself moving. It was a place of flow for me. In yin the edge was different. Where could I be in the pose to maintain stillness, yet still feel sensations of stretch? How could I be with myself, accepting all of my being, without the negative thoughts creeping in, or judging that I had to change myself to be better in some way.
Learning to accept of myself and find peace with who I am has come though my practice of yin yoga. I learned to meet my yin side - my femininity, my creativity, my introvert, my soft side. I stopped trying to push away the times when I just wanted to stop and reflect or rest. These parts of me were of course the compliment to my yanginess: the athlete, the chatterer, the girl that relishes a challenge and is none too uncomfortable with the odd bit of time with an audience. And I'm happier and more grounded doing these yang things now that | bring my yin-side with me. I found my balance and I know when they get a bit out of whack either way.
I resisted teaching yin (infact yoga of any kind) for so many years because it was my thing that I kept for me. The yoga teaching crept up on my much like the yin did. Eventually I did my training because it 'just made sense to'. I have times when I do the odd bit of yangy teaching, but for me yin is where my teaching's at just now. I hope what I bring to my teaching is a space that lets go of outcomes and judgement and instead fosters acceptance and presence. I hope that I bring an appreciation of each person's experience in each class, whatever that may be. I hope that in some way I can help busy minds find a little bit of calm. My ultimate hope is that I can help others to meet their whole self, in stillness and peace, and that they learn, and love, who that person is just a little bit more.
For many of us, staying at home means we have more time available and more space in our day. Perhaps this offers an opportunity for us to do some of the things that we have been wanting, meaning, to do for some time. Perhaps instead this new found space and time offers up less of the distractions that we unconsciously create to shut out our inner critic, and we find we're unable to get away from the one person we don't want to be stuck with - ourself.
Too much time to think, too many changes to negotiate our way around and less interaction with others can be breeding grounds for our inner critic. We find ourselves self soothing in various forms - food, drink, binge watching - or creating new distractions to keep us away from ourself - cleaning what's already clean once more, visiting the supermarket 'just because', or online shopping for things we 'need'.
Now, this comes with no judgement from me - I get it! I seem to have cultivated a new passion for duvet covers and pillow cases that I didn't know I had!
But I do also know what it feels like to be full of dislike for yourself and to sit with yourself when you'd rather run the other way. It takes courage. It IS challenging to self soothe in kind ways and to show ourself love and attention when we'd rather point out all our flaws and make a list of how and when to eradicate them. And it does take strength to notice who we ARE and accept all parts of Ourself. I also know that ultimately until we learn to do that then we will continue on the same old, same old cycle.
Now, let's be realistic, we don't make one big leap from disliking ourself to being filled with self love. That's a hell of a big ask I reckon.
So, we start small! I've recorded and attached this short activity that you can try. Just maybe it can help you can discover that actually some part of you is ok and worthy of some kindness. You may find that it feels nice to do this activity and you feel good for taking the time to look after you. Maybe it's the start of getting to know your body, building a relationship beyond the distractions and disconnection. Maybe you do it once and never again! But maybe it's the first step in making friends with yourself and being ok in your own skin.
You will need some hand cream, or lotion that you can rub into your skin. If you don't have anything like that at the moment then you could also use a couple of drops of olive oil or cooking oil.
I am Caroline Toshack. Movement is my passion, my mirror, my creative source and outlet. I am a therapist, coach, educator, geek, yogi, mover and creative who loves getting muddy on her bike, running in the hills and having pyjama days.