I recently returned from an immersive teacher’s training program at the Yandara Yoga Institute in Baja, Mexico. During this time, I learned how to teach Yin, Restorative and Bhakti Yoga. It wasn’t easy, but I somehow managed to survive endless days of stretching, breathing, meditating and singing. After that, we would eat a healthy meal and then stretch again, followed by even more singing. In between all the yoga and lectures were fleeting moments spent chatting with my classmates while we relaxed in the sunshine. Ok, it was not really on the same level as my hike to Everest basecamp, but it was still a worthy challenge. Here are some observations from the 100 hours I spent at yoga school:
1. Sitting is difficult. Having to sit on the floor was perhaps my biggest concern going into this training. The fact is, I have never been comfortable sitting down cross legged on the floor. My hips and ankles are very tight, causing my knees to jut upwards at a comical angle. I end up having to engage my core to stop me from falling over backwards. This core tension prevents me from breathing deeply and eventually throws my back into spasm. I wish I could say that, by the end of the training, I was sitting comfortably in the lotus position but, alas, that was not the case. I’d say I was almost to the point where I could just about endure sitting on a bolster for an hour or so- then I’d have to stand up to get some feeling back in my legs. I’ll never understand why the ancient yogis didn’t just use chairs- maybe they hadn’t been invented yet?
2. Yin yoga feels amazing. As the perfect counter to all the hours I spent sitting on the floor, I was also practicing Yin yoga at least once a day. Up to this point, I have always been a flow yoga guy, happily bouncing from one pose to the next. Little did I know that the real magic of yoga is found when you slow down and let the stretch really sink in. Yin yoga primarily involves deep hip-opening postures and forward bends, held for 3 to 5 minutes at time. Honestly, we did many of the yoga poses that I tend to shy away from due to my hips, hamstrings, and knees being so tight. It was an exercise in humility to face my physical limitations, especially in a room full of advanced yogi’s. However, when it comes to yoga, I learned that being more flexible doesn’t make you more spiritual. Even if you need to use two blocks and a blanket to hold a pose comfortably, as long as you are taking it to your ‘skillful edge,’ you are going to get the benefits of the stretch. Ultimately, in the quest for enlightenment, it doesn’t really matter how far you are able to bend.
3. Restorative yoga is deeply healing. If you think that Yin yoga sounds relaxing, then you’ve got to experience restorative yoga. This is the style of yoga in which the goal is to completely relax and release all stress and tension from the body. Deep postures are held for up to 15 minutes with the aid of straps, bolsters, blocks and blankets. It’s like taking a series of power naps as you lay in various yoga poses while being fully supported by props. Our restorative classes were often held in the evenings, right after sunset. It was in these classes, holding poses for extended periods of time while releasing all inner resistance, that I experienced the most profound healing effects. Letting go of the chronic tension in my hips and spine felt so nice. It was like warm honey, slowly dripping through my vertebrae and into my joints. I never knew that practicing yoga could be so relaxing.
4. Yoga is an energetic state of being. When you are in state of yoga, or ‘union,’ it’s as if your personal energy circuit is complete. A completed circuit allows an energetic current to flow freely throughout the system. In a state of yoga, you are connecting to a higher vibration, one that generates from deep within. This energy radiates outwards into space from the center of your being. It then circles back to the middle before radiating outwards again in a perpetual loop. One way to maintain this energetic cycle is to dedicate yourself to a daily spiritual practice. I learned that practicing hatha yoga, meditating, eating well, exercising, breathing and singing mantras all day long really can make you feel more vibrant and alive. After ten days of yoga, I felt more clear, centered and balanced than I have in a long time.
In conclusion, what I learned at yoga school is that walking the spiritual path is not the same as taking the easy way out- it requires sustained effort and dedication. Yoga, when practiced consistently, can feel make you feel great. If you are lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of what it’s like to be at one with the entire universe. However, you can’t just attend a random yoga class here and there and expect to feel wonderful all the time. Being a yogi means committing to a lifestyle, one in which you take the time to love and heal yourself every day.
*Join me at Well Being, Fridays at 6pm, to experience the magic of yin-restorative yoga for yourself.
My home for ten days.
Sitting on the floor.
Long walks on the beach.
Featuring beautiful sunsets.
Nick Hughes is a massage therapist, yoga instructor and co-owner of Well Being.