Yin Yoga Teacher, Melanie McLaughlin On Creating Balance In Our Practice and Our Lives
I recently did my yin yoga teacher training with one of the most wonderful woman and teacher I have been lucky to cross paths with. Mel holds space in her yin classes with such feminine serenity, that still manages to be mixed with strength as she subtly guides you through the deeply moving class with her stunning voice. Not only do I love her classes and loved her inspirational and knowledgable training - I love what she is about and I am not the only one... She is the real deal. As someone who has been a keen strong ashtanga practitioner for 13 years, I was surprised at how moving, healing and balancing yin was and I now make sure I do one session a week personally and have brought it into my own workshops with woman because of the magic that can transpire. If you have not yet discovered yin in your yoga practice I recommend you explore a little, Mel's words may encourage you to see why.
How do you personally explain what is yin yoga?
I begin by saying it’s what missing for most of us ..the other side of the yoga coin .. the other tissues of our bodies that we don’t really take much notice of until we are injured or they give us pain - our joints and the fascia of our bodies.
Yin is half of our lives – half of our bodies – half of our being-ness.
Yin Yoga physically is the exercise and health of our joints and connective tissues and energetically the stimulation of our life force – (in yin, what we call Qi) through the acupuncture channels that run through this moist fascial tissue. By stimulating this tissue of our bodies (with yin postures)
We create lubrication /space and energy …its why we feel so damn good after a yin class !
How did your path take you to discover yin?
My own love affair with this practice came about one wintry ‘romantic’ weekend in the blue mountains (which turned out not to be so romantic after all!) as all we did was practice rounds of Paul Grilley’s yin yoga DVD, as at the time both my partner and I were suffering from niggling persistent lower back pain. I'd just entered my 30’s and was harbouring an old spinal injury from a significant car crash at 15 and he was a martial artist who sat or stood all day at a desk. It was raining hard, we cancelled our dinner reservations and stayed home and did lesson one, there was an instant shift for me (already practicing and teaching power yoga in Sydney at this point) with the stillness it required on the outside but the crazy that went on on the inside for that first class (and many after it too!) was challenging but in a way I was thirsty for and didn’t even know it ...the sense of ‘coming home to myself’ in a whole new way – this wasn’t just asana or just meditation it was a blend of both with options of being more physically inspired or curious in one practice or more energetically (feeling) inspired in another to drifting into different states and realms consciously in another ...it felt accessible – different – and do-able for me and the way I felt afterwards was such a relief – spacious, lighter, freer, virtually pain free and happy ..not only have I lived with the physical pain of a degenerated spine since I was 15yrs old but I’ve suffered from stress and anxiety my whole life and still under the ‘right’ circumstances today can wobble my world and this peaceful quiet practice that demands nothing more of you than rolling your mat out and putting yourself into shapes and staying there a while, that shifts you physically mentally and emotionally whilst simply riding the waves of breath and what surfaces, was a game changer for me and I was so excited to see if it had the same effect on others.
The state of rest and digest (the parasympathetic nervous system states we can drop into) was and is so therapeutic and healing for me.
I began slipping a few poses into the end of my strong sweaty vinyasa style power classes to find they were received gratefully and much needed – students telling me how much they loved the end of my classes these days and so my interest began – I studied and practiced everything I could about this method and much later I went off and formally trained with Paul and Suzee Grilley in Thailand and the US, trainings that changed me as a person and most definitely as a teacher of yoga. Yin seemed to slot perfectly into my (at the time) very private study of metaphysics and all things esoteric and energetic and all of these elements combined formed the way I teach my take on Yin.
I love the concept you teach that yoga isn’t aesthetic, can you talk about the risks with social media these days and how it can “redefine” what yoga is about and how you have transformed this in the way you approach yoga?
Oh what a relief when I first heard my teacher Paul say ‘the pose isn’t about aesthetics its about the way it FEELS …if you’re feeling it you’re doing it perfectly …’
Yoga is not about doing it's about being and feeling – its for every body’s body.
The imagery of certain yoga poses and body types being you’re either good at yoga and have a yoga body or you don’t I think is really detrimental especially to those (younger more impressionable) generations who live through social media, it makes me sad and disappointed to see the sacred art of yoga (postures) being used as tool to separate and inflate egos (the very opposite to yoga essence – yolk together connect and overcome our neg ego)
That said, I do think with the right message behind them (for e.g. all body shapes and ages and styles) they can became inspirational and artistic and really beautiful too; it's dangerous only when we say there only ONE way and you don’t measure up if it's not this way.
With the growing social media trend in yoga of body image/rock-star poses/clothes (or not), all focusing on the outside, here was a teacher and practice (PG & Yin ) that said, "what you look like here is the least important thing," what a relief , what a balance , what a return to what felt deeply important to my heart in the world I was in.
We need a balance of all things yang and yin otherwise we are unbalanced if you like, but going back to my first statement – what’s missing for you?
The yang is the movement, the heat, the external, the action, muscular effort the masculine ..(so important to wholistic health when balanced but isn’t this what we do all day everyday in our fast paced world?)
Now - Is there a time where you get to feel into your feeling tones and really accept get curious and allow? Is there a time where there’s no pressure to look a certain way and allow a letting go on the deepest level of your body tissues and psyche? Is there a time you carve out for yourself to gently allow a falling apart, a deconstruct of the old so the new can be built stronger and more resilient in a pliable way ? A time of stillness? A time of being more curious and interested in what’s going on INside of you than on the outside ? that’s yin , that’s the feminine receptive gentle part of every one regardless of gender ... if there was a ‘no’ to any of those yin questions maybe the balance is waiting there for you!
I’m finding in my dark cozy classes, that it's giving permission just to BE. It’s a relief for most people (men women young old teenagers athletes dancers ) to be in this state. A place of no ego about what you can and can’t do, what you look like or how your form is, which is irrelevant as long as its safe (and effective). We all want to be enough and accepted just as we are, we need to have dreams and goals and healthy ambitions but not to the detriment of our confidence self esteem and self love and what we “look’ like.
When we conserve energy from worry and stress and withdraw into ourselves for a little while we have more energy for contemplation and response rather than reacting from our internal or external triggers, we can learn to love and understand ourselves and forgive our shortcomings and make healthy positive changes from this new perspective. This compassion in turn ripples outwards to others in our world and our life literally starts to change.
For those people that shy away from or simply cannot practice the more rigorous yoga flows this is also a great way to be on the mat and really I just love that yoga is for EVERY body – and that goes way beyond the physical.
Can you talk about how the body stores emotions and some stories of what you have witnessed in the manner of releases and healing processors with yin yoga?
This is quite delicate territory we are heading into so I'll speak generically about emotions stored, bearing in mind some emotion (Trauma ) is huge mentally, emotionally and physically and would take professional help to deal with bring up and sort though to release…
A great anatomist Thomas Myers speaks of the soft tissues of the body storing trauma/emotions when we have an experience and we can mentally and even emotionally do lots of work around letting it go after the fact – but if we don’t work it out of our physical tissues it can stay there for years or a lifetime occasionally tripping us up / been seen as a toxin by the body and changing the tissue ... our postures and even our approach to life.
Animals after a traumatic experience, especially where a lot of adrenalin and fear response happened will shake – for long periods sometimes a day or longer – no food or water – just shake until all the excess adrenal has left the body and the shock. We tend to stuff down our experiences/emotions or mentally go through them ( or even lock them away unconsciously ) and not address what happened to us as a physical response.
When we dive into the yummy depths of a yin pose we are beginning to release tensions which in turn begins to release the stored toxins physically and emotionally.
This can show up in your yin pose as a shaking/tremor ing in body parts – as an emotional release, be that crying (I'm sure we’ve all experienced that one) but even the anger and the laughter or actually anything we have had to repress for any reason be that socially or just because of our causal beliefs around what is ok and not ok to feel and express. The Chinese would say that it is the SUPPRESSION or stymieing of these emotions that is the problem not the emotion itself they are neither good or bad they are energy in motion and anything trapped will eventually create something in the body – stagnancy /cold /heat /dis-ease …so what’s important is we let these things run their course in a safe and loving – even curious environment..”why is this lunge giving me so many reactions right now?”...
I know that a bit tricky in a yoga class sometimes surrounded by other people and with a time limit but just the acknowledgment of it at the time and whatever release you feel you can will set a healing in motion … say for example you leave a pose to rest a release and you start shaking …the next pose come up but you’re still shaking uncontrollably. Do you stop it to move onto the next thing? Or would the best thing would be to allow it (who cares if you miss one or two poses or the whole bloody class if needs be if you are getting to the root of something deep and profound for you?) an understanding teacher wont mind either and will encourage it. That goes for anything, laughter, coughing, yawning ,sighing ,tears …let It move …and be felt.
What is the greater purpose to yoga?
In my humble opinion and what I’ve understood as yoga so far in my short journey … to live the best life we can here – kindness, connection, love, joy service– and also work out who we are and why we do what we do, to work though our physical, emotionally and metal bodies and transcend all of them – Sat-Chit-Ananda
To be in harmony with the universe and to be human and grateful for that and as my dear friend Jacqueline Sadek said recently “whilst letting our soul work through us for a life worth living”
What are three effective ways people can affect change for the better?
Breath (and FEEL)
Move (and be STILL)
Hydration (and CLEAN wholesome nutrition)
(but they are also interchangeable!)