Catherine discovers the feeling of full support on the yoga mat

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Doing things slowly is often harder than doing them quickly. This is true for jazz singing– ballads expose every note, every nuance of melody and rhythm– and also for yoga practice. Ditto for holding poses for longer periods of time: you’ve just got to relax into the process, open up, and commit.

Some people prefer to just go with the flow, favoring vinyasa, power yoga, etc. That’s cool– you do you. I’ve found myself getting into yin yoga, pranayama yoga and restorative yoga again. Many of you know these terms, but here is my take on them, aided by Wikipedia:

  • yin: passive poses done on the mat and held for minutes, focusing on connective tissues; a very contemplative practice.
  • pranayama: practices and poses to focus on the breath; poses are supported and passive and directed by a teacher. Also very meditative in nature.
  • restorative yoga: passive poses, supported by props (basically everything in the yoga studio, including folding chairs), for relaxation, rest, and calm. Very meditative and occasionally nap-inducing (snoring is not an uncommon sound in an evening restorative yoga class).

Before the pandemic, I discovered yin yoga while in Tucson, AZ on a work/play trip. It was absolutely sublime. But, there were poses where I still experienced tension, or held myself up or back, where I couldn’t melt into the pose because my body wouldn’t do the thing we were supposed to do. I felt too impatient or embarrassed or clueless to try to fix it, so I just carried on. During in-person yin classes, my experienced and intuitive teacher Emily would come around and adjust people, adding props to make their poses right for them. Since zoom-time, though, it’s not been quite the same.

Restorative yoga has been much the same story, but with a twist: I blogged last year about how restorative yoga turned into face-plant yoga for me because of pandemic changes in my body and my having to get used to re-arranging myself for rest and calm. The teacher was super-helpful when I asked for help. But I spent a fair bit of time gritting my teeth through some of the poses, not feeling patient or kind or inquisitive enough to explore options that might have made me feel more at ease.

Enter pranayama yoga. The workshops I’ve done have been, hands down, my favorite yoga experiences ever. Why? Because, for whatever reason, there’s been a harmonic convergence of 1) poses that are naturally (for my body) more comfortable; 2) persistent assistance from teachers I trust (yes, you Rahel and you Mary from Artemis!) in providing adjustments or modifications, using everything in the studio but my bike bottle; 3) studio owner Liz’s creation of an environment of complete support and safety for inner exploration.

This spring, during Rahel’s pranayama class, she had us to do chair-assisted forward folds. They were a little like the pictures below:

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