It feels a bit strange: 33 degrees celsius, but it’s winter here in Nicaragua. Most trees and flowers are dying off or preparing for their ‘wintersleep’. Back home the end of winter is slowly coming into sight. Our bodies actually go with the rhythm of the seasons and should be in a wintersleep as well. For me that means March is yin yoga month; a month of rest.
Most of us live in cities nowadays, eat food that is produced around the whole world, eat strawberries in winter, because we like it. We have lost our connection with nature. Both our body hasn’t. Our body is still part of the cycle of nature. In summer it needs light food, in winter heavy food. And just like nature it needs a little rest in winter. Spring it’s ready to go, it’s ready for heavy work, just like nature is starting up in spring. For yoga that means you can start intensifying your practice in spring, keep a strong practice around summer, bring it slowly down during fall and go for a relaxing practice during winter.
My body is telling me for weeks it likes to slow down. I love strong practices. I love an intense Ashtanga practice, I love to play around with arm balances and I love a strong vinyasa flow class.But the last couple of months I noticed that my morning practice became slower and slower. I just wanted to be longer in asanas, didn’t feel like doing a lot of sun salutations, but instead of that wanted to move slow. Do more restorative, do more yin.
This month I’m totally going to ‘give in’. Two reasons: the first I already mentioned. My body is asking for it. The second: research.There are teachers, like Lucas Rockwood, who think that practices like ashtanga are more a showoff of flexibility than actually helping you to become more flexible. He has a yoga routine he calls gravity poses, where you are for a very long time in a yoga pose, using gravity to get you deeper in the pose.
The vision of Rockwood is shared by Paul Grilley, who is more or less the founder of Yin Yoga. He – just like Rockwood – doesn’t focus so much on the muscles. According to both it’s not the muscles that determine how flexible you are, it’s your connective tissue. The connective tissue is actually the ‘material’ surrounding the muscles. See it as an electric wire, surrounded by isolation. The wire might be flexible and be able to stretch, but if the isolation around it is not flexible, nothing is going to happen.
Now our muscles stretch easily. If we work them five to eight long breaths, they will stretch and they will benefit of the stretch of this effect. But: if the connective tissue around it is tight, we won’t get more flexible, because it’s the connective tissue that holds us back. Now this connective tissue is tough stuff. It doesn’t stretch within fit to eight breaths. We have to hold it three to five minutes to actually stretch it. So in yin yoga we really move flow.
I do believe Ashtanga, vinyasa flow and all ‘yang’ yoga styles makes us more flexible. At the same time I’m with Grilley and Rockwood that it helps stretching the connective tissue as well. I’m a massage therapist and as so I work a lot with the connective tissue. Massaging it, makes for a lot of people a big difference. We hold ‘old emotions’, old stress hormones in our body – I write more about that in a later blog – these hormones and emotions get ‘trapped’ in the connective tissue. By working the connective tissue we can let go of this old crap and become physically and mentally more flexible.
According to Grilley the meridians (nadis) are in the connective tissue as well. By stretching it, we are opening up the meridians, opening up our energy system as well.
I’ve always combined my vinyasa flow and ashtanga classes with one or two yin yoga or restorative yoga practices during the week. This month, March is yin yoga month. The whole month. It’s my challenge. Maybe a bit of power work (abs, arms, back) in the evening, but yin yoga in the morning. Let me know if you like to join, I’ll let you know if I gained a lot more flexibility by the end of the month.