There are so many reasons to practice yoga, and so many different practices to be found here. Bikram's hot yoga, classical Hatha á la Iyengar, Kundalini to get the energy rising, Restorative, Vinyasa flow, Ashtanga with its Mysore practice, Yin yoga with the long holds. There are practices for every type of person. Which one is right for you? The yogis say to try them all, and the one you like the least is probably the one you should be practicing the most, working on the aspects of yourself that are the most challenging for you.
I have found that I feel the most balanced when my yoga practice is balanced as well. I'm lucky that I have opportunities to teach lots of different types of yoga, so I'm moving my body in different ways each week. During my teacher training program we did a unit on Yin Yoga. It was wonderful, but I practiced only Yin Yoga for about 6 weeks. I remember looking at the class schedule at the studio to see which class I was going to attend, and aching for an advanced Vinyasa class. I was Yin'd out, needing some yang energy instead. When I've been teaching a lot of Hatha, Vinyasa and kid's classes, I yearn for a Restorative practice.
This is yoga: union. It's the bringing together of body and mind, of dark and light, of movement and stillness. It is balance in the practice.
One of my favourite classes to teach is Yin Yoga with Yoga Nidra. Yin Yoga is a slow but intense practice. There are deep connections made in the body as poses are held for up to 10 minutes. The physical aim of the practice is to release fascia (connective tissues) in the body, the places where our holding patterns are laid down. It's a deep letting go of the protective, but not always helpful, ways we hold our bodies. I've had people say, "I can't do Yin—the stretches are too intense for me." Like any practice, we modify poses to meet people where they are at. Yin is a practice that uses a lot of props—bolsters, blankets, straps, blocks—to help people find their edge and release in a pose, without hurting yourself. What other ways are you holding? Are there patterns of behaving that you are holding on to as well? Emotions that you are holding on to? During the long holds in a Yin class, you might be surprised what other things arise, can come to our awareness of our ourselves. Yin Yoga is a practice that prepares the body beautifully for the deep connection that we come to in Yoga Nidra.
Yoga Nidra, literally "yogic sleep," is a guided meditation at the end of the class in savasana (lying on your back). After a deep physical practice of letting go, Yoga Nidra invites you to connect with the many layers, or Koshas, of the self. According to Vedantic philosophy the five Koshas, which are often visualised as the layers of an onion, surround the Atman, which is the true self and is often seen as a tiny golden egg. Yoga Nidra takes you through the layers, body, breath, mind, wisdom, and bliss, to connect with your deepest self.
I've been reading about trauma recently, and its effects on us, body, brain, mind. Norman Doidge, Bessel Van der Kolk, and Peter Levine (among others) are showing us more and more how we can affect change and restore ourselves after a trauma (physical, mental, emotional). We all have trauma, we all have had experiences in our lives that have negatively affected us, and most of us are holding that in the body. This combination of Yin Yoga and Yoga Nidra is one way to work on the connection to the body and release of the trauma. When we are able to release trauma and let go, we move closer to a state of equilibrium in ourselves.
Whatever your practice, continue to explore yourself, your body, your mind in new and interesting ways. You never know what you might unearth, what shifts you may be able to make, what hurts you may be able to heal, the path you may find to balance.