I believe in the “holy trinity” of fitness: 1) Strength Training, 2) Cardio, 3) Stretching. They are all of equal importance but I got a nasty lesson on #3 a couple of years ago when I developed a fierce pain in the top of my feet. After a couple of doctor visit$, one told me that my Achilles tendon needed to be stretched out and I would be as good as new. He was a foot and ankle surgeon who works on the Cincinnati Bengals and Reds (and me). So I followed his advice and IT WORKED! I was seriously considering giving up fitness as my feet hurt so much BUT after stretching I was back on the floor and ready for action.
Since then, I have heard and seen horror stories from 20 yr olds who didn’t stretch before marathons and lived to be told that they would have to rest for 6-8 weeks since they strained their muscles. Lots of my friends have plantar problems only to have them cured by a good stretching bout; add my experience and I was convinced that there was indeed a Fitness Troika, and stretching was utterly necessary.
I have taken yoga for a couple of years at my gym. It’s good but it’s mostly flow. I get a good stretch from flow but I was looking for a GREAT stretch. I talked to a fellow enthusiast yesterday who recommended that I look into Yin style of yoga. It’s all deep and long stretching, slow paced and absolute torture for a Type A personality.
Now, I was solemnly warned that Yin is not considered the cool style of yoga (around here that would be hot yoga, power yoga, power flow, or anything REALLY esoteric where you could put your nose in the air and exclaim to your friends,”I study with ______, he is the ONLY master of _________ yoga in the city.” Of course, your friends would mark you as the pretentious jerk you are, but you got your brownie point—heh!). In Yin you don’t move enough to be cool, you don’t hold obviously mad hard poses, or scream, or recite rare 3rd century poetry in short grunts. Yin is holding a pose for a very long time and you just concentrate in stretching and loosening your muscles in that area. If you are looking for a stretch to the connecting tissue and the muscles, this is your style. It. Is. Hard.
I found one place where they teach it weekly, and was lucky enough to get a class the next day. The building was an old Masonic lodge and as I made my way up the stairs, I thought it reminded me more of a Bessarabian whorehouse than a yoga studio. Beaded curtains, exotic pictures lining the stairs, pictures of snake gods and brass idols, plump paisley cushions, exotic lamps, and an ornate waiting room were what greeted me. I was charmed!
I was ushered into the big practice hall with thick plush carpet and a ceiling dotted with artificial stars and hung with amazing 1890’s curving light fixtures. We unrolled our mats and began.
Sit on the floor and put your right leg across, left leg behind and both bent at the knee. Good, now start to tip over with your goal to have your forehead on the mat. You are going to stay there for what seemed like 12 days but was probably only about 10 minutes. At first it’s not so bad. Then…then…oh me oh my. Feel the pain and the stretch. THAT was a stretch, my friend. I started out being able to lean on my elbows, just barely. By the end my forehead was on the ground, my right leg muscles had gone through: denial, rebellion, shock, bargaining, resignation, rebellion, and finally had released (though they still were murmuring ugly things from time to time).
Right, now for the other side. Same: agony, ecstasy, almost a cramp, surrender. The occasional twinge but amazing stretch like it hadn’t been for years.
From there it was holding hard positions, pulling arms across to really feel it, doing the frog and staying there for minutes (so hard). Being mindful of all parts of your arm (extend it outward just the shoulder to the elbow…everything else is limp), then extend the forearm, then only the wrist, then the fingers. The last two moves are surprisingly hard to do.
Control, you are learning control. You are learning to take the time, you are learning to think and feel rather than react and be someone else’s puppet. It might hurt a bit, but you feel the master of your ship.
Another great thing about Yin, since there is no possible grandstanding, you leave your ego at the door. He didn’t say so but I got the impression that if anyone tried anything phony or solipsistic they would be looked at.
Competitive people hate Yin. It’s so tough and so modest at the same time. That is what attracts me to it so strongly. You can’t cheat with it, and you can’t use it, paradoxically it’s all about you, you come away with astonishingly profound insights into yourself and your life.
The teacher said that if you were doing it right, your eyes would close by themselves. That is the truth.
Fabienne Christenson is the President and Perfumer at Possets Perfume. She loves physical fitness and spends a lot of her free time at it. This blog was brought to you by Possets Perfume where you will find three fitness perfumes: Vim, Vigor, and Victory which are light and fresh and perfect for wearing in the close and sweaty environment you might find yourself in in the average gym. Of course, Possets lineup is also loaded with drop-dead sexy and devastatingly beautiful perfumes, all at glee inducing prices. Come and visit at www.possets.com!