Katie Pearson, co-creator of Holy Yoga Yin (with Jonnie Goodmanson) shares how she came to love Yin and sharing the practice with others:
For twenty years I have practiced and taught power Vinyasa classes, so many have wondered what is now drawing me to the “dark” side where I am courting Yin yoga? While yin energy is associated with the deeper, more hidden aspects of our minds, bodies, and spirits, it’s honestly the light I’ve discovered existing in the trenches of my life that has invited me to further exploration on my mat.
I recently read about outdoor enthusiasts who have a fascination with caves. No one retreats to the inner recesses without a reliable light source and exit strategy. At this stage of my life I, too, have discovered a desire to go “caving”, but only with the light of Christ who has proven faithful to illuminate the way out of every shadowy and murky turn on my journey. Obscurity, silence and entering the unknown can actually be comforting when you know you aren’t alone.
Looking back, it’s apparent that my journey into the yoga world began with a very real need to avoid crippling pain and debilitating fear—not enter into it. Following a car accident in my early twenties, I was diagnosed with spinal stenosis (narrowing around my spinal cord and the nerves exiting my spine). The specialist told me to give up running completely, adding that if it were him, he would also give up any activity that could result in a fall—which could be disastrous. I didn’t ask any questions because I wasn’t interested in the answers. I just wanted out of that dark place.
In those days I was a competitive athlete and defined myself accordingly. My fear over my condition only compounded using exercise as an avoidance tactic. I also discovered after my accident that movement eased my pain while sitting still was agonizing. My chiropractor suggested I replace all athletic pursuits with a gentle yoga practice. I wasn’t opposed to adding yoga to my workout routine so tried a Bikram class, which at least promised a good sweat. However, during my first class, I tried to muscle my way through holding a challenging pose and was unable to move my head for days. Yoga went from being benign and ineffective, too dangerous.
Eventually, however, a personal trainer I respected invited me to a fitness yoga class. A qualified instructor who assisted me with my alignment allowed me to differentiate between rigidity and strength—between healthy tension and unhealthy resistance—first in my back and shoulders, then in my head and heart. I felt better–and not just in terms of diminishing the pain.
For two decades I have been working out my resistance on my mat—resistance to my spinal condition, always, but also to my doubts, fears, relationship struggles, attachment to performance, and anything else cutting in on my connection with myself and God. The movement massaged my sore muscles and reduced the chronic undercurrent of anxiety that carried me along since childhood. I explored holding certain poses for extended periods, but only when I was targeting an “issue” or healing an injury—otherwise it was always moving meditation.
My interest in taking Yin began with the students, not the practice. Every Sunday after teaching my flow class a group of Yin students would gather by the door waiting to enter the studio. As I passed through I was always enamored by their energy and joy–not qualities I associated with the Yin practice. Maybe it was the instructor? I was interested enough to give it a try.
Leaving for the first class I joked with my family that I was off to become a “Yin Master” – I expected to enjoy it, but as a yoga instructor learning new information, not for the practice itself. I anticipated that the experience would be an extended Savasana exploring new shapes, which after a long day sounded blissful. I didn’t expect Yin to be confrontational and expose my fragility, that it would expose my joy as well as my wounds, and that I would feel light all the way down to my toes. While my joints were being stressed to achieve new levels of stability, my mind was doing the same. I found myself able to commune soundlessly with my Creator about the ebb and flow of my experience for nearly the entire class. I didn’t see that coming. I expected a new experience, but not to encounter transformation through letting go of all muscular and mental effort.
Through regular practice, I developed an interest in writing the Holy Yoga Yin Instructor Training program. To teach Yin is to practice Yin in that it requires foregoing alignment for the intimacy of intuition that is aware of every individual in the room and the community as a whole breathing together on their mats. Crafting cues takes a back seat to the acute observation that sometimes results in more silence, or simply turning down the lights. Instructing students in yin is to soften into the magic of what others are creating, and just being grateful to be a part. I’m learning more about myself and my craft of teaching yoga through this shared experience than exercising all my skills as a Vinyasa instructor.
Holy Yoga Yin is about becoming, which involves going “caving” with Christ on a regular basis. I’m growing again in new ways through Yin and that alone is enough to bring me to my mat and deeper into the next catacomb, trusting my guide will always lead me safely back out into the sunlight. I don’t tell people how incredible they will feel practicing Yin—rather I ask them to please tell me what their experience is because their stories always point back to the presence of God in those who intentionally and willingly seek His face.
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