Teaching Yin and Learning Acceptance

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to spend a week with a talented, compassionate, and downright funny instructor, Biff Mithoefer. The six-day seminar, on Yin Yoga, was focused on a fundamental question: How can I create a safe and open space during Yin sessions that allows people to embrace their authentic selves?

One of the thoughts that I’ve been mulling over is the idea that we all have been told stories of who we are and who we should be, stories that say that as we are, we are not enough. Can we see someone else as they are without looking through a lens of expectations driven by our own experience? As much of an advocate that I am for self-acceptance, it was with chagrin that I discovered through one of the exercises in the seminar that I was still holding onto a version of the story that I’m “not enough”. I’m working on letting that story go, and have been inspired by a quote that Biff shared:

I teach the Integral Way of uniting with the great and mysterious Tao.
My teachings are simple; if you try to make a religion or science of them, they will elude you. Profound yet plain, they contain the entire truth of the universe. Those who wish to know the whole truth take joy in
doing the work and service that comes to them. Having completed it, they take joy in cleansing and feeding themselves. Having cared for others and for themselves, they then turn to the master for instruction.

From the Hua Hu Ching, attributed to Lao Tzu (author of the Dao Te Ching)

The beauty of this sutra is the simple message that by taking joy in serving others, we’ll begin to understand the illusion of boundaries between ourselves and others, and our own self-care (and growth) becomes an expression of serving others and a goal larger than ourselves. Lao Tzu doesn’t say one has to serve in a particular way, but instead to take joy “in the work and service” that comes to us. To just say “Yes” to the opportunities that call to us. And that also means acknowledging and taking joy in both the large and small ways each of us says “yes” to service.

At Yin Yoga Module training (Sept 2019)

In reflection, I’ve found that my most rewarding experiences were often as result to saying “Yes” to a request for help, rather than me specifically seeking to achieve a particular goal. Over the past year, I’ve been teaching Yin because it truly felt like a calling. In my Yin classes, I’ve shared the idea of embracing the body’s expression of movement, and of exploring, without judgment, the sensations that arise when we move into different poses.

It takes a level of calmness to accept some sensations for what they are and to not immediately jump to our conceptualizations of them. So many people, for example, automatically associate sensations of discomfort with the feeling of “pain”. And so people shy away from uncomfortable situations, whether it be a difficult conversation or the discomfort of exercise that pushes one’s boundaries. Not understanding the difference between discomfort and pain can lead to either injury (believing the message “no pain, no gain”) or atrophy (avoid all discomfort).

Sensations are the pure voice of the body. Feelings are the mind’s interpretation; our reactions to the sensation.

Biff Mithoefer, Yin Module 2 teacher training, September 2019

In accepting ourselves, others, and the world in which we live, we can also take joy in helping to make things better without complaining about what should be, instead of what is. It’s a balance of nuance, and an exercise in understanding our own limitations. Enjoy every moment, embrace all of the sensations that the body quietly shares with you, and say yes to the service and work that comes to you.

An ephemeral mandala of gathered leaves and flowers – an offering to the day