Workout: Happy Hour Yin
Because most of us are a little too yang
BY KATE JONUSKA
Amana Yoga, 949 Walnut St., Suite B, 719-649-3024, amanayogaboulder.com
Instructor: In a climate where yoga as a spiritual exercise and yoga as physical exercise often seem separated, it’s always a pleasure to meet a yoga teacher like Melisa Slythe — known as Jai Gobind in the yoga world — who pulls both schools into one practice. One moment explaining the biological aspects of a stretch in terms of fascia, ligaments and tendons, and the next discussing the body’s energetic meridians, her classes are both eclectic and accessible.
A teacher since 2010, Jai Gobind also leads meditation workshops and kirtans (Vedic/spiritual concerts), and her current class load skews heavily toward yin.
What is the workout? “Workout” might be a misnomer in this case, as yin yoga could better be described as a work-in. One half of the Chinese philosophy of yin-yang, yin is the slower and less active form of yoga. It is focused on deep-tissue stretching, and is far less common in our very (fast, flowing and athletic) yang world.
Beginning and ending in starfish pose — on the back, legs and arms spread wide — the routine consists of a series of postures held for 3-5 minutes each. The postures take place entirely on the floor — or rather, on a mat, and with the added comfort of enough props to create a custom bed made up of several sizes of blocks, two shapes of cushions, thick blankets and more. These props allow yogis to customize their poses and provide support to the body that allows deeper release.
Flexibility and increased blood flow to often-neglected joints and fascia is only one of yin’s aims. As Jai Gobind told our Happy Hour Yin class, we also tend to keep emotions, stresses and memories inside our joints. If you’ve heard stories about spontaneous tears or laughter erupting during a yoga class, odds are likely that a yin pose or series might be to blame/credit.
What’s different? The most surprising aspect of this yin series was Jai Gobind herself. While the class began with speaker-fed music, she interspersed these songs with live performances of her own. With a lovely voice and an acoustic guitar, the professional quality of her music required me to open my eyes to make sure the performance was indeed live.
The addition of this mini-kirtan truly set the class apart, especially considering the price.
Level: Because props allow pose customization, Happy Hour Yin can be enjoyed by both novice and expert yogis. The depth to which you take the poses will change the class’ intensity significantly. A level of familiarity with basic yoga poses is helpful, however, since the quiet nature of the class doesn’t allow for lengthy instruction.
When: 4-5 p.m. weekdays, though Jai Gobind teaches only Wednesday and Friday classes.
What to prepare: Not much. Water is recommended, because with yin yoga’s massage/bodywork elements, rehydrating those tissues afterward is vital. Tighter yoga clothes often put less fabric in the way of your stretch, but this class could happily be done in sweat pants or anything in which you feel comfortable. Mats and props are provided, although you can also bring your own.
Muscles worked: The class I attended focused mostly on the hips and hamstrings. These are staples of the yin practice, since they are among the most important yet tightest parts of most bodies. The low back also got some love and release as a result of multiple types of forward folding, including half dragonfly and half pigeon. Particularly juicy was a combination of that half-pigeon with a cushioned saddle-pose variation that felt like floating on a cloud.
What I loved: I certainly loved that saddle variation and the musical stylings of Jai Gobind. Also, the Amana studio on Walnut Street in downtown Boulder — it was on Broadway until late last year — is a lovely addition to the local yoga scene. While urban and busy outside, the single studio inside a historic building has a cozy, non-corporate charm, with exposed brick walls and the warm light of salt lamps. In general, I’m also a huge fan of the “Happy Hour” format. Its regular schedule and low price make dropping in alone or with friends easy, and the class is as relaxing as the traditional alcohol-focused happy hour while offering toxin release instead of accumulation.
What I didn’t like: That historic building does come with a few drawbacks, including limited changing space and some odd acoustics. Especially in such an inwardly focused class, noises from attached businesses and offices can distract. Water flowing through the walls, which I first mistook for a rainstick or musical sound effects, was the main culprit, but if I couldn’t tell if the sound was effect or real, does it really matter? We’re all supposed to be in a meditative state of mind anyway, allowing thoughts and the outside world to drift in and out of our conscious awareness.
Also, as someone with pretty open hips and hamstrings (don’t hate me!), I would have appreciated a few poses focusing on other areas, especially the upper body and the back.
Since every Happy Hour Yin class is different, though, my personal tight spots are likely addressed in alternate versions.
How I felt after the class: Relaxed, loose and very yin-yang balanced, but also somehow affirmed and confident. A class — and a style of yoga in general — that holds such reverence and respect for each unique human body has a way of creating a truly invigorating reverence and respect for the self.