Mas­ter Class

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Yoga Journal - - CONTENTS -

Dis­cover restora­tive yoga’s power to help you over­come in­de­ci­sion and see pos­si­bil­ity with Colleen Said­man Yee.

“MY LEAST FA­VORITE THING IN THE WORLD is hav­ing to make a de­ci­sion,” says vet­eran yoga teacher Colleen Said­man Yee. “I’m afraid that I’ll make the wrong one, suf­fer re­gret, and have to pay un­pleas­ant con­se­quences.” Still, through asana, Said­man Yee has cre­ated a path to­ward free­dom from that fear— a process that in­volves tap­ping into her in­tu­ition via restora­tive yoga poses. “I re­al­ize that if I slow down and use these sub­tle prac­tices to find a deep sense of re­lax­ation, that a lot of what I’m search­ing for bub­bles to the sur­face,” she says.

Here, learn more about Said­man Yee, de­velop a bet­ter con­nec­tion with your in­tu­ition, and work through your own in­de­ci­sion. Her ex­clu­sive gen­tle se­quence (begin­ning on page 91) serves to help you find your own way. It also pro­vides a sneak peek into her new Yoga Jour­nal Mas­ter Class work­shop on restora­tive yoga, which launches on­line this month.

In 1984, my next-door neigh­bor—who was into all sorts of “weird” stuff like yoga, jour­nal­ing, and med­i­ta­tion—made it her mis­sion to get me to yoga class. She nagged me for months un­til I be­grudg­ingly agreed. (I’m sure that there was some sort of trade or bribe in­volved, but I can’t re­mem­ber ex­actly what it was.) I thought that I would be gig­gling at all these silly peo­ple who be­lieved there was some­thing mys­te­ri­ous and mag­i­cal about “stretch­ing.” I con­sider my­self to be a prag­ma­tist, and had al­ways en­vi­sioned yoga as a cult and the phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity a joke. OK, well, I was wrong. The class kicked my ass and hum­bled me. The feel­ing and ex­pe­ri­ence were both mag­i­cal and mys­te­ri­ous and—dare I say it?—spir­i­tual. My senses were clear, my mind was present, and I had an over­whelm­ing sense of con­tent­ment that I hadn’t felt since I was a teenager. I re­mem­ber walk­ing out onto Broad­way in New York City, which I had walked down hun­dreds of times, but the clar­ity of the color, sounds, and smells were so much more crisp. It is from this clar­ity and re­lax­ation that de­ci­sions be­come less dra­matic. Yoga even­tu­ally be­came my guide back home to my­self.

I’m one of seven chil­dren, and grow­ing up, the main em­pha­sis in our house was on ed­u­ca­tion. My broth­ers and sis­ter all went on to get mas­ters de­grees and PhDs, and most are work­ing in ed­u­ca­tion. I was on the same tra­jec­tory, an A+ stu­dent in high school, but all of that changed on July 4, 1974, with screech­ing tires: I was run over by a car and suf­fered se­vere head trauma that left me un­able to re­mem­ber or process in­for­ma­tion the way I had be­fore. I started us­ing drugs and ex­er­cise to beat up my body, be­cause the dis­trac­tions of a high or phys­i­cal pain were so much less in­tense than my feel­ings of in­ad­e­quacy were.

By the time I started yoga, I had al­ready given up drugs, but the angst that was the im­pe­tus to start do­ing them was still there. As I kept re­turn­ing to class, yoga started to ad­dress my deeper frus­tra­tions. It de­manded that I sit with what I’d spent the pre­vi­ous decade run­ning away from and cov­er­ing up. Yoga has brought me to a place of lov­ing my body and em­brac­ing my ca­pa­bil­i­ties, and I be­lieve that the prac­tice has lit­er­ally rewired my brain. I still have mo­ments of feel­ing that I don’t add up, but I can find where that’s stored in­ter­nally and dive into those places with asana, med­i­ta­tion, and breath work, and watch them lose their hold on me. This yoga stuff is quite mirac­u­lous. Teach­ing yoga was never a goal or even a de­ci­sion. But in 1997, when I was three-fourths of my way through the teacher-train­ing pro­gram at Ji­va­mukti Yoga, I in­formed Sharon [Gan­non] and David [Life]—who run the stu­dio—that I had no in­ten­tion of teach­ing. I gave them a list of rea­sons why: I’m not a born teacher, I’m epilep­tic, I’m tone deaf (chant­ing is a big part of their lin­eage), I’m pet­ri­fied of pub­lic speak­ing, and so on. They nod­ded and lis­tened, and as soon as I’d walked out of the stu­dio, Sharon called me and said I was go­ing to sub for her in three hours, that the class was sold out, and that she would be one of the stu­dents. Well, I did it, and now here I am still teach­ing 20 years later.

I’ve al­ways been a huge fan of Savasana

(Corpse Pose). I don’t think that I had one par­tic­u­lar aha mo­ment that made me de­cide to teach restora­tive yoga, but my love af­fair with restora­tive poses has grown over the years. It started with teach­ing a restora­tive pose at the end of my classes at my stu­dio, Yoga Shanti (in New York). Then, about 10 years ago, I started teach­ing en­tire classes ded­i­cated to restora­tive poses. They are mind- and ner­vous-sys­tem al­ter­ing. I think my age has some­thing to do with my love of prop­ping the body and drop­ping in deeper and deeper. These poses quiet the men­tal chat­ter that is non­stop—re­lay­ing all sorts of con­flict­ing in­for­ma­tion, sto­ries, and pos­si­ble out­comes. When we set up care­fully in a restora­tive pose, the breath be­comes easy and the body re­laxes so that it doesn’t re­sist. The ner­vous sys­tem qui­ets down, and deep lis­ten­ing be­comes pos­si­ble. Clar­ity rises and fear dis­si­pates.

We need to be­friend, and lis­ten to, the

wis­dom of the body. With yoga, I’ve de­vel­oped a pas­sion for ex­plor­ing emo­tions and a method for free­ing my body of the bondage caused by years of try­ing to pro­tect my­self. A gut re­ac­tion is a win­dow into in­tu­ition, but many of us have be­come deaf to what our gut is telling us. Some­times we want to deny the truth of a sit­u­a­tion be­cause we don’t trust our­selves, or we want some­one else to make the de­ci­sion, or we just plain don’t want to deal with the up­heaval that could en­sue. Or maybe we lit­er­ally have neg­a­tive feel­ings about our bel­lies be­cause of what so­ci­ety has told us they should look like, and that area of the body has be­come hard, ig­nored, and shut down. Vis­cer­ally un­der­stand­ing and feel­ing the ef­fects of restora­tive poses and breath work has been a game changer for me. You get in touch with what your gut is telling you, and you re­al­ize that you did

“Yoga has brought me to a place of lov­ing my body and em­brac­ing my ca­pa­bil­i­ties, and I be­lieve that the prac­tice has lit­er­ally rewired my brain.”

the best you could; you stop beat­ing your­self up with would-haves, should-haves, and could-haves, be­cause that is such a use­less en­ergy drain.

There are so many dif­fer­ent restora­tive set­ups and poses that can ben­e­fit most con­di­tions. Some of them need to be done grad­u­ally. For in­stance, if some­one is sad, I wouldn’t want to put them in a restora­tive back­bend right off the bat be­cause en­er­get­i­cally it would be like tak­ing a glass out of the freezer and putting it into the oven. In­stead, I’d ease them into three or four other poses build­ing up to that back­bend. When my daugh­ters have men­strual cramps, I set them up in Supta Bad­dha Konasana (Re­clin­ing Bound An­gle Pose). A sup­ported side-ly­ing po­si­tion is good for nau­sea. Roll onto your side, place blan­kets be­tween your lower legs, and one un­der your head. Place a can­dle, a pho­to­graph, or flow­ers nearby to look at. You can be­come very still here. Keeping your eyes open and look­ing at a sta­tion­ary ob­ject helps ease the spin­ning qual­ity of nau­sea and pro­vides ori­en­ta­tion. A Savasana (Corpse Pose) with weights, like sand­bags, placed on your body is help­ful when feel­ing un­grounded. There’s no end to the ben­e­fits of restora­tive yoga. Each setup is de­signed for op­ti­mal re­lax­ation and breath­ing that will bring you com­fort.

My hope is that yoga will some­day be at the bed­side of ev­ery hospi­tal pa­tient and that ev­ery health care pro­fes­sional will use it for self-care. Ten years ago, I started the Ur­ban Zen In­te­gra­tive Ther­apy pro­gram with Donna Karan and my hus­band, Rod­ney. Our goal has been to put the “care” back in health care. It’s a pro­gram for self­care that also of­fers train­ing for health care pro­fes­sion­als and yoga teach­ers who want to aid pa­tient re­cov­er­ies through yoga. Ur­ban Zen In­te­gra­tive Ther­apy teaches you how to ap­ply yo­gic tech­niques when tak­ing care of your­self or your pa­tients. It didn’t in­spire quick buy-in, but we kept pound­ing the pave­ment, and now the doors are spring­ing open. Our hope is that soon all in­sti­tu­tions such as schools, cor­po­ra­tions, pris­ons, abuse cen­ters, and re­hab cen­ters will of­fer yoga classes.

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