Yoga instructor (to class): “If you haven’t been to yin yoga before, you’ll soon find out it’s like a trip to the dentist.”
Me (to myself): “AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!! The dentist?! Is it too late to leave? I came to yoga to relax, not have a panic attack!!!”
Ever since I was nine and lost my spot in my dentist’s “No Cavity Club,” I’ve had dentophobia. All it takes is the mention of the word “dentist” and I clamp up, start sweating excessively, my heart rate rises, I get short of breath, and my head spins in fear. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) dental phobia is a “marked and persistent fear that is excessive or unreasonable.” Okay, so maybe my fear of the dentist is “excessive” and “unreasonable.” But, I was already dreading yin yoga and the class hadn’t even started.
The instructor elaborated: “Yin yoga is like having a tooth pulled (I think I started shaking at this point). The discomfort your body feels is long and gradual. You hold stretches at the point where you feel slight pain in your joints for 3-5 minutes.”
I envisioned bones popping out of their sockets. How could any exercise comparable to having a tooth pulled possibly be good for my health?
The instructor told us that by holding poses for long periods of time, we would be be working the ligaments and deep connective tissues in our joints that rarely get touched. He said this will allow us to push the limits of our flexibility by increasing the range of motion in our joints. Holding the poses would also increase our flow of energy by focusing on deeper body tissues.
At this point, I was completely panicked. My body was so tense it felt like I’d entered a state of temporary paralysis. But I wanted to come through on the commitment I made when I registered for the Mind-Body Flex Pack so I had to try to let go of my fear.
We started out in “happy baby” pose. This was the first of a series of poses that worked on opening up our hip joints: our focus for that particular class. One of the great things about taking a registered yoga class, as compared to a drop-in class, is that people commit to full sessions, as opposed to dropping in to individual classes. This allows the instructor guide us through progressions and give us new challenges each week.
We held the pose for five minutes. It was agony. It really was like having a tooth pulled. I could feel the stretch slowly get deeper and deeper. And, more painful. Throughout the pose, the instructor calmly encouraged us to focus our minds on the “experience of the pose.” This meant, getting rid of any negative thoughts about school, work, relationships, or anything else stress-inducing. Add dentophobia to the list and I wasn’t convinced the class was helping to lessen stress at all. But eventually, maybe two minutes into the pose, I did start to feel more and more at ease.
We did about five more poses in the class, and held each one for 3-5 minutes. Each pose, like “box pose” where you sit in a modified cross-legged position and fold forward over your ankles, targeted the deep connective tissues in our hips from a different angle.
At the end of the class, I felt loose and relaxed. The class was very different from ashtanga yoga, where we developed strength by moving through a series of powerful poses. In yin yoga, the focus is entirely on increasing flexibility, which I learned, needs some work. Even though the experience was uncomfortable and painful, it really did help open up my hips. And, it was not the traumatic “dentist” trip I’d envisioned. I survived and have already booked my next appointment!