I’m stoked (and honoured) to bring you this interview with my teacher Paul Grilley.
Paul is the founder of what most of us know as Yin Yoga.
And I’ll talk more about Paul and my relationship with him. And how I came to study with him as we go into the interview.
Before we dive into the interview with Paul Grilley I’ll share his bio.
Paul Grilley began practicing yoga in 1979 after reading Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda.
He moved to Los Angeles in 1982, where he studied and taught yoga for 12 years. In 1988, he read theories of the chakras by Dr. Hiroshi Motoyama. Paul and his wife Susie have been active students of Dr. Motoyama ever since. Paul started his studies of anatomy with Dr. Gary Parker in 1979 and continued his studies at UCLA where he took courses in anatomy and kinesiology.
He earned an MA from St. John’s College in Santa Fe in the summer of 2000 and an honorary PhD in 2005 from the California Institute of Human Science. For his efforts to clarify the latest theories on fascia and its relevance to the practice of Hatha yoga. Paul’s written two books and created three videos detailing the influence of anatomy on asana practice.
After teaching yoga asana for 40 years, Paul now spends most of his time reading science and esoteric literature with a focus on the Samkhya philosophies of India. He and his wife occasionally teach. Yoga and meditation retreats and you can visit his website for more about that.
In this Interview with Paul Grilley:
- Paul’s Yoga origin story how he found Yoga
- How he started to teach and what style (this may surprise you)
- How he stumbled across Yin Yoga
- His studies With Paulie Zink
- How did he discover skeletal variation
- Training teachers in Yin
- and what he is up to now
and so much more
This is a must listen too for any Yin Yoga Lover
Okay, let’s dive into my interview with Paul Grilley!
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Paul Grilley Interview – Read
Nyk: Hi, Paul. Welcome.
Paul: Thank you.
Nyk: Thank you for coming and hanging out with me. Just briefly, I’m going to just talk about how I found you and how you became one of the few people in the world that I call my teacher. And then I would love to dive right into the interview. So I’m going to give a very Reader’s Digest version.
I found your DVD in a bookstore back when, you know, we actually went to bookstores to buy books. When I graduated from my first 300-hour training, it was very clear to me that there were some holes in my knowledge, anatomy and sequencing, where I was like I’m not quite clear on these things. And so off I went to the bookstore, picked up your anatomy for yoga DVD, you know, old school when we actually still watch things on DVD.
I dove into it. I watched it repeatedly, probably about four or five times. And was completely blown away, for a few reasons. One, because you explained some things in my own body that my previous training was an Iyengar-based training. No one could ever explain. So when I would, for example, I’m in, I’m genetically quite internally rotated.
So in extended side angle pose, I would get this sharp pinching in my hip. Because of the orientation of my pelvis and then the leg externally rotating. And I would ask my teachers repeatedly why is this happening? Like, if I bring my hand to the floor pinching if I keep my elbow on my leg, fine, if I bring my hand to a block, fine, nobody had an explanation.
They used to tell me it was tight hips. I was like, that’s the only flexible area on my body naturally. So I was, there were questions that were not answered and there were rules at had been put on me with this internal rotation. So, for example, in Saddle or Supta Varasana, for those of you who speak Hatha, I would naturally want to turn my feet out.
To get out of the bone of my foot digging into the floor. And it was super comfortable for me to do so, but then they would come over and who poo me and put lots of furniture under me and strap my legs together and all the things so that I was like now in this like massively supported version going, okay, but aren’t I going to be expected to do wheel soon?
And like, I haven’t opened my quads at all. Cause you’ve got me all like boosted up.
So those were some of the problems. And when I saw your DVD presentation, it just, I was like Eureka. So it’s changed the way, obviously, I saw my own body, but then it also changed the way I saw my students. No longer when I started giving just general direction and noticed that not everybody was doing the same thing. Did I think it was because they didn’t hear me or they didn’t understand me?
I was like, Oh, maybe that doesn’t work in their body. Oh, okay, cool. So it changed that. And, so I’m super grateful for that. And then one day I was walking down the street and I stuck my head into a studio that I never went to because it was an Ashtanga studio, just to go and look and see if they had a bolster to buy.
And I saw a poster on their corkboard with your mug on it. And it said anatomy and yin yoga workshop. And I was like, Oh my God, that’s the guy from my DVD. And just by fate, it was, on a weekend that I actually had off because it was summer. I normally taught on Saturdays, so I didn’t have to get a sub or anything.
And so I just went right upstairs and was like, I’ll sign up. I had no idea what getting was. I’d never heard of it. I just knew that if I got that much from your DVD, a workshop would be probably epic. So that’s how I found you. And then I fell in love with yin yoga throughout that practice. Some of the biggest takeaways were just the feeling, which anyone who’s done yin yoga knows that feeling that you can’t really name in your body.
But also a big takeaway was that you did not correct my alignment. Which for me was like whoa! I would be in saddle and, my feet would be complaining and I’d want to turn them out. And I’d be like, Oh, if I do that. I’m just going to, get a lecture.
And finally, I was just like, there’s no way I can hold this for five minutes if I don’t turn my feet out. So I turned my feet out and the whole time laying there waiting, waiting, waiting for you to come over, but you didn’t. And then afterwards, I remember asking you about that and you said, well, if you genetically have that ability in your body to do so comfortably, then it’s fine.
And I was just like, this is amazing.
Paul: So it’s the little things.
Nyk: It’s all about saddle pose. Yes. So yeah, I fell in love with the style, started practicing it, bought your DVD, bought your books, did all the things started practicing it, several times a week, kind of in conjunction with my Hatha practice.
And then at one point, a few years later, I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue and I was teaching 10 classes a week. And so the energy that I had to physically do anything really was getting me to the class and back and the odd demo in a pose to come back out. So at that point, my practice actually shifted from mostly Hatha, with a couple of yIn practices a week (I was on my moon cycle or not feeling well) to exclusively Yin with a side of restorative on my moon cycle.
And so it totally changed my relationship with the practice. Because it was so immersive. It was almost three years of that, of just Yin. and then that’s when I decided at that point when I got a little money from surprise money from my parents that I was like, I know exactly what I’m doing with this.
And that’s when I came to study with you. There’s my backstory.
I think that people’s origin story of how they came to yoga is always endlessly fascinating. So I would love to start there with you, What brought you to yoga? When, where, when, how, all of the details of that.
And did you love it right away? Or did it grow on you? We’ll start with that. Maybe.
Paul: Okay. Yeah. My origin story is 1978. I was on summer break from college, the first year of college and, waiting for the second year and I was working, construction labor, and we were out of town. I grew up in Montana and we were out of town in a town away from us. Which meant you know, it’s summer, you’re working 10-hour days, you’re away from home, you’re trying to earn money, it was six days a week, as I remember, maybe it was seven, you know, eight, 10 hours a day, because there’s nothing else to do, and you and you’re burning money for every hotel night that you’re there. So I remember that distinctly going like, man, this is hard, and, at the same time, I had picked up a book on someone’s recommendation called The Autobiography of a Yogi, and I was reading that at night, you know, you’d come home, by the time you ate and showered and laid down, it’s eight, nine o’clock at night.
And all of my comrades and colleagues, there’s like three or four of us in a hotel room, you know, I’m like on a cot. And, you know, they’re like, read a little bit and then poof, you know, they’re sleeping to get up, you know, to get rested after a hard, long, hard, hot day. And I’m reading this book, and I’m just getting blown away.
I can remember it so vividly, which is why is it so easy for me to tell my origin story, because it’s so vivid to me. That I’d be reading this book, and just every page, everything was like a new world, was like, are you kidding? It’s like, what, I didn’t know that, what? I can remember telling myself I’ve got to put this book down and go to sleep or I’m going to be just dead tomorrow.
And it was like that for the entire week that I was there. I was completely enthralled. I’d be working all day. And I’d be thinking, man, I’m going to read that book again tonight. And then, you know, I’d be up another hour and a half to two and a half hours, you know, just reading this book. And that was my origin story as an introduction to yoga.
But it was the yoga of Paramahansa Yogananda. You know, it’s Kriya Yoga. It’s circulating energies in your spine to slowly develop the ability to withdraw into the spine and we work through your karma and have a Samadhi experience. You know, it wasn’t Hatha Yoga in any way. It was just yoga I think as at least it was in my day, this was true.
It’s sort of like, oh, okay, well, I’m going to get into yoga. I signed up for a series of lessons from a Yogananda’s organization. Yogananda, for those of you who don’t know, died in 1951, I think, but there’s an organization that he founded and everything that goes on to the day and propagates his teachings.
And so I, I signed up for those lessons, but it was like, well, what else can I do that’s yoga? So everything yoga and everything India in 1978 in Montana and a small town that I could find, (which was not very much) I wanted to do. And of course, when I went to the local bookstore, there were three books on yoga.
And, I think one was, uh, I think Light on Yoga. I remember the big silver book, you know, I pulled that off the shelf. I flipped through it and I saw this guy doing all these bizarre contortions. I just closed the book shut it back on the shelf and said, I don’t want to do any of that. And then this much simpler book, which I still have a volume today.
I’m staring at it on my bookshelf. It was called Yoga and Health, and it was written by A guy way back in the ’60s. He’s an Indian guy, South India, but he had migrated to Europe, pre World War II and he had learned yoga as a very young man in India, and then when he migrated for reasons I don’t remember, I think he went to Hungary or something, or Italy, um, he was already teaching yoga, and so he and this other woman who had, who many, many years ago was quite well known, They wrote this book together, (mostly him), called Yoga and Health, and this was a very, very, very, very simple book.
If you’ve ever had a chance to see books written in the 50s you know, a very simple book, that had an outline of lessons at the back that was a combination of what we would now call yin yoga. Floor poses for the most part, are held for long periods of time, repeated two or three times, maybe six or seven asanas, and then maybe two pranayama practices.
And I said, ah, this is great, you know, this will supplement my meditation practices. And I tell that story because I did that for about three or four months. And I just, my interest in, in hatha yoga, as we understand it, doing poses and doing pranayama was like, well, I was young, I was in my twenties. I was an ex-athlete, kind of lifting weights guy.
So it was attractive to me, but there was nothing that I was aware of that you could earn a living teaching yoga. And that’s like saying, I’m going to. Well, it’s hard to say anything now because you can earn a living teaching anything, but in those days, it was like, I’m going to earn a living teaching surfing.
And it’s like, really? I don’t, I don’t think so. Does anybody do that? And, from the end of summer of 78, August, September, and I can remember it specifically, this origin story, there are landmark dates in my mind Hatha yoga for, three, four months. And I’ve been, you know, taking these lessons that are more in-depth philosophy.
I came across Bikram Chowdhury’s yoga book, which I think was called Bikram’s Yoga at the time, I can’t remember, it was an orange book. Actually, someone just brought it into the community college class that I was at, and says, Hey, I heard you’re into yoga, and I go, Oh yeah, I’m really getting into it, and he says, Well, here’s this book.
It was Bikram’s book, I flipped the book open, and on the inside cover was a picture of Yogananda and his younger brother, his younger brother was Vishnu Ghosh, because Yogananda’s given name was Mukunda Ghosh. Well, Vishnu Ghosh was Bikram’s teacher. And so this typical, these fantasy stories we tell ourselves about how we’re all interconnected to the universe.
Oh, this is a message.
The fact that this person who didn’t know me brought this book in, and here it is, it’s Yogananda’s picture, and his brother taught this guy, oh my God, it’s, this is the Haha yoga that’s in the yoga Ananda tradition. Well, it took me a while to figure out that wasn’t true at all, but that was the reason.
Oh, okay. So now all of a sudden, because of this philosophical prejudice I had. That, oh, this is the Yogananda view of Hatha Yoga, in my mind took much more importance. Now it’s like, oh, so these postures and these pranayamas are very important. And so I started doing that. I remember the date that I got the book just before Christmas break, and I made a resolution that I was going to practice in that book every day for 30 days.
And that’s what I did. And, that was my entrance into that origin story of about four months from about the middle of 1978 to the beginning of 1979. I got blown open to the spiritual world of yoga. It’s deeper philosophies. And then I slid from there into the hatha yoga world. And that was my origin story of how I went from just, you know, I’m just a boy from Montana to I’m interested in bizarre things.
That book, you know, completely, changed the arc of my life.
I’ve, I’ve read that book a couple of times and it’s, to say it’s mind-blowing would be kind of understating it. Hey, it’s just like, and I was already, I was already through my first yoga teacher training when I read it and I was still like, what! So yeah, I can see how, yeah, it would be, so you’ve got those yoga books and you’re mostly doing home practice at this point?
Paul: Yeah. There are no yoga classes, right? Especially in smaller communities. This is 1978 in a small community, not in a city, you know, it’s like yoga classes. What are you talking about?
Nyk: Mm-hmm. . So what were you studying at university?
Paul: Well, it was just, community college and one of the, uh, aftershocks of reading that book was I wanted to change my major of what I was studying in college.
You know, as a freshman there’s not much to change. You’re just taking general education courses and stuff. But nonetheless, I had started a series of courses that you have to take, like in mathematics and chemistry and things like that. And I said, no, no, I want to do something physical. I want to do something like maybe chiropractic.
Being a doctor was way beyond my thought or reach. I thought both financially and maybe even skillfully. I don’t know if I could, you know, sustain the grind of the study it takes to get there. But I thought, you know, maybe I could reach out, you know, get some form of, physical, Certification that wouldn’t be quite, you know, to the medical profession range.
So I re-enrolled at a local college rather than the one I was at before and took anatomy classes, and that’s what I was doing then. So, when I read that book, as soon as the work season was over, I announced it to my parents, who were probably shocked or didn’t really care, Whatever. I said, you know, I’m going to shift over.
I’m going to start taking biology and anatomy. Fortunately, we had excellent biology and anatomy, some of the best classes I ever took in all of my career at this little community college, very close to me. And, it was, uh, an excellent introduction to anatomy, all these mechanics. And so I started studying anatomy parallel with, you know, doing my home practice, and I started teaching within five months of doing my own practice, because one, I wasn’t intimidated by the practice.
It’s just practice like, Hey, I’m surfing. I’ll teach you how to surf. I’ll teach you what I know. It didn’t have the sort of onus on it today that young teachers have to deal with, which was unfortunate. And so it’s like, look, I want to practice and if I, if I commit to having to teach some of my friends, then I have to show up because it’s hard to keep going in your room by yourself and no one knows what you’re doing or cares.
And so I started teaching somewhere around, you know, spring 1979. And it was like, it was right up front. I go, look, I don’t know anything. I just come from an athletic background. I know my body. I have a fairly good idea of how these things work. And I’m starting to get, you know, some theoretical underpinnings in anatomy and physiology.
And fortunately, you know, you know how it is at college, it’s like, okay, I’ll try that. I had, you know, half a dozen people or more. It grew very quickly. People going like, okay, I’m interested, you know, I don’t care if you’re not Joe certified yoga, because there was no Joe certified yoga. That was a huge advantage.
There was no someone going to tap on your shoulder and say, are you certified to do this? It was like, hey, do whatever it’s like, you don’t need, you didn’t need to be certified to play basketball at the Y, you didn’t be certified to go out and try to learn surfing, you didn’t need to be certified to humbly explore yoga and share it with your friends.
So it was very easy for me in my generation and my time and place to just, think yoga is cool. I like it. I want to share it with others. And so by 1979, a year later, I’d already been teaching for six months, had a year of anatomy and physiology under my belt, and was starting to look more seriously at some of the other, yoga books and resources that were out there, Hatha yoga books and resources.
Nyk: Very cool. So, did you just kind of continue on that way doing some university and teaching and and building the teaching from there?
Paul: No, I went down to LA to study with Bikram at, with Bikram at Bikram school. I actually went down to see what was the more realistic goal for me. Should I study acupuncture theory?
California had just licensed schools to do it. Or should I go off into yoga? And so I went down there. again, this would have been the summer of 79. I went down to L.A. with a list of acupuncture schools. There were 2 of them there at the time that I wanted to visit and take classes at Bikrams Yoga School in Beverly Hills because You know, his guru was Yogananda’s brother.
And so I got down there and I visited these schools and I just, you know, you know how it is with school. It’s like, well, you know, yeah, it’d be great to be an acupuncturist, but I got to find an apartment in LA, which is five times as expensive as my little town. And Oh, and I also have to come up with tuition for the program and Oh yeah.
And you have to support yourself. 20-year-old with no skills whatsoever. There’s not a chance I’m going to move to LA, get a job to support myself get an apartment pay for school and go to acupuncture school. And so even though I was always intrigued by acupuncture. In fact, my college professor who introduced me, who taught encouraged me to look into acupuncture.
He himself. PhD in, anatomy, thought that acupuncture was a fascinating study. And again, in 1978, no one knew anything about it. So the fact that he recommended it and these schools had just come to be, I thought that was the path I was going to take. And once again, it’s because the idea that you could earn a living teaching yoga was like saying, I’m going to fly to the moon.
I’d never heard of it. I’d never heard of anyone doing it. But when I got to L.A., I saw that there wasn’t just Bikram school, but there were two other schools in L. A., that were earning a living, that people were, people were coming and taking yoga classes, not practicing yoga on their own. So this is, for the people of today, the students of today, it may be hard for you to get your head wrapped around.
There were no yoga classes. You did yoga on your own, like hiking and rock climbing and surfing. You If you were lucky, you had a friend who was interested, or you were a crazy, shave your head member of a hippie ashram. There was no yoga class in a gym with leotards and a rubber mat. So, when I got to L.A. and saw that there were actually yoga studios, Filled with people, lined up, listening to someone tell them what to do was a revelation to me. I was like, okay, no offence, might have been arrogant on my part, but I said to myself, anybody can do this.
I can memorize a script and tell people what to do. And, uh, and so it was pretty obvious right away that acupuncture, however intriguing and more formal, And more deep in its philosophy and technique and teachings than mere Hatha yoga classes. It was just, it was not within my reach financially at that time.
But Hatha Yoga, not only learning Hatha Yoga but earning a living teaching Hatha yoga. I would have been happy to have a Hatha yoga studio to go to, but then to see that there are studios down there and they’re teaching Hatha yoga [00:26:00] classes and they’re being paid What? So I ended up staying there. I mean, there was, there’s a bit more to tell, but it’s just boring to anyone except me.
I ended up staying there for 13 years. I was going to go down to just look around, and see if I’m going to go to acupuncture school and take some yoga classes. And I ended up staying for 13 years, teaching yoga.
Nyk: Wow. It’s interesting in your story, how you were talking about this sort of acupuncture, yoga, acupuncture, yoga, weighing the two, because I’ve literally just gone through that.
I did mine in my forties, not my twenties, and moved to this, little magical Island that I’m on. And when I was moving was like, well, if there’s ever a time to go back to school. When you have no clients and no work now seems like it would be the time. And so that was exactly my conundrum too, was yoga therapy, acupuncture, yoga therapy, acupuncture.
And I ended up doing some of both. I only made it to about year two and a half, almost three years into acupuncture before I realized that although I absolutely love the medicine and have experienced so much healing from it, which is why I was interested in it. I didn’t love needling, like I, it wasn’t gross it wasn’t weird it wasn’t scary it was just meh.
And since I already had something that I loved and adored that I was doing for an occupation, I was like, I’m too old to just go to school, accrue more and more debt, more and more stress, go through hefty licensing exams for meh. So, I took what I learned, you know, it all goes into me, into my yin teacher training and my teaching so, you know, it was none of it was wasted.
But I was like, Nope, back over to the yoga. Interesting parallel.
Paul: It is. It is an interesting parallel.
Nyk: So now you’re in LA and you’re teaching now before they had, those air quotes, teacher training programs, where you just actually taught what you learned from other teachers and your own practice.
And then where do you go from there? I know I’ve only heard little remnants of it. So if I’m jumping too far ahead in the timeline, we can backtrack. But at some point, there’s a story with you and some bones. So I would love to hear more about like, where did that, like, how did you go from Bikram yoga, that’s, that’s still quite an alignment, ‘barking at you’ style of yoga.
Very much one size fits all, everybody must do this kind of, you know, vibe and you’re very far removed from that now. So where did the transition go? Was it starting with your own body and noticing things or seeing things in your students that didn’t make sense?
Paul: Uh, okay. Well, I didn’t discover the bones yet.
You know, the origin story I’ve just told you on, you know, only goes up to 1990-1993 or 4, that’s when I moved. But in that time, I only taught at Bikram studio for about a year and a half, two years, and then we had a big fight. Not hard to imagine why. And, uh, and it’s like, okay, I’m never going back to that studio again.
And that’s when I had to start teaching on my own. And parallel with teaching on my own was running into other people like Larry Payne down in Marina Del Rey and others who, you know, came from completely different yogic traditions. And so I’m out here teaching on my own, teaching for other people and poking my head into other people’s classes.
And I thought, oh, there’s, there’s more to life out here. And so what I did was I took Iyengar’s book, the silver book that I’d re-shelved originally because I wasn’t interested in doing all those contortions. Well, now I was interested. Now I was like, okay, I’m out here on my own. I don’t, I don’t pretend to be teaching Bikram yoga anymore.
I don’t lean on anyone for authority. I’ve got to learn to be even better at these poses. And you know, you got to remember I was working four to six hours a day doing asana for two years. And I’m 20 years old, not 50, not 60. I’m 20 years old working, you know, 24 hours of poses a week.
Thinking that, you know, I got to open up my body, I got to, at that point, it was just for my own personal satisfaction, but now there was the fear of God mixed into it, that it’s like, well, if I’m going to continue to teach and earn money, you know, I need to be able to impress people with my foot behind my head or something, and so I started exploring other things, and I took the Iyengar book and took it down, and I broke it down, I went to the back of the book, and I looked at his three-year cycle of poses in the back, And I just wrote down and wrote out, how does he progress these postures over a period of three years?
And I’d had enough anatomy back in Montana, and enough kinesiology at UCLA when I could get into a class while I was teaching, that I could understand the logic behind why this pose before that pose, that pose before that pose, that pose before that pose. And so I did that, and while I was doing it, I was practicing those sequences.
So that was a, you know, two years with Bikram, two years doing that in my own explorations, and then I met David Williams, the Ashtanga Yoga teacher. He was in transition from one home to another, his little town in Hawaii, and literally that little town in Hawaii where he wanted to live was so small. That the chances of you finding a place to live was about this much.
So when he was losing the rent on one place, he had to kill like three or four months before he could get into one of the few available places. So he came to L.A. to teach cause he had students there. And so I’d already been doing two years of my own exploration through other books and other people’s classes, just picking and choosing, putting them into my repertoire and teaching them as I understood them.
And then I met David and in six weeks’ time, he taught us everything that we could absorb. There was a cohort of us, you know, Steve Ross and others. And we just, it was like, okay, David’s here. He’s from Hawaii. Let’s just rock and roll and David’s thing was not this, okay, maybe I’ll give you one pose more in a week as you slowly progress.
He would teach you as many poses as you could memorize and do. And so in six weeks’ time, we went up through the third series. And then he, you know, got into his house and left and I continued to exercise and explore the Ashtanga style. But just like other people, like, uh, Johnny Kest, Brian Kest, people in the L.A. area, you learn right away that the Ashtanga, jump back, jump through, is for the elite. Elite physically, and the elite who could spend the time doing it don’t have a job and a kid. And so what you do is you take out the jump-back sequence and you just have a flow. And that’s when you started to have this multiplicity of names of yoga.
You couldn’t call it Ashtanga because you weren’t doing the jump back, jump through thing. So it was flow yoga, power yoga, vinyasa yoga, everyone made up a name to indicate we were going to be doing strong, hard, sweaty, linked-together poses. And I was one of those guys. Well, yeah, this is great. And, uh, so that took me from 86 to about 88.
I’m still an L.A. that’s been, now it’s been 8 years, 10 years of doing yoga. And, there are still tons of poses I can’t do, can’t even get close to. And I did Bikram’s advanced classes 3 times a week, and I’ve now been doing Ashtanga for, you know, years. And because of my experience and my understanding of anatomy and kinesiology, it was very easy for me to coach other people into this.
Oh, you need to move your elbow to here. But I couldn’t do many of those advanced poses. I could coach them. I could, I could tell you what to do. But it’s like, man, I can’t do it. And of course, no one by that time had ever said skeletal variation, tension, or compression. It was, you need to open up. You need to hold mula bandha.
You know, all these things that you hear that later, it’s just laughable. But at that time, I’m going like, okay, you know, and I’m working hard. I’m sore every day. I remember like, even though I’m in my 20s, I’d wake up sore every day. Just like, uh, not a bad way. Just like, you know, if you’re a gym rat, you wake up, oh, my quads, oh, my back, you know, it wasn’t like ruin your life sore.
It was like, oh man. Really working out a lot. And that’s when I saw Pauly Zink on a public access television show. Here’s this quiet little guy, Pauly’s only like five, six, something. He was being interviewed and he was being interviewed on a martial arts public access show. And so at first, I was like, oh, you know, it’s a martial arts show.
This is interesting. I was about to flip the channel. And then the guy asked Paulie, and how is it that you’re, you know, you stay so flexible to do your martial arts? He says, well, it’s my yoga. And I sort of, eh? And he went on to talk about the martial arts that he did, and he was like a two-time world champion in the martial art form that he does.
I mean, he can move, or could then. I’m sure he does now, too. He could move beautifully. He did a little demonstration at the end of the show. I didn’t know who he was, but he talked, and he constantly deflected these questions that were softball questions from this interviewer. Tell us why you’re so wonderful.
Tell us why your, kung fu is so magnificent. And he would very humbly. And very honestly diverted into well, you know, I just train regularly. I train for hours every day. It’s not something you can achieve right away and you must do your yoga. You must do your yoga. You must balance movement with you must keep your body open and that just impressed me to no end.
One was this guy and I don’t mean to deride the interviewer. The interview was obviously bowed over by Paulie. Talking to Paulie Zink. And he was just very humble in his responses and very pragmatic and very practical. And what I got from it, and this is maybe a 30-minute public access show, I don’t remember, was that he described, well, what I do, and he probably grabbed his leg and held it up by his ear, you know, I take a pose like this and you really got to relax and go into it for many, many minutes at a time.
And that’s the first I had heard of it in many years. If I take you back to my origin story, that very simple book that I started with, Yoga and Health, you actually held your those postures for minutes at a time. But through the Bikram years and the Ashtanga years, it was all just huff and puff and jump and sweat.
And all of a sudden this, that voice of him saying, well, you just have to hold it for minutes at a time. It’s like this bell went off. And I go, ever since I stopped doing that, picked up Bikram’s book, went on to Bikram’s class, went on from there to Ashtanga. I’ve been doing what I would now call Yang Yoga.
I didn’t have that language yet,
And now he’s talking about something that I dimly remember a long time ago, holding it for a long time. And Paulie if you’ve ever seen him, at least in his hips and his legs, he’s extraordinarily flexible. And so my mind was, maybe this is why after 8 -10 years of hard work, I can’t do what my own advanced students can do.
Because everything I’ve been doing is in varieties of yang. Here’s something very, very different. And so I studied with him for about a year. I contacted the public access show, like, how can I get a hold of this guy, Paulie Zink? And he lived if you don’t know the L.A. area, you know, L.A.is just unbelievably vast. But he happened to live in a suburb of L.A. That was about a 45-minute to an hour drive by freeway to get to him.
I lived in Santa Monica and he lived in Burbank so once a week I drive out and spend two hours, two and a half, three hours. I just remember they were long classes.
I was used to like a 90-minute class. Get in, get out. People are busy.
Paulie was a throwback. Paulie was in his garage, literally motorcycle over there, spread some cardboard on the floor so that you don’t, you know, get your clothes dirty. And he and four or five people. Would just do their yoga in this very humble setting and you do what we now call yin yoga for about you know It wasn’t rigid but like an hour 90 minutes somewhere in there and then you’d come up and he you do his movements his punches His kicks his walks and spins and that was his balance.
That was his yin and yang. I don’t remember if he called it Yin yoga and yang yoga, but that’s the language we would use today and I was incredibly impressed by him. I was impressed by how open he was to letting people come study with him, and how unpretentious he was. You know, I’d seen abusive teachers, not going to name names, but they’re pretty obvious.
And just to see how welcoming he was, how kind he was, he didn’t hold back any secrets, he didn’t pretend, you know, I was like, well, maybe someday I’ll tell you, you know. This is it. This is what I do. It’s like… It’s hard work and you have to do it a lot. And so that was really refreshing. That was really refreshing to see.
David Williams was like that too. David Williams was very humble, wasn’t trying to hold anything back, wasn’t trying to build a mystique around himself, but he taught Ashtanga. And so with Paulie like, oh, here’s another guy who’s, who’s a genuinely good person and is a true yogi. I mean, he worked out hours every day.
And for years by himself, a throwback to the old time. So I was deeply impressed with him, but, uh, you know, after going out there, you know, his class would start eight o’clock at night, I think, or 7:30 at night, whatever, you know, and I’m working and teaching all day long and driving for an hour through LA traffic and then doing two or three hours of that.
And then driving home, getting home at midnight, it was like, oh man, this is tough. But what was great about it is that even though it was only about a year, I’m guessing 88 sometime in 1988 to 89. It was obvious by then because Paulie was so humble and straightforward about it. There’s no magic here. It’s not a moolah bunda breath or something.
It’s you just gotta keep doing this. You have to relax into it. If that variation doesn’t work, do it this way, you know. Just do it. And I go, I go like after, you know, 30, 40 sessions with him in a year, you go like, okay, I get it. I’ve been doing yoga for 10 years. I know anatomy and physiology. He’s being very forthright.
It’s not magic. It’s not a secret. It’s, this is what it takes to do these poses. I tried to bring him over to what we call the west side in LA. I tried to bring him over. To teach, so I didn’t have to do the drive, it was purely selfish. But he wasn’t having it, you know, he liked his life and stuff.
So I said, okay, thanks, Paulie I started, I was teaching yin yoga by then. That’s what I started. I called it Taoist yoga at the time because he called it Taoist yoga so that’s 1988, 10 years later. Now I’m 20 years into yoga. I’m 10 years after I met Paulie And even after 10 years of doing yin yoga, you know, three sets of 10-minute splits, you know, two sets of this, there were still a ton of postures I couldn’t do.
I could coach you into them. I can tell you how to do them. I can’t do them. And, uh, now we’re up to the question that you asked. I hope this hasn’t been too tedious.
Nyk: Not at all. Not at all.
Paul: I’m in this little town, but you know, it’s by no coincidence, that every town that Susie and I have lived in has a university in it.
You know, we’re both sort of, you know, academic knuckleheads in a way. And so I went one time, literally, I went to help a friend, um, down at the local college here that has a nursing program. And so a nursing program has anatomy and physiology and all that kind of stuff in it. Well, his teacher, my friend’s teacher was retiring and my friend was going to go help this teacher pack up all of his anatomy books and all of his stuff and retire from teaching anatomy to nursing students.
So I said, Oh, I’ll come with you. And while we’re going through boxes and emptying bookshelves and hey, what do you want me to do with this or that? I pull open a box out of a bin and there are human bones in there and I pull them out. There were 3 femur bones and a couple of other random bones. But these three femur [00:44:00] bones, I laid them out on the table because I was just completely intrigued.
And they were as different as a Great Dane to a Chihuahua. Both in size, and proportion, and the angle of inclination of the femur, the size of the head of the femur. In every way, they were different. Why he had just those three bones in a box, I have no idea. At least I don’t remember. But before I said, hey, what do you want me to do with this?
I just stared at those bones. And something in my brain went click, click, click, click, click. We’re not all the same, skeletally. We’re not all the same, skeletally. And I hadn’t yet come up with the idea, my catchphrase is tension, compression, skeletal variation. When I die, I want those three words on my tombstone.
Tension, compression, skeletal variation, because they’re interrelated, it was at that point, that was the beginning of the bones are different, what difference would it make? The bones are different, what difference would it make? And that’s when I can’t remember the exact moment. But it was like, the bones are different means they’re going to hit, they’re going to compress at a different angle of movement.
The bones will compress. Compression is different than tension. And that was it. Compression is different than tension. Just for your audience. Compression is different than tension.
Nyk: And this was not being talked about. No. And the yoga that was being taught was very one-size-fits-all. Nobody really, you know, it was very like, very like, this is how you do this pose safely.
Nyk: And, I understand that the reason that a lot of those things were taught that way was under the guise of safety, not understanding, like you said, that different people are built differently. And of course, I think oftentimes, especially when teachers are new, they tend to just parrot what their teacher said without stopping to question ever like what their teacher said.
That being said, not all teachers are okay with being questioned. You are very much so. I’ve, I mean, that is one of the reasons I think I alluded to at the beginning that you’re one of the few people that I call my teacher. And, you and Susie have a unique ability to be highly, educated, wise, informed, humble, open, and hilarious, as a side note for anyone who hasn’t hung out with the two of you.
So I think that you know, probably generations of teachers were saying all of these alignment rules just because their teacher said it, and their teacher said it, and without ever stopping to go, is that actually true? And back at the time when, even when your DVD presentation came out, that was still not being talked about.
So how did you get from like, you found the bones, I’m imagining that now you’re starting to incorporate this, aha, into your body. And then looking at your students and going, Oh, Hmm, now I can see them. And where did it go from kind of there to creating the DVD that has changed so many of our lives as teachers?
Paul: You know, I can’t quite remember how far I had gotten, uh, before I made the DVD, but I used to travel with bones. What I did was I’d drive down to Berkeley, California, and there was a natural, what do they call it? It’s a store that sells fossils and snakes and agates. I forget what it was called, but they had a collection of, human bones that were literally just broken down and kept in cardboard boxes because no one wanted them.
And, uh, you know, like a box of ribs, what are you gonna do with a box of ribs? I mean, they’re not, you didn’t even know which ribs went to which skeleton and a box of half of a pelvis and another box full of half a pelvis and a box of just sacrums. Because once someone had bought a skull, No one else was interested in the rest of this stuff.
Nyk: True. Yeah.
Paul: Literally, I would call this guy up. I wish I could remember the name of the place. I’d call him up and say, Hey, I’m coming down. I’m driving down. I’m going to be there for a day. You know, can I take a look at the bones and sift through them and pick a few out? And so, I did that a couple of times and I got a collection of humerus bones, femur bones, bones of the pelvis.
I could see then how, you know, if you had a differently shaped bone and you move your pelvis for some person like you when they try to do the side bending pose the tilt of the pelvis is going to hit, whereas in someone else the tilt of the pelvis would not create a compression. That went pretty fast because I had very good training in, kinesiology and anatomy.
I didn’t get degrees in those subjects, but, I understood all the basics of it. How to analyze the body, which joints, what are the joints, and how are the joints constructed? You know, what is a hip? You know, people have all kinds of definitions of what is a hip or what is a shoulder, whereas for me, because of the benefits of my education, I could, you know, I could look at and see, well, I can see, you know, how the bones in that shoulder should or could or would articulate differently.
And so it was fairly quick. I can’t remember when we made the DVD video, I think it was 2003/4. And that was just from 1998 till then. I’d already developed a repertoire and taught classes using those bones and those images. So it was a pretty quick, leap to, being able to demonstrate that different bones would hit and create compression.
And by the time I was giving a demonstration, again, I can’t remember exactly when that first one came out, but by the time I gave a demonstration on that DVD, I mean, by the time we made that DVD, I’d already had in the can, so to speak, a series of demonstrations that I had worked up for during these weekend workshops.
Nyk: And I imagine at the time though when you were doing these weekend workshops that I would imagine you got a lot of blowback and also a lot of yoga teachers, kind of, I remember very clearly in the workshop that I took with you when I first met you, I remember Susie saying because I think she looked out at the room and there was ironically in that training, there was a bunch of Iyengar teachers and a bunch of those of us that were Iyengar trained, but weren’t Iyengar certified teachers.
And I think, I don’t know if it was that she looked out into the faces of the room and saw it, or if it’s something she always said, but I remember her saying, you know if you feel like the yoga mat has literally been pulled out from underneath you, like, just, you know, just know that that’s pretty normal kind of thing.
And I do remember like there was a couple of us. I remember one of my friends specifically, And we were in teacher training together when she said a dragonfly couldn’t pull forward at all. And, and, and you workshopping it with her and it was, it was her bones. And I remember the relief on her face when she was like, Oh my gosh.
Like, so I can just let go of ever being good at this pose. And, you know, just focus on the other 900 yoga poses or whatever. And I felt that same relief. When I was finally able to turn my feet out in saddle and not have somebody coming and standing over me, you know, worried about my knees. So I, I would imagine that in, in these groups, when you’re teaching them, that you would have kind of a combination of people going, this explains everything.
And people going, Nope, no, no, this, you know, this is this, you can’t shift this paradigm for me. It’s, it’s too much.
Paul: Oh yeah, definitely. Yeah, I ran into it myself, you know, many times, fortunately, by the time I showed up at a studio, most of the people were. You know, if you’re going to be offended, you probably weren’t there, but yeah, it got, I can remember a student coming up to me one time, which would summarize this as she came up to me one time, says, you know, I’m so glad I came to the, to your workshop.
Oh, well, good. Yeah. Thanks. I’m glad you came. It says, yeah, you know, I told my, teacher, that I was going to come to do your workshop and she just sort of froze. And then she said to me, and I’m quoting, she said to me, okay, you can go, but don’t talk about it in the studio when you get back.
Nyk: You can go first of all she needs that teacher’s permission to go to
Paul: Exactly, exactly,
Nyk: But don’t talk about it.
Paul: Don’t talk about it in the studio when you get back.
Paul: So yeah,
Nyk: Because then that would mean that all of the students would then be questioning. The directions they were given. I remember when I studied with you and then came back after that summer and taught, something as simple as Tadasan and no longer told people they had to put their feet together.
And just something that simple that I learned in your workshop and through the DVD, just changed that one simple pose and, and just said, you know, stand with your feet at a comfortable distance apart where you feel stable. And that was how I taught it from then on. And I remember one of my students. Who, who actually is originally from India saying to me, you used to tell us, to put our feet together here and now you’re not saying that anymore.
Why is that? And I said, oh, because I just, you know, did some [00:54:00] continuing education and I realized that not everybody can do that. Like I wasn’t, I wasn’t so attached, I guess, to having done it that way that I couldn’t let it go. And then I think the other thing is that I think sometimes teachers are afraid to admit.
They either don’t know something or they’ve taken in new information and now that they’re they’ve approached that with critical thinking their opinion has changed, which is unfortunate, I think, because I think that’s where all this kind of dogmatic. stuff comes in. If you can’t, you know, sit with yourself and kind of question your previous information based on the new information you brought in.
I mean, that’s just so, it’s so rigid. But I, but I experienced it in the, you know, in the teaching community. So I’m sure, it’s less so now when I teach teachers your original DVD presentation is, pre-homework for all of the teachers that I train.[00:55:00] because, to be honest, there’s, especially when I’m doing online training, I can’t do that in a more cohesive way than is presented in that.
I’ve tried doing some of the kind of like, let’s all look at each other’s bodies that you do when we do your training, but what I have found is that, especially in small groups. Everyone’s kind of generally in the middle, like it’s hard to find these kinds of extremes on either side that you so clearly demonstrate in the DVD.
And so that’s why it’s prescribed watching before we even start and then they do, they have some reflection questions and then we do questions and stuff like that. But, and so I don’t get as much of it now, but when I first started trying to explain to teachers that this might not actually be the case.
You know, maybe it’s not just that my hips were too tight for an extended side ankle pose. Like it’s possible there was something else going on there. Um, it was challenging. It was like a fronting, you know
Paul: Well, you know, in my experience, no field of human endeavour is free of that. Not scientists, not mathematicians, and certainly not theologians and religious scholars.
It’s like, and we’re trapped by our ideas. And, you know, it’s one thing to be able to entertain a contrary idea and maybe not agree, but you entertain it, and it’s another thing to not listen to another. The idea to say to someone, you know, over and above, who are you to give me permission? I’m not asking your permission.
It’s like, okay, you can go, but don’t talk about it. Can you imagine anybody else in any other field of, study where you would tolerate that? Some secular person telling you what you can or cannot talk about like, wow, and that’s just, I think that, as I said, it’s not unique to yoga.
Yoga, as it gets closer and closer to, a religious, practice and belief, you start to slide away from critical, objective thinking, and maybe it’s wrong to, who am I, to question. And I think that, uh, that’s just sad. I believe that even the deepest and most dearly held religious and philosophical beliefs, You should be able to question them, even if, even to admit, you know. I don’t, I really can’t justify, you know, why it just makes sense to me, it feels good to me, and that’s why I believe what I do.
At least that would soften your attitude and your opinion towards others who don’t believe the way that you do. It’s not unique to yoga. You know, this resistance, particularly if you have a black belt in some style of yoga that insists it has to be done a certain way because now much more is on the line than changing your mind.
Right. Now it’s your ability to earn a living and shamefacedly admitting that everything you’ve been insisting on for a number of years is wrong. I’ve met people who can do that. I’ve, I’ve met, uh, and my ramblings, I’ve come across some people where I walked into a studio, did a presentation and you could feel the tension in the room because the studio owner who invited me was here and all of the people he’s trained and worked for him are here.
And they’re literally like looking sideways over at the teacher and then, but that’s not how we do it here. And this teacher said, without a moment’s hesitation, impressed the hell out of me, said, well, that’s the way we’re going to do it now.
Well, the studio that I took your initial workshop in was, was an Ashanga studio, actually.
Paul: Oh, yeah. Yeah,
Nyk: I think that was 2007, I believe. And I actually remember that because Susie remembered when I met you in person for the first time after that at training. I said, yeah, I did a workshop with you in Calgary. And I can’t remember what year. And she’s like Calgary, 2007. I was like, wow, that’s a memory.
So Then you started doing yin, at the time you were calling it Taoist yoga because that’s what Paulie called it. When did it move into, yin yoga?
Paul: It moved into yin yoga when I wrote my first book, which was, I think, 2002. Before that, I had a spiral-bound manual, or I still called it Taoist Yoga. That was just something I would give to students, you know, in class when we’re together.
But when it got to, you’re going to publish this, and you’re going to circulate it to a wide audience, you may never meet them ever. That’s when it really sort of sunk into me that, You know, it’s really not Taoist yoga. It’s not. It doesn’t have a yin element and a yang element. It’s not the way Paulie taught me.
And so I thought, well, to be more precise on what this book is about, we’ll use the word yin yoga because Sarah Powers was already, you know, exclusively referring to it as yin yoga. And so I said, and that’s starting to get around, you know, she’s introducing it, so people are starting to get familiar with that.
So I said, well, that’s a very good description of it. So that happened, the name change happened in 2002 when I published a book intended for the general public. By that time, I had already been teaching that style of yoga for 14 years. So, the Yin Yoga is what it is now. It had been that way since I started teaching.
I mean, all of us, you know, we sort of slowly find our own voice and our own style. But basically, basically unchanged, for 14 years, but just the name changed. Right. And part of that was Motoyama.
And had been studying and studying, you know, his works and stuff and learning about fascia, and its relationship to meridian theory and Chinese medicine. So now I’m back to that original reason I went to L.A. It’s like, is it going to be Chinese medicine or is it going to be yoga?
Dr. Motoyama was, providing me with a theoretical explanation as to why yin yoga has different effects on the body than yang yoga. Not better effects, not superior effects, different effects on the body. And Dr. Motoyama’s teachings as I slowly absorbed them over the years made that very clear] that now there’s also a physiological explanation.
As to why the rebound from a yin practice is different, not superior, different from the rebound from a yang type of exercise practice. And so, all of those, when I wanted to fuse both of those into a book, even though, you know, I had to tone down how much fascia meridian theory I could do in that little book, in my mind, I thought I was making a contribution by saying, there is a reason, there’s now a reasonable explanation as to why you would want to pull and sustain tension on your fascia now. I used to get blowback all the time about how it’s totally dangerous to stretch your ligaments, you’re going to die. And so, the book was two things. I changed the name because I thought it was more accurate a description.
And I introduced, for I believe the first time to the public, that I was speaking about the idea of what is fascia, what are meridians and how might they be related to this practice. So the publication of the book was a, was a milestone of publicly putting out there stuff that I had already been doing for well over a decade.
Nyk: How did you meet? I know you obviously found his books first, but then how did you actually meet Dr. Mochiyama?
Paul: I was doing one one-on-one yoga work with people. And, it was essentially I was doing assisted yoga on them. I’d pull them and hold them and, you know, you have two or three minutes to talk.
And so you go like, Hey, how are you doing these days? Oh, I’m fine. Oh, you’re a little tight here. Yeah, I know. Okay. Well just breathe into it. And while I was pulling and working on someone, I said, yeah, I’ve been reading a book. It’s a fascinating book about chakra theory. And yoga theory, and normally I don’t pay much attention to those books because I don’t trust the sources that they’re derived from, but this guy, he’s really like, very scientific, he’s got two PhD degrees, I’ve never heard of him before, but this book called Theories of the Chakras is really opening my eyes to the relationship between Chinese medicine meridians and yoga, which all of us sort of felt there had to be a connection.
But he was really spelling it out. It was very exciting to me that these two, uh, threads from way back in my life were starting to overlap. And she goes, Huh? Yeah, that guy sounds like someone my friends studied with.
And I’m in L.A. working on this girl, you know, in the back room of my house where I had a studio big enough for one person, two people. And this girl was from Martha’s Vineyard and the friend that she knew was someone she met on Martha’s Vineyard it turned out that, her name was Randy Brown.
Randy had translated Dr. Motoyama’s earlier book into English. She had studied with Dr. Motoyama for, I think, seven years or ten years in Japan. And I said I would love to talk to her because I didn’t even know this guy was alive. You have to remember, this is pre-internet people, those of you who are listening.
You couldn’t like, I think I’ll jump on the internet and find out who this guy is. That didn’t exist. So it’s like, you know, the fact that this one girl, of the 12 million people in LA, happened to be friends back across the country. But the one woman who had studied with Dr. Motoyama, an English speaker, in Japan was a pretty heady coincidence.
And then the coincidence gets bigger. I call her, and we speak, and she says, Well, you should know that Dr. Motoyama is coming to Southern California because he’s looking to establish a graduate school there, and he wants to shop for the [01:06:00] appropriate location. You might get a chance to see him. And that did happen.
And that was 1988, 1989, somewhere in there, and I went down and I met him, and, uh, he was very generous with his time, and, you know, a year later, I went to Japan and studied a little bit with him there and went to their, their ashram that they have, and, I continued to, Susie and I both continued to visit, meet with him a couple of times in Japan, we went there to visit, And most frequently when he would come to Southern California to administer and look after the affairs of the graduate school that he had established there, he would find time in his very, very busy schedule to meet with us.
And so that’s how Dr. Motoyama came about. I read his book, and then I was fortunate enough to get an introduction by Randy Brown, whom he respected deeply. I was fortunate enough to get an introduction to meet him. And I was also fortunate [01:07:00] that he was coming to the United States on a regular basis because of this graduate school.
He was coming twice a year. He and Mrs. Motoyama would come twice a year to look in and get this school going. And it gave us extraordinary access to him. Because in Japan, You couldn’t get a meeting with Dr. Motoyama unless you requested it ahead of time and then you’d be, and then you’d be told well if you do these and these and these preparatory exercises spiritually and fasting and stuff, then you can have a meeting with him.
We could just call up and make an appointment if he was in town. Because there was no there weren’t any huge demands on his time once his day of looking at the administration was done. So, looking back on it, it was one of the most extraordinary, relationships opportunities that I’ve had in my life certainly.
Mm hmm. And like you were, I think hinting at perhaps this so-called coincidence. you know, which I don’t believe in, but that’s probably a topic for another time. Yeah, that you just happen to be working with the friend of, I mean, when these things happen, I just think it’s got to be more to it than coincidence, obviously.
Nyk: Even my, my going to your first workshop after having your DVD, I walked by a studio. I would never go in because it was in an Ashtanga studio. I just happened to go in to see if they had a yoga bolster I could buy for a friend’s birthday. And there was your poster, right? Like had I just kept walking to a different studio, who knows how, how and when, if I would have studied with you at all in Yin, you know? I’m sure eventually I would’ve found it because I just believe that it was meant to be that way, but interesting stuff.
So the last time that I saw you, you were still running teacher training, but you had changed them a bit. I think you had just let go of Yoga Alliance It was the year that you were like, this is the last time that you can come.
If you want Yoga Alliance, stamps on your things. That’s not why I came. Cause I don’t really give a crap about Yoga Alliance I’m not registered with them. Don’t want to be don’t care to be. So that wasn’t the thing for me. I was just like, Oh, I still have the funds while I’m studying Chinese medicine and taking yoga therapy.
I actually scraped together the money. I’m going to go, you know, I used elective credits to skip the Yin section in the yoga therapy program. You know, and then just came to California and hung out with you. So that was kind of, I think what you were doing up until the big, bad pandemic.
And then now everything, of course, is different. So what are you, what are you doing now as far as training and stuff like that?
Paul: We don’t do many trainings anymore. The pandemic, you know, we were on a course of, slowly, teaching less. We had already surrendered our, as you mentioned we already had surrendered our licensing and accreditation with Yoga Alliance.
We, I think the only thing we have remaining now via Yoga Alliance is that if you need CEU, continuing education units, I think that we are still a provider for that. But the idea of doing 100-hour programs, such as you participated in, and then accumulating, units with us, and then we can submit on your behalf accreditation to Yoga Alliance, we don’t do that anymore.
We don’t do very much, because of that, all the technical things that we’ve been discussing today, you know, tension-compression, skeletal variation. We don’t do that very much anymore. We have people like you, and we’ve generated and created enough resources like the DVD that you’ve mentioned and A bigger streaming online project, from Pranamaya. That presents all the basics of anatomy and, and yoga.
So. We’re just fresh from the pandemic. And so our plan is that we will, we’ll occasionally do, workshops, but they’re all gonna be philosophical and meditative. Now it’s all gonna be about, you know, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras or the Bhagavad Gita.
Its philosophy, part of that is because, We have old friends, much like yourself, people that we’ve had the pleasure to work with over the years, who came from all parts of the world, to learn about a scientific rational approach to yoga, and we like to hang out with them and we like, and they know us, they know our approach, and it would be really sad to not be able to see them again or hang out with them and discuss these, these more philosophical and spiritual points, it’s just that it’s nothing that lends itself to a program and nothing that lends itself to here.
I’m going to teach you how to do chakra meditation so you can go home and teach it. It doesn’t have that flavour anymore. It’s just a question of let’s be serious about what we’re doing. Let’s be systematic in our study. Let’s break the Patanjali down step by step and really dig into him. But it’s really like colleagues and cohorts of We don’t get much of an opportunity to talk seriously and in a prolonged day-by-day development of these ideas and we’re all getting older and we’re all doing yoga and I don’t need to go see Paul and Susie hear one more time what tension-compression and skeletal variation is, but it’d be nice to take a week and meditate 2 3 times a day, have a nice yoga practice and have a mature and sane discussion of it.
Philosophy. So we sort of, we’re kind of in the business of going from TT programs to meditation retreat programs.
Nyk: Beautiful. And I think you’ve already created, through your many, many years of training teachers. I always think of us as like, you know, we all kind of came in as caterpillars. And then, you know, though, through studying with you, you know, we eventually bloom and we become butterflies and then we go and, and, you know, spread the good word, of course, with always with our own perspective on it.
One of the things that I wanted to, mention, is this we’ve, we’ve touched on it already, this kind of sense of, of being dogmatic in yoga. And one of the things I’ve always appreciated about you as a, as a teacher and as a human is that cause I’ve come to you, I think twice, one that I can think of offhand uh, I’m a little bit perplexed because this is what I’m learning and studying.
But then also I love Yin, but like, how do I mesh these? And one of the times was the last time that I saw you. And I, I came and I said, you know, I’m, I’m studying yoga therapy and actually a big basis of yin yoga is incredibly complimentary with yoga therapy because it’s acknowledging individuals and individual needs, which is a big premise in yoga therapy that like we’re looking at the individuals and like what are their needs.
But some of the language that I was taught in Yin was starting to feel like it didn’t mesh and I remember coming to you and just saying that some of the words they aren’t resonating especially if I want to teach from a trauma-informed way. And I remember you looking at me so matter-of-factly and just saying.
“Well, you should use whatever words work for you and your students,” just like that, you know, and I was like, right, right, right. You’re not attached to any of this. Okay. You know, the reason I want to bring that up is because I find that and you probably don’t know because you’re smart enough not to be online a lot.
But that even within yin yoga communities, this sense of sort of dogmatism can come in, where, you know, somebody will ask a question on a Facebook forum and And, you know, and I’m sure at some point I’ll talk to Bernie and I’ll be able to pick his brain about like why people are quoting him, I’m guessing, either inaccurately or not complete with the complete picture, but they get a hold of like a little nugget of information and then they just cling to it, and then it’s like everybody that doesn’t do it this way is wrong.
And that comes up a lot. One of the things that you did also was that you refused to trademark yin yoga as a TM’d style of yoga. Which I always see as like the benefit and the, you know, the deficit to that. The benefit is, um, I don’t think people’s yoga should be trademarked. I think that’s Ridiculous, frankly.
But because you’ve done that and you’ve said, you know, you don’t need to have like [01:16:00] formal yin yoga training to teach yin yoga, there has been a bit of a kind of wild, wild west within, within yin because everybody can call anything, anything they want. And for the most part, it, it tends to be, you know, pretty cohesive, but there are these kinds of elements where you hear things like, Um, for example, you can’t use props in yin yoga, and I’ve just been like, having studied with you and Susie and used all the props I’ve wanted the whole time, just been like, where, where did that come from?
Like, who’s teaching that? Because it’s not you. Um, and I think sometimes people misunderstand, you know, because in the book there aren’t props. So they assume that that means you can’t use props. And it’s like, Or sometimes people assume as soon as you pull a meditation cushion or yoga bolster off the shelf, you’re suddenly doing restorative yoga.
It’s like, no, I’m getting comfortable. Like, you know, I’m getting comfortable so that I can focus on this area that I’m supposed to be, you know, working within this shape. So that’s one thing that, I always think comes up. [01:17:00] And the other thing that comes up often is this idea that yoga, yin yoga must be done on cold tissues.
I don’t know where this is coming from. I’m guessing because people quote Bernie. And again, when I talked to Bernie, I’ll ask him about this because if they are quoting him, I’m sure he’s like, what? That’s not what I said. And I often think of it sort of like the, that game that we played as kids, the telephone game where you sit in a circle and then like you whisper a sentence to your friend.
And by the time it gets back to you, you’re like, I did not say that. That is not even close. So it might be the case of the telephone game. I’m guessing it’s a, you don’t need to do warm ups to practice yin yoga, and that somehow got turned into you can’t do yin yoga on warm tissues. But I thought I would just kind of run that by you.
Um, because I know when we study with you, there were times where we started in yin and then ended in yang. There were times where we started in yang and ended in yin. [01:18:00] And there was never this sort of dogmatic, like, oh, no, you’re warmed up now. So now you can’t do yin. So I thought I would throw that by you and see what you had to say about it.
Paul: agree with what you’ve everything you’ve just said. I think it’s the telephone game. And I think that, um, that there’s hard and fast rules like that are almost never applicable universally. And I think it’s like you said, you said, well, you don’t have to warm up to do Yin. In fact, you could make the case, for example, let’s be specific.
Let’s say that, uh, you’re a real flexible person. And you can, doing a forward bend like Caterpillar Pose, Paschimottanasanas, is easy for you. Particularly if you’re warmed up. Well, if you do Caterpillar Pose first thing, not warmed up, you’re going to feel it in the tissues. And it’s going to have a longer lasting effect.
on those [01:19:00] tissues. Because when, if you’re a real flexible person in that range of motion, then it could be that when you go forward in a forward bend after you’re hot and sweaty, you don’t feel anything in those tissues. And so you could make the case that if you just want to go by pure definitions, whether or not it’s good for you, it’s more yin not to warm up a tissue before you stretch it.
But then the next question is, but is it better for you? Because the other extreme is like at least half the population. Hamstring stretches aren’t easy. They’re never easy.
Nyk: Raises her own hands
Paul: they’re never going to be easy. And so you do your hamstring stretches after you’re already warmed up.
That means you’re going to be able to stay in that pose longer at a more extended range of motion. And that will have a longer [01:20:00] lasting effect for you.
Paul: And so, here’s an advanced person, or it doesn’t even have to be advanced. It’s a skeletal. Like, my skeleton is the opposite of yours. I, I walk like a duck.
And sitting between my feet is like, I’ll tell you anything you want to know, just don’t make me do it. Okay. And what I’ve observed over the years is that someone like me, you walk like a duck, it’s, it’s easier to stretch your hamstrings and it’s harder to stretch your quads and someone like you is the opposite.
That’s a generalization. There are always other factors, but, and so it’s like, why, why wouldn’t we allow you and your body type. To get warmed up so that you can get to the safe limit of your range of motion and hang out there and really maybe make a dent that’s longer lasting. It’s never permanent, but it’s longer lasting because you were at your extreme because you got warmed up.
Whereas for me, if I’m really warmed up, I don’t feel much in my hamstrings. But if I go into it cold, [01:21:00] then I don’t go as far into the pose. My awareness of feeling my legs open in and of itself is an absorbing experience. And then I eventually get down to where I was, where I was going to go anyway. And I think that, uh, that’s just an example of how I agree with you.
That you throw out, someone asks you a question, you answer the question specific to that person. And that person over there heard your answer and just presumed, well, now it’s universally applicable.
Paul: And it’s like, I don’t think it’s a sin, it’s just not accurate and there’s really nothing you can do about it.
Getting back to your first lead into this, yeah, it’s the Wild Wild West, but it’s always been the Wild Wild West. And even if you said, I want to control this, so these, this nonsense doesn’t seep in, they’ll just change the name and spread their own dogma anyway. Yeah, they’ll call it yo yo yin yoga. And in yo yo yin yoga, we do it this way.[01:22:00] And then this guy over here will say, no, it’s ya ya yin yoga. And in ya ya yin yoga, we do it this way. So it’s like you might as well have them all in the same camp. Because basically, if you’re sitting and you’re stretching a tissue and you’re not putting it under tension, then you’re doing yin yoga, so it’s not a brand name, it’s just a generalization of the general style.
And I just don’t think you can control, um, shallow interpretations or misinterpretations. The answer is, you’ve already touched upon 15 20 minutes ago.
You need to continue to learn until you die. And you need to think. And rehearse for that on your deathbed, you might go, Oh, I was wrong about that and then die that you need to continue to learn this idea that you learned everything that you needed to know in the 6th grade or by the 12th grade or by college [01:23:00] or in a 200 hour teacher training program or in a 12 hour workshop that you took This is immature.
It’s not a sin. It’s not evil. It’s just immature to think. That the little catchphrase you picked up is going to be universally applicable for all time. Maybe it’s what you believe now, and it’s the best answer that you have. But, you know, hopefully, you know, you’ll continue to learn and progress, even accidentally.
You can just accidentally run into someone that will actually clarify for you an idea that you have wrong. And I just think that the best thing any of us can do is to rehearse. And I mean this literally. Mentally rehearse. Saying in an instant. You’re right. You’re right. I was wrong about that.
Nyk: Mm hmm.
Paul: Not this fall back into I’ve got it all now.[01:24:00]
I got it all. In fact, I’ve got it in Sanskrit, which is more than one.
Nyk: Yes. Yes. One of the ways that I do this, especially because I think it’s natural as humans, when you’re affronted with new information, especially as an introvert, I always need time to kind of chew on things and sit with things before I can verbally respond.
So I’ll usually say, Huh, I hadn’t thought of that. You’ve given me some food for thought. Thank you. Even before I say you’re right. I’m wrong. Cause it’s like, maybe they are, maybe they’re not, I don’t know.
Paul: I think that’s an excellent response. And I think it’s an excellent. Conscious habit to create is to say, wow, I hadn’t thought of that.
Even if inside, you’re thinking this guy’s an idiot or like that’s crazy
Nyk: or I’ll immediately turn it into asking them for more, more, more questions, you know, I haven’t heard of that. Where did you hear that? Where did you learn that? Like, give me some sources of information. Like I’m, but I’m a very curious person.
So I think that’s part [01:25:00] of it. So I guess the answer to, can you do yin yoga on a lot of cold tissues is. Like everything in the end, it depends.
Paul: Yeah, I mean, I guarantee you that’s what Bernie will answer you, because in all of his, all of his newsletters, which are really a great, great resource for the yin community, he always says, it depends, it depends, it depends, and he’s not dodging the issue.
He’s not dodging the question. He will then go on to elaborate clearly why sometimes this and why sometimes that. And you just have to have, you have to grow into being patient like that. It is a sign of immaturity to insist on a yes or no question. It’s not immature to ask, is it this or is it this? But when someone says, well, it depends, then you got to like, okay, let me try to understand why it depends.
Like, learn [01:26:00] more anatomy, learn more about fascia, go to Gil Headley’s channel, go to the fascia books that are online, go to anatomy things. That should be something that you do on a regular basis if you’re involved in a profession that involves anatomy. I mean, I can remember.
Our friend and student, uh, Kate. Her husband, her father was a hand surgeon, and that’s what he did for a living. It’s like, he might have done some other things, but his specialty was the hand. And she says, I can remember as a girl coming into his study and, you know, the night before Thursday’s operations, you know, with the basic anatomy books of the hand out
so he could refresh himself on the structure of the hand in different books because every hand was unique. And if you go in thinking, oh, I know the nerve is right here, whoops, I just cut the nerve. [01:27:00] And so she says that stuck with her, her whole life, that she’d go in there, here’s her, here’s her father, who is a hand specialist.
And on the day before surgery day, Thursdays or whatever it was, he would be reviewing the basic anatomy of the hand. And I just think that, you know, if you teach yoga and you’re really interested in it, take a few minutes every week as a discipline to flip open an anatomy book, even if you’ve done it a hundred times, and review.
You know, where do the hamstring muscles attach, you know, how many muscles are in the back?
Nyk: You mentioned Gill and I think he is such a wonderful resource because, you know, one of the first things I did in the pandemic was start, he was putting things online. I was like, yes, please. I’ll be watching that.
And even when you’ve studied a lot of anatomy. To see it in a book and then to see an actual [01:28:00] body and how it’s, it’s like night and day difference. So I highly recommend people check out his work.
The other thing I wanted to just touch back on was the, you know, warm or cool, because if you even think about yin yang theory, you know, yin and yang are so interdependent on each other that like, what is warm?
What is cool? You know? It’s someone who is from Canada walking in the cold to their yin yoga class. Versus someone in California, ridden their bike to a yin yoga class. Like they’re already starting at a different amount of warm and cold. So, you know, it just seems to be like the point is kind of, you know, again, it depends.
I answered that question six, eight months ago or a year ago. I guess, you know, the pandemic, I can’t keep track of time. A similar question is this and I said, I’ll put it to you that anyone in the tropical countries is doing warm in yoga.
Paul: I’ve taught in Thailand.
Nyk: Yeah, [01:29:00] you know, 38
degrees Celsius, 100% humidity, very different experience than teaching in Canada. Yes. Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. Yeah. Oh, wonderful.
Paul: I just think that, um, the resources available to, to people today, and I sound like an old guy in my day.
Back in my day. It is, it makes a huge difference. There are things that you, that books are wonderful for. But what you just brought up how you, it’s one thing to say, I’ve looked at the shoulder, this abstract thing, that’s a drawing in a book. And it’s another thing to see, you know, three of them on a table, all completely different.
And um, I think that, you know, there are a lot of good resources on YouTube these days. Gil’s an excellent one because I, you know, I love the guy so much. I just love how he presents. But I just think it’s relatively easy for yoga teachers. to regularly refresh themselves on anatomy. And that’s when your insights will [01:30:00] come.
And that’s when you’ll be able to answer for yourself, why would I want to do it warm and why would I do it cold? Like, well, look how the difference between the muscle and its tendon. Look at the layers on a joint. And then ask yourself these questions. And I just think that, you know, for as long as you’re an asana teacher, and it’s a major component of what you do, I think you should be like Kate Smith’s dad.
And you should take it upon yourself to review your anatomy all the time. And if the only anatomy you’ve ever taken was in your, you know, very quick overview in your yin yoga teacher training program 10 years ago, that’s not adequate. It’s not adequate for a doctor and it’s not adequate for you as a, as a yoga teacher.
If you’re trying to talk people into contorted positions, you need to understand anatomy.
Nyk: And I think you also need to be open to, and I [01:31:00] know that this is big in the yin community, asking your student, well, how does that feel for you? Because even when you understand anatomy, unless you have x ray vision, you can have some ideas about what their, their bones are like, and you can definitely, if you’re, if you have the skill level and the training, you can move their body with your hands in a way that you can feel when compression hits.
But again, still like you, and I know Bernie goes back to this all the time when people say, am I doing this right? It’s like, well, what are you feeling? Like, tell me about your inner experience. Yeah,
Paul: we used to, we used to call that narrating. I don’t know if we did it when you were with us, but we slowly got it down to exercises where.
The person doing a pose would narrate to her partner. This is what I’m feeling. I feel it here. Now, when you ask me to move my foot forward, I feel it, it changes to here. And it was practice narrating your experience and practice listening to someone narrate [01:32:00] their experience.
Nyk: Yeah, I know it’s frustrated some of my students in the past when they’ve asked me, am I doing this right? And I say, well, tell me, tell me what you’re feeling and where. And then they’re like, you know, I mean, they laugh and they’re like, right, a teacher. Okay, we got it back to myself. Okay.
Well, this has been wonderful. And I think I’d love to move into if you’re okay with it, some of the kind of, closing questions. And, some of these are fun, and some of them are a little more, you know, heartfelt.
so the first one is coffee or tea?
Paul: Coffee. Okay. Even though I’m drinking tea right now.
Nyk: Yes, that’s my answer too. I’m like, it depends. I have to analyze my needs at the time, what I have coming up, you know. Yes, it depends.
Favorite ice cream flavor.[01:33:00]
Paul: Chocolate chip. Ooh.
Nyk: One thing people often get wrong about me.
Paul: That I’m humorless.
Nyk: Anyone who studied with you and even for a few minutes could not, could not think that.
Do you have a pop culture vice?
Nyk: Yeah. Like a certain show that like you’re obsessed with
Paul: I’ve binged watched certain things. I’m usually two or three years behind the times, but I’ve been just watched a few shows like, well, everyone watched that two or three years ago. So yeah, every once in a while I get swept up in, in, um, That was on Netflix that people talked about and I said, well, and I’m halfway through it and I go like, you know, okay, I’ll finish it.
Yeah, I get, I get swept up in, uh, in those mini series kinds of things like the white Lotus thing. I can’t nothing comes to mind, but I don’t watch them all, but, you know, if people talk about them and it’s already been going on for a year or 2 or. You know, like when Wednesday came [01:34:00] out, I loved that. I thought that was just wonderfully done.
Nyk: still haven’t seen it, which is odd because I’m definitely, that’s right up my alley. Um, but I let go of my Netflix subscription and got like Sundance and some other things. And so I’ll have to revisit Wednesday.
when I’m not practicing yoga, I am
Paul: walking my dog or reading a book.
Nyk: Nice. Nice. One weird fact about you.
Oh, weird. I don’t know. I’m fairly, an introvert is not the right word. I enjoy speaking with people, but… I don’t spend much time seeking out company. I’m not anti social, I just set up, you know, I look at all these books behind me and it’s like if I come into this room with a, literally with a cup of coffee in my hand, sit down, I’m gone for an hour or two.
So, even though I am very, you know, [01:35:00] I can talk and talk and talk and talk and talk like we’re doing, um, I don’t talk that much when I’m not on stage.
I would agree with, and I do think maybe, maybe. Because I am the same. Yeah, when I’m not teaching, I’m usually fairly inward, um, and for me it is introversion.
I think sometimes people confuse introversion with shyness. And you can be very introverted, meaning I recharge my batteries with quiet time alone and not be shy at all. Or you could be extroverted and be shy. Who knows, right? Interesting.
Paul: Yeah, that’s an interesting distinction. So yeah, if that’s, if that’s weird, I don’t know if that’s weird.
It’s just, it might be unexpected that someone who can just talk and talk and talk the way that I do. Spends the bulk of my time not doing that.
Nyk: I get the same feedback often. Yeah. And I’m like, no, no, I’m just doing quiet things
What the world needs now is
Paul: [01:36:00] I think what we just talked about, we need to be less certain of our opinions or at least have the humility to go like they are just opinions that my opinion could be changed.