With her mane of blond hair flowing, Erin Fleming directs her Yin class with confidence, in a reassuring and humorous tone. Set in a soothing sanctuary at Bay Club Marin, Fleming is the captain assuring all the passengers that they are in a safe and loving space. Floating around the room with sandalwood essential oil for our wrists, she directs us to join our hands in prayer, put our thumbs to our third eyes, and inhale the calming scent. From that moment on, the tenor of the class is set. Moving through a set of six poses, we hold the passive shapes for as long as five minutes. Many are hip openers, and as the minutes tick by I can hear my left buttock speaking to me in urgent tones that gradually diminish to whispers.
The purpose of Yin yoga is to promote flexibility in the joints, mostly of the hips, lower back and spine. Poses are held for extended periods to allow the “gripping” to subside and the connective tissue to ease. This allows for more blood circulation to places that are typically less flexible, helping to rehabilitate and bring prana to these hard-to-reach areas. Ultimately the practice promotes suppleness in all movement, particularly to extended sessions of seated meditation. Yin yoga is Erin Fleming’s specialty and she teaches it with compassion and grace.
Fleming had the quintessential Marin upbringing of the ’70s. Her family had a hot tub and she took spirulina and cheese sandwiches to school in her lunchbox. Both her parents practiced yoga and she began at a young age to flow through asanas and tried meditation with her father. Yet even though yoga was a foundation in her life, Fleming didn’t walk down its path as a teacher until about 18 years ago.
She owned a cafÃ© and gallery while living in Half Moon Bay. The place was equipped with gorgeous wood floors and she was approached by an acquaintance who wanted to start a yoga class after hours in the cafÃ©. Fleming agreed and the classes drew a local following. One day the teacher was called away and she suggested Fleming step in and teach the class in her place. Fleming was surprised at being asked. Nervous at first, she taught and loved it; after that initial class, she was hooked.
She enrolled in the prestigious British Wheel of Yoga in Wales, a comprehensive three-year course of university-level classes. It was a total immersion into all aspects of yoga, including origins, history, studying ancient tomes, writing extensive papers, as well as practicing and embracing the different styles of yoga. Her certification from the British Wheel has given her a unique perspective on yoga through the ages. She laments the fact that there is no such certification in the US. The lack of standards in this country is disconcerting to her; Fleming hopes that down the road there will be a set of conditions that must be met in order to teach yoga here.
After spending time in teacher trainings with Sarah Powers and Paul Grilley, Fleming developed her own style of Yin Yoga. Her intense blue eyes spark with exuberance when she describes how Sarah Powers planted the seed of Yin Yoga that Fleming came to embrace. Grilley took that seed and helped it grow into 30 (or so) poses designed to open and strengthen the joint of the body’s core.
She credits her Yin practice with aiding in her own personal healing””gaining flexibility in the external rotation of the hips to enable long, seated meditations. In fact, meditation is the most significant part of Fleming’s yoga practice now. She describes the evolution of her practice from being mostly vigorous, physical and asana-based into a practice that is mostly meditation-based. Years ago her father taught her the meditation called “the linking chain,” where the connected index and thumb of each hand forms two circles inside each other and the meditation is on not letting the finger circles touch. She now practices and teaches many types of guided and spiritual meditation, including Metta meditation, also known as “loving kindness” meditation.
Fleming says that meditation has given her many gifts. It is an anchor that helps to keep her centered, focused and clear about who she is and where she is going. Meditation is praying with your body. During the most powerful sessions, she has felt her deepest connection to the divine””a creation of vast spaciousness inside.
Yet in spite of all this spirituality, Erin Fleming is at once approachable, open and down-to-earth. Recently chosen to be a Yoga Ambassador for the clothing company Lululemon Athletica, Fleming is modest and humble about her achievements. When asked if there was a student that has had an impact on her, she explains that the hip openers of Yin Yoga release pent-up feelings in her mostly female students, creating a profound transformation emotionally. To help explain this she quotes a favorite saying of her mother’s: “The issues are in the tissues,” referring to all the sentiments stored in the areas around the body’s major joints. Watching this metamorphosis unfold in her students has been very inspiring.
Fleming shares her expertise in her recently released CD Yin Yoga, which has been well-received. In addition to being the yoga director of the Bay Club, she leads three to four retreats per year. In January 2008 she will travel to Puerto Vallarta to lead “Yoga and Expressive Painting”, a five-day intensive yoga and meditation retreat coupled with creative painting.
Back in the twilit refuge of the Bay Club’s yoga studio, I gradually unwind myself from double pigeon. Directed by Fleming’s velvet tones, I gradually come back to reality, as if swimming to the surface after a comforting dip. I rise to leave, my mind at ease, ready to face to world outside. It is clear that Erin Fleming has found the path she was meant to walk in life””a skilled and talented teacher, growing and glowing in her craft.