Finding the Yin Within: A Conversation with Instructor Doug Binzak

The supple reed yields to the wind and thus leaps back again

the empty bowl is ready to be filled

the athlete expends energy and thus expands strength

….

ancient sayings illuminate

"yield and you shall overcome"

"empty and you shall be filled"

"it is done unto you as you believe"

"surrender and be free."

 (Tao 22)

Conversation with Doug Binzak flows easily. Bubbling with the thoughtful constancy of a river or stream, peaking with surprising eddies of humor, it is clear that Doug is familiar with the vibrant life energy that he discusses during class. When he mentions that the arch of the foot is, according to Eastern philosophies, the bubbling wellspring for the spirit, it is easy to imagine that Doug himself, or DB, is tapped into his own spigot. He guides us into each pose with the gentle tenacity of a warrior-poet, the thoughtfulness of a scholar. His soothing voice is appropriate for a Yin class, as he counsels us to let go, release, and receive the benefits of this practice.

Yin yoga, according to Doug, is about listening, “not trying to hold it together,” being still. It draws from the soft, dark, receptive side of life, as opposed to the active, strident, and strong Yang energy. He rattles off a list of dualities: inhale/ exhale, active/ still, sun/ moon, day/ night, talking/ listening, male/ female, to illustrate the point that there are “two complementary energies” and “the interplay of those two things creates the Way of Life, the Tao”. 

Doug came to yoga, as many yogis do, through relationship. After working in the entertainment industry for years, rising within the ranks of Fox, his position at the department would have been relocated. He took a sabbatical. That’s when he started dating a woman who worked at a yoga studio-- a woman who is now his wife.

Beyond beginning a practice on the mat, Doug would read books at the yoga studio and felt a spiritual resonance with Buddhism and Taoism. He began to wash and dry rags used to clean mats in return for free yoga and found himself feeling re-embodied and opened up to Eastern perspectives. When a friend from the basketball court, who was also a yoga teacher, encouraged Doug to take a teacher training, Doug went for it. For both practical and spiritual reasons (there was a dearth of Yin teachers in the early 2000’s), Doug specialized in Yin.  “I really fell in love with it… it helped me to listen to my body on an intimate level and… drop into the experience of what a stretch is as it morphs.” He learned to approach poses from the inside/ out, as opposed to outside/in, and found that his yang practice began to blossom as well.

Now working as a Spiritual and Grief Counselor for Tranquil Care Hospice, it is this kind of conscious awareness of balance that makes Doug so good at what he does: as a counselor, he spends his days listening to people and absorbing their energy, and as a teacher he has the chance to pass on his knowledge and be more expressive.

When I ask him about the value of a Yin practice in particular, he replies from both macro and micro perspectives. Philosophically and metaphysically, he notes that in a time of global warming, the practice of Yin, a cooling practice, fits with necessary global adjustments. “It is yoga for every body,” he says, “beneficial for all levels of yoga practice,” adding that each pose and variation is “a Goldilocks experience-- find the one that tastes just right for you.” He also emphasizes the importance of a Yin practice for us as we age: “When you’re young you’re like Gumby.” As we get older, protective membranes and fluids in our joints begin to dry up. We may feel stiff in the morning and start to notice aches and pains in our joints that never bothered us before. “Yin,” Doug says, “teaches us how to exercise and be sensitive to areas where the body bends, to keep our joints moist as we age.”

For those who have never before practiced Yin, Doug suggests you “discover something that's totally customizable, safe--you don’t have to do something you don’t want to do or doesn’t feel right. Hear what I have to say and at the end, you can tell me if it’s bullshit or not,” then he smiles and quips, “As we say to our 6-year-old, you have to take one ‘no thank-you’ bite.”

Cosmic and grounded, compassionate and generous, kind, engaging, and firm, Doug embodies the wisdom he shares and emanates an inspiring balance of yang and yin. “Your own teacher is inside,” he advises during class, “you just have to learn how to listen.”

Doug Binzak teaches yin yoga at Goorus on Thursdays, 4-5:30pm.

Sara True

Sara True is a traveler, poet, and painter whose work has been exhibited internationally. A Palisades local (born and raised) she is also a trained yin yoga instructor, Vipassana meditator, women's circle facilitator, lecturing scholar, and on-again, off-again nanny. Her work can be found online at saratrueart.com and she is currently accepting commissions and requests for both abstract and figurative works. She loves the way the practice of yoga allows her body to communicate and sees her practice as an invitation for life to flow with greater ease.