I’ve had a fairly continuous period of practice … the main interruption ironically due to my visit to Israel to study Yoga. There have been a few of minor illness / slight injury related interruptions.
I’ve continued with the same practice plan. I have still not felt inclined towards exploring the alternative shoulder-stand path of practice. One reason for this is that I have enjoyed the continuous practice and evolution on the maha-mudra path – developing my breath, physical posture and quality of presence and engagement with the asana. Another reason is the illness interruptions during and after which I did not feel vital enough to approach the alternative path and I preferred to stay with a variation of the core practice as a practice of healing and rejuvenation.
Early in this practice period I decided to soften my attention and relationship with breath. I stopped counting the length of my breath in asana practice. Sometimes when counting I feel that I deny myself access to my full and present ability by adhering to an expected breath length … sometimes not breathing to my full capacity and sometimes slightly pushing beyond what is right for me in the present moment. I feel fairly well tuned to my breath and body, so this is not a gross but a subtle aspect of practice. It is sometimes a fractional difference that resonates deeply. It could be a difference between feeling vibrant or drained, feeling soft or agressive, feeling attentive or absent.
After some time (I estimate something like 2 months) I decided to consciously sample my breathing once again and to see how it developed, and I was surprised by the changes I discovered. Since then I have continued counting and continuously developing my breath throughout my practice. Every asana has had its own gradual path of development, some have been slow to develop, some have been continuously developing, some felt like they suddenly changed.
I have overlayed onto my existing practice plan my current breathing ratios including some slight modifications I’ve made to the practice. Most of the changes are of a langhana nature (which is particularly helpful to me in this period where numerous intellectually demanding projects are moving around in my mind), some have a slightly tonic, more brmhana quality (mainly: parvrti trikonasana, the krama variation of utkatasana and the upper raised leg sequence where I gradually move from 90 to 180 degrees).
I’ve also felt a kind of crystallization of experience during these last few monts of practice in regard to continuity. It is a process that I’ve been aware of for ~2 years but that feels more concrete to me now. I have found that after a disturbance in practice (be it an emotional disturbance, city day away from home or an illness or a strain in my back):
- I am quickly able and motivated to get back on the mat. In the past it could have taken days or weeks until I felt I was able to and I had a stable desire to get back.
- When recovering from such disturbances I am able to softly, patiently adjust my practice to my state-of-being. I don’t assume and don’t push myself to where I was before the disturbance. I am attentive to my current well-being and able adapt the practice to it with ease.
- There is also a curiosity, and this is a new and key feature. I not only “accept” my limitation (be it physical, enegetical, emotional, mindful) I “embrace” it and allow it to inform me. A prominent example has been dealing with two back strains (first on the left lower back, then the right lower back) in the lying twists. In sensitively dealing with these strains I have deepened my physical engagement with the spine, getting a sensation of a fuller and active twists from my lower back all the way to my neck, my directional breathing in the posture has improved … I feel I have gotten stronger, softer and wiser through it. And this is just one example … there have been others … mostly subtle shifts.
The result of this shift is a change in my overall attitude toward practice. In periods with disturbances (which I have been a regular aspect of my life for the last few years) I used to feel that I was making progress and then regressing. I felt that my disturbances were slowing the overall evolution of my practice. That is changing. I now feel that the disturbances are informing ang guiding me … sometimes even boosting the evolution of my practice beyond its “normal” rate of change. The feeling is of more continuity and less fragmentation.
I am expecting a review of my Pranayama practice with my teacher in the coming weeks. I have completed the previous sequence that I was given:
… and I have taken one additional variation on my own … essentially increasing the number of breaths in the core sequences from 6 to 8 for the sake of being able to resume a pratiloma practice .. making my current practice: