This reflection is long overdue … but my writing motivation is still low and my ability to do so fragile … I hope I can recall some of the subtleties that appeared along the way.
Relationship with Practice
My allergy period this year ended somewhere around mid-July. It lasted slightly less then two months. It was overall easier, but I don’t feel it was due to internal circumstances. I do feel that is mostly due to numerous early frosts that destroyed much of the spring flowers which resulted in less pollen in the air.
I tried, during the allergy period, to stay in touch with practice but it was a futile attempt. With breathing at the heart of practice and my breathing severely compromised practice is difficult to access. Attempting to stay with it formed an additional layer of aggravation due to the instability of practice itself. Letting practice go was a practical decision, not a deeply conscious one.
However at one point I realized that I lost not just the practice but also the wanting to practice. That brought with it a subtle anxiety. One of the things I experienced in the period of practice prior to the allergy period was that the practice was somehow embracing, holding me. I had a very stable period of practice that came with little effort. Now that was gone, and I was afraid that it wouldn’t come back. My fear was “confirmed” when my allergy got slightly better and I tried to get on the mat (maybe too soon) and again met heaviness, friction and instability. Once I WAS able to practice, I, to my surprise and relief, fell quickly back into the embrace of practice.
When I resumed practice I resumed the same practice I was doing before the allergy period … and physically it was fine. But when it came to my pranayama, I was exhausted and could not tap into my breathing capacity.
So I started an experiment, that to some extent, is still ongoing. I starting tuning my practice into a more cikitsa version. It took a few days of transformations .. and with every transformation (reduction and softening) in the asana sequence I found a growing space for re-inhabiting my breath. Over a few days the breath developed: just ujjayi breathing allowing the breath to expand, re-introducing holds, resuming pratiloma with less holds and less repeats and within a few days I was back to my full pratiloma practice.
Over the first month of steady practice I got reestablished in the breath and gradually re-introduced modifications that brought me closer to my full asana practice. At that point I started to feel a sense of vitality again. I experienced a feeling of lightness in my practice. I distinctly recall the feeling of coming up from various forward bends with a sense of a strong center and a lighter body … as if I was lifting up less weight … a lighter version of me.
Energy and Core
At least a couple of times during this period where I had a distinct experiences of energy in my core (abdominal area) as a foundation for … well … almost everything I am and do with my body.
A prominent experience was while working on the earthbag cellar. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go out (I was in a healing cycle), but the weather was nice and I wanted to give it a try. I attempted to lift something (with some substantial weight, bot not too heavy, and not something I hadn’t lifted many times before) … and it required much more effort than usual.
As I observed this and a some following movements I realized that I felt weak in my center. I wasn’t able to activate my abdominal muscles. I didn’t have a feeling of grounded center from which I could move, extend or leverage. I rely mostly on my center for strength and stability, I am not a very athletic or physically large or strong. With the center gone, I had to rely on my peripheral muscles … and that gets tiring fast. And even though I can get away with it for a while, the quality of movement is lesser … less precise, less reliable, less stable, less enjoyable. Within a couple of minutes I realized, acknowledged and communicated that I was not up for working.
The initial experience of lack of core energy became a fascinating reference point for experiencing its recovery. I could witness, almost every day, a slight improvement. It is in everything … in standing and walking … in a sense of stability … vitality. I witnessed life and strength return to my abdominal area. The change was so drastic that it was clearly not a biological change. I don’t think it was (is)possible for me lose or gain muscle mass or flexibility in such a short period of time. It felt much more like an energetic shift.
It was refreshing and empowering to go back out after a few days and feel … centered and vital again. Losing it was an invaluable experience to appreciating it.
Life Again (… and again)
I have taken up this post after another few weeks of delay since I wrote the initial part … and that is the essence of “life again”. This has not been a period of “life throws things at me” but rather me inviting things into my life. The overall experience has been a sense of depletion. But not deep depletion. Rather cycles of depletion during which I take something in and incorporating it, digesting it, consumes enough of my energy to leave me in a disturbed state. A state I felt a need to recover from … sometimes with clear physical signs of illness, sometimes with only subtle physical signs, sometimes with an emotional fuzziness … in all cases reduced clarity.
I am now exiting a period of sickness . Together with the intensive 5 day event (Nyeleni) which I attended, that may become another three week period without on-the-mat practice. Though my energy may support a soft practice, my breathing (blocked, broken and limited) does not leave me space for an engaging practice. Attempting to practice in this way creates more friction then flow.
I am also heading (hopefully!) into a period with few distractions. I feel a turning inwards as winter sets in. Starting to settle into a raily routine with more time indoors, regular lighting and feeding of the stoves. I am looking forward to reconnecting with a regular and inward moving practice.