During late spring and early summer months I was slowly trying to make my way onto the mat to find a regular practice. I was getting on occassionaly but not regularly. I was getting on the mat, but it wasn’t inviting. I was struggling to make a proper space for it … a daily routine that would incorporate a practice smoothly. The daily routine wasn’t settling (to say the least) and neither was my practice.
In late June I was speaking to my teacher who suggested that I was trapped in practicing irregularity. He took a piece of paper, wrote, scanned and sent me a practice sequence. Since then I’ve been practicing regularly. That is one of the valuable (and tricky) gifts my teacher has to offer me … an uplifting inspiration and motivation. There was no way I was going to let his attentions wash over me and leave me behind. Still I did not practice every day due to planned journeys and inevitable life-waves; I generally do not get on the mat to settle my life but settle my life to get on the mat.
This is the practice I was given. It is a cikitsa (recovery) practice:
Though I’ve placed myself in a nourishing environment in terms of food, air, space, etc. the transition to it was (and sometimes the continued participation in it still is) very demanding. I believe that my past investments in Yoga practice supported me in the transition yet the transition itself depleted me (in many ways). I used myself up and it was now up to me to pull myself back together.
I have no official (as in organized/regulated by society) health insurance (through a combination of choice and circumstance). Yet when I received this practice it dawned on me what amazing health insurance I do have. I recognized that my teacher handed me a prescription. Though unlike a typical prescription that you take to someone else to fill for you this is a prescription that I must be able to read, understand and put to action on my own.
I am able to read this prescription because of my extended training. To outsiders I am a trained Yoga teacher, though within my teacher’s circle I am first and foremost a yoga practitioner. I took up “teachers training” for my own benefit, not for becoming a teacher. The prescription is filled with explicit but also implicit information. It takes a long, quality and established relationship – like that of a teacher and a student – to be able to have access to and benefit from such a gift.
I am able to to put it to use because of how my life is organized. The first two years at Bhudeva were extremely hectic and demanding. This year, with most of life foundations in place, I decided not to take on anything more than life would hand me. I focused on settling down, making space, nourishing myself and creating conditions for practice. I designated this year (though it is not limited to one calendar year) as a time of healing. That is also the scale of healing that I was taught. There is no take these pills or do this practice and tomorrow everything will be better. Health is a continuous effort and investment, healing even more so.
Lying Down First
The practice I prescribed to myself, before being given this practice by my teacher, was a basic SKLIBS (more like SL[B]S). Though I was doing it softly it was an incorrect practice for me. Standing postures drained me very quickly. Then lying down became a trap – I would be so tired that I would have a hard time continuing beyond lying down. I became wary of lying down and my “solution” was to avoid a stay in savasana and discipline myself to continue the practice sequence (a strategy that did not work many times).
When I was first given this practice I recognized that I had accumulated a subtle fear of lying down, fearing that would steal my strength and motivation to practice. Yet over these past months lying down at the beginning of the practice was an oh-so-welcome experience. I was starting from a place of rest, gently introducing breath and movement. Building up instead of wearing down.
Ironically, now that tiredness was not weighing down on me, staying in savasana became more difficult. Now I had a settled body but an unsettled mind to deal with. It is only in recent days (almost 5 months of practice) that I began to experience an inviting savasana. A peaceful steadiness that I could hold and could hold me. Not only that, but the savasana that invites me to stay is in the middle of the practice (step 7 in the sequence) and even though I do stay in it, it does not trap me. I am able to continue a quality, present practice after it.
The quality of breathing was the first thing to surface from my past. It was such a core and immersive part of the teachings and practices that it is a second nature to me. My breath quickly expanded in asana to a vicinity of an 8 second inhale with an equal or longer exhale. That may vary depending on the asana and my overall vitality – so the inhale can drop to 6 seconds and the exhale can extend to 10 seconds and beyond.
My body also has a very good memory of the subtelties of practice. The practice itself is accessible. So during uninterrupted stretches of practice the focus of most of my attention and most of the refinement came in the quality of my breathing.
In the beginning my breath was very demanding in the standing postures (regardless of how much space I gave the movement within the breath). Now my breathing is fairly steady and available throughout the practice. A very noticeable improvement.
The Bahya Kumbhaka (holding the breath after the exhale) had a very powerful impact on me. At first it caused quite a bit of resistance which I met with just enough discpline to visit the place, but not for a long stay.
It has now evolved to be a potentially very different experience. For the most part it is an inviting place that I can stay in without ripples of effort and stress emanating from it. It is overall a steady experience though ripples of tension from life off-the-mat can and do effect my ability to stay in it. This 2 or 3 second window is a direct and honest portrayal of where I am.
When I started the practice my shoulders hurt. Especially in parivrti trikonasana (triangle pose – #6) where I had to use a variant that would not send shooting pains in my shoulder blades.
That has improved drastically. It took some patience in the beginning to work through it but there was a fairly quick improvement. Then something seemed to open up and I believe I now have access to this posture (shoulders included) that I’ve never had before.
When my continuous practice breaks this is one quality that seems to fade slightly. My shoulders and shoulder blades become tensed and heavy and it takes another stretch of patient and continuous practice for me to experience them opening up again.
The range of exploration I’ve experienced in this sequence is hard to out in words. The work in the posture was a dance between rigidity in my hips and my shoulders. The first steps were about simply gaining access to the posture and most of the work went into the hips. Then when they opened up (to places I’d known before) the exploration extended into the shoulders and then the muscle-chains that connect the two areas.
I have an unusualy mixed relationship with this posture. On the one hand I feel that between the hips, shoulders and breath I could continue exploring and refining it forever. On the other hand I am beginning to feel that I have completed this posture and that there is an opportunity to move to wider variations.
Like my shoulders in parivrti trikonasana, here my hips aptly reflect life tensions. Also like the shoulders, a continuous and attentive practice brings back release and space … even quicker than it comes to the shoulders.
Stamina – Stretching Consciousness
My physical stamina is still very low (or at least thats how I perceive it). To me its not just about stamina … I think vitality is a better word … though in this context it is expressed as physical vitality.
I meet it most in the forward bends (standing and sitting). If I consciously meet these postures on a physical level (which is the default) I experience a heaviness and a resulting effort. When this happens I am fairly quickly able to make what is at first a physical shift: relating to them as stretches rather then lifts. The first impact this has on me is less physical effort by subtly working more / smaller / subtle muscles – a little movement in a lot of places rather thatn a lot of movement in a few places.
However that is old news for me. What has become an interesting experience is a subtle shift in consciousness. The shift in physical awareness seems to echo back into a more subtle aspect of my consciousness and generates there a sensation of expansion and lightness (the opposite of heaviness). It is as if the lifting is no longer just a physical act but an act of consciousness. I cannot at this point in time say more about it … just that it is there, it is very subtle and intriguing.
Unlike my physical stamina in which I experience (and have always experienced) limitations … this stretching of consciousness feels potentially endless.
Though it isn’t really a pranayama practice, the ujjayi breathing sequence has been a fairly steady experience from the beginning. My sequence is as follows:
The first formula (4 seconds) I don’t do much anymore. It was very useful in the beginning. Though I felt I could skip it I felt that when I did there was a subtle ruggedness in the rest of the sequence.
I was able to go up to 10.0.12.0 fairly quickly and comfortably. The exhale expanded to 15 soon after. Though that too may not be available to me when there are life-tensions reverberating through me.
A couple of months into the practice sitting became a welcome place for me. I found myself staying and present in a seated position. My focus has been “I am sitting”. Recently I’ve refined that to touching my thumbs and first fingers together and placing my attention on those point of contact.
I find myself wanting a more specific focus for sitting.
In the beginning my eyes would not stay steadily and softly closed, they displayed plent of agitation. That has improved greatly, though there is still room for improvement.
The practice has been very supportive and educative. I am a bit disappointed that I wasn’t able to navigate myself into such a practice. I am more grateful that I have a teacher that could support me.
I’ve asked my teacher to change the practice into a raksana (sustenance) practice. That will happen next week … which is what prompted me to finally write this long overdue post.
As winter sets it practicing gets trickier. The floor is getting colder and colder. I now practice on two layers of rigid foam insulation, a blanket and a yoga mat. I tend to practice in the middle of the day afer the rocket stove (and hopefully the day) has warmed the room. Though, because hot air rises, lying down on the floor is still getting colder (and the change is radical when kneeling and standing which bring me closer to warmth). I still have layers of clothes available to use. I hope to be able to benefit from the rest-space of winter and to sustain a regular practice throughout.