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Yoga Practice & Allergy – Summer 2020

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During the first half of May, I started to sense first signs of allergy. A slight itch at the top of my mouth, a very slight wheeze in my breath, an itch on my back. All these, when allergy is in full swing, can quickly escalate. But they were subtle. I recall one or two mornings where I felt practice was limited due to agitation or constricted breath.

Then half way into May the subtle symptoms got amplified, still relatively (to past years) soft, but affected my breath and vitality enough to warrant a shift in practice. Though this year the shift was different. Instead of gradually winding down the practice (as I’ve done in past years) I decided to make a shift from a siksana (intensifying) to a raksana (health maintenance) practice.

This shift, in retrospect, embodied a deeper intuition than I was aware of at the time. In the past, winding down the practice gradually represented an attachment to the quality of practice I was enjoying before allergy symptoms appeared. It is a quality that comes from a period of deep, continuous and uniterrupted practice. It is usually how I am coming out of winter into spring, but this year it was further amplified by the pandemic. I did absolutely no travelling and so was deep into undisrupted practice.

Though, this year, it seems, I was not attached to my practice. Instead of practicing to my fullest, constantly testing my edges in response to the allergy … I decided to seek a soft, stable and grounding practice that:

  • Respecting and responded to the reduced vitality and somewhat limited breath.
  • Preserving a soft and continuous relationship with pranayama.
  • Staying in touch with my physical body.
  • Keeping up basic strength.
  • Preserving flexibility … avoiding, if possible, settling into a more rigid form that I would have to work at later in recuperation.

I have marked in green the parts of the practice that stayed, in red those that I dropped and in yellow those that were added or adapted. Overall the breath was good but shorter (~8 second inhale compared to my fuller 10 or 12),

PostureRepeat
tadasanaR4
uttanasanaR2 + S2
parsva uttanasanaR2+S2 / –
trikonasana (uddhita + parivrti)ALT4 + [ALT4 + S1]
utkatasana + ardha utkatasanaR6
cakravakasanaR2 + S3
adhomukha svanasanaS6
raised leg variations~8 breaths
dvipada pithamR2 + S4
sarvangasanaS10-12
halasanaS4
bhujangasanaR4
bhujangasana + bent kneesR4
ardha salabhasanaR4 + S1
salabhasana (incremental)R4
dandasanaR2 + S2
janusirsasanaR3 (midrange, micro, static) + S2
matsyendrasanaR6
mahamudraR12 / _
pascimatanasanaR2 + S2

In Pranayama I switched from a 1:2 ratio to a 1:1.5 ratio and from Pratiloma to Anuloma:

8.0.12.0x6 anuloma ujjayi
8.2.12.4x6 anuloma ujjayi
8.4.12.8x6 anuloma ujjayi
8.0.8.0x6 anuloma ujjayi
4.0.4.0x4 ujjayi

And this held steady, with very little fluctuation for this entire period! This steadiness was a precious experience in what has been in the past a very turbulent period.

To demonstrate my feeling consider this theoretical graph that charts vitality/well being over a period of 18 days. This chart tells a story of turbulent fluctuation:

In this next version I describe a quality of well-being at the “50” level. If I can achieve this baseline, it moderates the turbulance. I don’t drop to lows below “50”.

This year, I felt I arrived with a kind of peak vitality and when I “sharply” dropped into Raksana (staying healthy) mode I both avoided the friction (expending energy) of trying to hold on to more practice AND settling into a soft and spacious experience. The result was an experience of feeling better and more stable throughout the period … more like a “70” baseline … much less fluctuation … a more stable experience:

This feeling of stability is also marked by what was absent from it:

  • No sneezing until my spine hurts
  • No sleepless nights
  • No accumulating agitation that leads to impatience and lack of concentration.
  • No loss of appetite.

The symptoms increased during the early part of June, but remained very moderate compared to previous years. I took antihistamine pills only twice (compared to 8-10 times last year). Once as a pre-emptive curiosity when symptoms were escalating before going to sleep. Another when symptoms were escalating midday.

Overall the symptoms were greatly reduced in frequency, intensity and duration. When symptoms did arise, I could sit and witness them. Most times they either dropped away. A few times they stayed around for a few hours but with a relatively with a light presence.

Around mid-June I felt a shift … a subtle increase in vitality. However, towards the end of June, there was a noticeable downturn. A feeling of constriction seemed to settle in my chest and nostrils. It affected practice. It required more softness and attention, shortened my practice, and on a couple of occasions required a minimal ujjayi sequence instead of a full Pranayama sequence. On a few days (4 or 5) I moved the practice from the regular morning time to the evening when I felt more ease in my breath.

During the first ~10 days of July I’d been subtly and gradually re-populating the practice. I’ve experienced some physical tiredness from recent construction work so I started by adding a stay in Savasana (after cakravakasana). I had avoided lying postures because lying on my back aggravated my breathing … so being able to stay in Savasana is an improvement. In recent days I’ve also introduced some raised leg and dvipada pitham … re-introducing the space of lying postures.

Since then the practice is really ramping up at a surprising pace. The standing posture sequence is almost back to full. So is the seated posture sequence… with a moderate and shorter stay in mahamudra. I’ve started re-introducing back-bends. BK are extending and AK are starting to appear again. Shoulderstand may return before the month ends. Then, I expect to plateau and slowly witness a building up of finer qualities. This graph illustrates the difference I am experiencing this year compared to a few years ago:

This graph places me (as I feel) shows a recuperation almost 2 months earlier. As I charted it I realized how long this event lasts. In the past it reached 5+ months. This year much shorter.

This year was a radically different year in terms of allergy. I feel I have stumbled onto some deeper understanding. But I feel I would need another few years (and allergy cycles) to take a deeper look at my “hypothesis”. It may be that it was a “lighter pollen” year, or that the rainy weather kept the air cleaner … time will tell.

I am left with a reflection on allergy as:

An exaggerated response to misperception.

I have been tending to it as such over the years … and as I look at the wider state of the planet … I am seeing this pattern in more context and depth … but these reflections, both at the persona level and beyond, I will reserve for another time.

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