Occasionally, it’s helpful to look at the trends in your practice over time.
For me, this month started out with a focus on the inversions of downward facing dog, headstand, shoulderstand, and plough, but then, when I experienced more and more tightening in my right shoulder that I wasn’t able to release no matter what I tried,
so I moved into a set of more involved (than my usual morning) guided seated meditations on wisdom dakinis from a cd of Tsultrim Allione
and then morphed into a strong forward bending exploration and practice (which had begun while listening to the explanatory parts of the cd).
It wasn’t quite as straightforward as it sounds. There was overlap and occasional days of doing something completely different, such as the day I was tired and practiced a couple restorative asanas, or the day I focused on backbends for a change.
Each practice group offered its own surprise teaching that provided intrinsic motivation to continue. Headstand continues to amaze me as I slowly hold my feet off the wall for longer amounts of time. Each day with the inversions is its own, and change, for me, is seen gradually, over time. I vary the way I do shoulderstand and plough, both the amount of support (number of blankets, chair, blocks, strap) used and the type of support (whether on feet wall, or sacrum on a chair, whether blankets or rolled mat or bolster beneath neck). That keeps practice an interesting exploration of mindful awareness of the body.
Other days I practice strengthening for inversions, without actually inverting. I’m heading more in that direction, especially as I observe Mike building his chaturanga practice.
The Tibetan guided meditations have helped me learn to transform my negative emotions into positive. Whewee….I need lots of more work in that arena!
The forward bends have really been a pleasure as I’ve discovered with increased hamstring flexibility, some poses such as heron and ubbaya are now open to me. However, not only could I not do ubbaya a week later, my ego was kept at bay a little bit by Judith Hanson Lasater’s advice that if you think you love a pose, try holding it for five minutes. I tried holding uttanasana for five and uh, it was certainly a challenge.
For one thing, I noticed how I moved my head and my gaze to different places in an effort to remain in the pose. That was coupled with my mind outscreaming my hamstrings. A person could become deaf in all of that noise. I wonder, if I can learn to breathe into that screaming, what will happen?
Following that practice with teaching three classes on Thursday loaded with forward folds and geesh, my back is feeling the effects.
Backbends, I’m heading your way tonight.
Every practice begins with listening. Every practice ends with opening into being.
What’re the trends in your practice lately? I’d love to hear about them.
What is it about being upside down that causes such a rush? Is it the increased blood flow? Is it the heart rest? Is it because Mind rests more easily and fully when the legs are up? Is it more psychological: being upside down forces up to look at the world with a different perspective?
Last night I practiced inversions. Beginning with headstand (sirsasana) where I am still working at moving my legs away from resting upon the wall. This is a years loooong struggle for me.But it took me years to be able to kick up by myself, so the lesson is patience ~ and practice. Being in the unsettled throws of perimenopause, there are many weeks, or months where it is not advisable to practice inversions, so I grow frustrated at my lack of progress. And yet, every breath where my feet are not resting upon the wall I claim as personal victory… over what? My body or my mind or a bodymind combo that seems intent upon keeping me earthbound when all my heart wants to do is to fly?
Three conscious breaths. That’s all I EVER need. No matter what posture I am inhabiting.
Then I did three pincha mayurasanas without kicking up. You may call these bent arm dogs. An attempt to strengthen my arms for the eventual day when I will be able to kick up! I am resolved to continue the practice, no matter how many years it takes. Then I did one half handstand where the shakes took over and I breathed through them, but then came down into child pose when I felt as if my feet where going to fall off the wall anyway. Can you relate?
Then shoulderstand (sarvangasana) wherein I found a perfect support system ~ ahhh, what joy when the body feels supported and can relax into a pose! I used four blankets folded in quarters and laid one upon the other in a stair step fashion to support my neck and two blankets folded half again laid side by side and angled at one end away from each other making a valley for the neck to drop into with the shoulders supported upon the blankets themselves. A chair placed at the end of my mat provided support for my feet during plough. My back is not feeling particularly strong these days so I scissor kicked one leg at a time down to the chair for ekapada sarvagasana.
I was surprised at the end of the practice that an hour and a half had flown by. All I’d done were four inversions!
A student said today that whenever she practiced legs up the wall, her Mind began to race. Thanks, but no thanks she said when offered an eye bag. A sandbag placed upon a block with the end resting upon her forehead offered minimal relief. So during this morning’s class I suggested she try lifting further into an inversion. She is slow and fearful of inversions, so we went for viparita karani with hips supported on a bolster and legs supported as well as ankles belted. Due to persistent hot flashes, we didn’t bother with a blanket tucked around her feet and legs. The set-up did bring her some relief, but we’ll continue working on her moving deeper into inversions. For savasana, I suggested some torso and head support with bolster and blanket.
I’d love to hear how you work inversions into your practice.
Last night I spent some time writing and pondering my dreams, which has been a theme this month, both at the Comfort Cafe and on the cool blog I recently discovered, Chris Guillebeau’sThe Art of Noncomformity.
In the middle of this quiet activity,a strong tug drew me into the standing poses. David Darling’s musical massage “balance” cd pulled me into a flow: Triangle (Trikonasana), Warrior 2 (Virabhadrasana 2), Right Angle (Parsvakonasana), Half Moon (Ardha Chandrasana), Warrior 3 (Virabhadrasana 3), Warrior 1 (Virabhadrasana 1), Parsvottanasana, and Prasarita.
I practiced each pose on one side and then the other, focusing on creating a graceful flow.
When needed, a block provided support. Wooden or bamboo blocks would have been better suited to my needs because the foam blocks I have are too unstable. Balance was an issue. In part, because of the double mats I use in the basement. Next time I’ll take my chances with a single mat. On the other hand, being rather unstable pushed me to focus even more.
One of the challenges of practicing a flow is to maintain focus in the body. Awareness of your own movement through space sharpens. There is strength in graceful movement! When Mind wanders, the quivery limbs follow suit and who knows where you’ll end up?
I ended up laughing at myself and my perfection-seeking. Then refocused, and tried the pose again.
My back began feeling the flow, so I went into child pose and then savasana using a bolster beneath my knees, a blanket beneath my head, and a sandbag on my lower abdomen. One of the heavier eye bags placed on my forehead helped quiet my mind.
I often enter a timeless space when practicing deep relaxation, it’s usually much longer than I had sensed. Was surprised last night at the amount of time I had been in corpse. Only ten minutes. My intention had been for a longer stay, at least twenty minutes. Hmmm, maybe use a timer next time. Or not, and just go with the flow of BodyMind consciousness.
Jan.10, 2010 FOCUS: Seated forward bends and twists
This afternoon I practiced viparita karani (legs up the wall) on my platform bed. At first, I thought I’d put on a cd but then decided against it, so I could enter a more meditative state. What happened was that I entered a more somnambulistic state.
My snoring woke me up 45 minutes later! There is something, some unknown quality, to a yogic nap that never fails to leave me feeling refreshed and wonderful.
Ten minutes of supta baddha konasana in the early evening. Became aware of energy moving upwards from lower torso. A good feeling!
At eleven o’clock I started for the studio for my usual before-bed practice. Just as I was heading down into the basement, there was a phone call from my daughter. What’s a mommy-yogini to do? I didn’t want to ignore my daughter, but I also didn’t want to ignore my practice. So I did both!
Donning headphones, I went to my mat that was already set up and waiting for me, and situated on a folded blanket, I practiced seated forward bends and twists as we chatted.
After our conversation, I sat in baddha konasanaand practiced ujjayi breathing. I found it a challenge to lift mula bandhaon the exhalation in this pose. Faith! practice will get me there. I kept my eyes open, gaze about two feet ahead of me on the floor and felt like an island of energy, breathing into the universe.
I struggled keeping my mind focused on the breath, much more so than usual. Perhaps it was the phone call, perhaps it was that Mike came down and began practicing on the other side of the room, perhaps it was due to my eyes being open. I almost never practice pranayama with open eyes, but I have been trying to keep my eyes open throughout my practice these days, in an effort to not drop so deep and still. I am striving to stay present, connected, and aware. Lots of room for growth here!
After the pranayama, I reclined for all three versions of supta padangusthasana(reclined leg lifts, holding the big toe) and supta pascimottanasana(two legs up, holding with a strap). Then I shifted to sphinx, and several cobras, playing with my hand positions. I noticed that as I moved my hands farther back, more in line with my waist, that it was easier to pull my tail/pubic bone down, creating more space in my lower back. A couple of bent-arm dogs to bent-arm planks pumped my blood and got the shakes going. I welcomed these muscle-strengthening shakes, though afterward rewarded myself with an extended balasana, child’s pose.
Time for shoulderstand, sarvangasana. My typical set-up uses three blankets and a mat piece on top. That supports my neck and shoulders. Usually I place a folding chair at the end of my mat for my feet to rest on during halasana, plough pose, but since I had stretched the backs of my legs so much with all of those forward bends, I decided to push it a bit and use a block. That worked fine.
Savasana. Even though my mind was quite active at the beginning of practice, as I remained in corpse, I traveled deeper and into quieter territory. Sometimes the journey within feels physical. Layer by layer dissolves into …what?…ether?, air?, the universe?,…or do we just let the outer layers slip out of our consciousness, they are there all along but we grow less aware of them? This would describe the yogic limb of PRATYAHARA, or sensory withdrawal.