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!
Blazing Maple Leaves (barefoot photos)
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.
For those of us in the northern hemisphere, the dog days of summer have settled in with a big ole lazy heat wave. Who wants to move when the air is so heavy? Yoga class today? No, thanks, set me in front of my fan with an icy latte and a spicy novel. It’s good to slow down in the heat, even if that means giving ourselves permission to laze around.
At some point though, the novel ends, and the body calls for movement, despite the sweltering weather. Recent research shows SITTING to be a major culprit in health decline. So I’m heading to the studio, no matter how strong the sun is today. No matter how lazy my mind tells me that I am.
I’ve been working on supta padanghusthasana (reclining leg lift) which is a foundation pose. It’s a forward bend that is practiced lying on the floor with the back of the body completely supported. Even if my back is achy or slightly injured, I find I enjoy the stretch and release of this particular pose.
With both knees bent, I reach for the big toe of my left foot with the second and third fingers of my left hand. Those are the “peace sign” fingers for all you lovers of hamstring release. Stretching the left leg, reaching the toe pads toward the ceiling, lengthening the inner ankle bone up and away, I soften my shoulders, my hips, my belly, my face and gaze gently up at my big toe. Maybe I curl my mouth into a half-smile. Just for the heck of it and because I need to remind myself that I am inviting my hamstrings to release with non-forceful effort.
Sometimes I practice with the foundation foot pressed into a wall. It’s amazing how that can ground the femur. Then I can invite the groins to release deep within. Sending my awareness into the places I tend to hold and then slowly breathing into that area. The lifted leg slides a bit closer toward my shoulder. Perhaps I’m able to grasp that ankle today. The lower back responds to the stretch by softening and dropping. I imagine my brain dropping onto the back of my skull as my thinking slows.
And then, for fun, sometimes I practice while in legs-up-the-wall pose.
There are the variations, beginning with supta padangusthasana two: Turning the leg out from the hip so that the knee begins to look toward the floor, I draw the raised leg away from the body and up towards the shoulder.
Supta Padangusthasana #2 (barefoot photos)
Or Supta padangusthasana three which is not an official pose but delivers a strong stretch all the way around the hip. I swing the lifted leg back to the center; switch the hand grasping my foot, and invite my body to roll onto the side as the foot drops onto the floor and I release the opposite arm away from me in a “T: position. With a strong exhale into the shoulder blades, I tuck the other shoulder under my body and release the upper hip away from the leg
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.
Sutra.1.12 (Sanskrit:abhyasa-vairagyabhyam tad-nirodhah) says”Control over the mind’s fluctuations comes from persevering practice and nonattachment”
carolyn hanging in backbend
According to Bernard Bouanchaud, a French translator of Patanjali’s sutras, quoted here, nonattachment is inextricably linked to persevering practice if one wishes to control those pesky mental fluctuations.
Whew. Do I need to work on both of these.
Persevering practice is my weak link during long days of work that feed me on a real and intellectual level, but also drain me. I need the practice to keep me on an even keel, refreshed and with an evenness of energy available. This doesn’t happen inevitably. It doesn’t happen at all in fact, if I don’t put some energy into my practice.
And guess how that happens? I have to begin my nonattachment practice. The things of this world are ephemeral: work will always be there, but another day without practice will keep me from living fully in the moment, enjoying sthira, stability, and sukha, bliss.
The mat is calling; do I have the courage to heed its message?