Here’s a sequence based upon a holiday Saturday Slow Flow class that’s nice and gentle. It can be used as a primary practice on days when you have missed yoga-ing for a while, as a warm-up to a more intense physical practice, or on days when you need to nurture yourself a bit more than usual, i.e. when you are sick, mourning, or very tired or sore. It’s important to practice something on those days as well.
1. Cat-Cow, Cheetasana (Bent arms flowing cat-cow), Lat stretch, ChildPose
2. (Reclining Back of the Leg Stretch). Use strap as needed. First take left leg by using a tie or a strap around foot as much as necessary.
2. Reclining Through the Hole stretch. Dorsiflex (lift toes toward ceiling) foot on thigh.
3. Kneeling Lunge, High Lunge
4. Supported Bridge: Use block beneath sacrum.
5. Reclining Cross-Legged Twist
6. Yoga mudra arms, while sitting. or standing, Clasp hands behind back, stretch them towards floor, then exhale and lift them towards ceiling. Hold for 5 breaths. Release.
The practice of Being rather than Doing offers fulfillment on many levels. My yoga often serves as a refuge to hustle-bustle, grief, stress and struggle of everyday life. Whether it’s an achy back, sore legs, overwhelmed mind, or a tired heart, I know that practice will ease the suffering.
Over the years, this has lured me into a deeper and deeper embrace of a formal, on-the-mat asana exploration. The path to wholeness and health. This is not a bad thing! The moment I land on the mat, feelings of delicious relief swirl through me. Now I can settle into BEING, opening my heart, linking my heartmindbody, and connecting with forces only the inner eye sees; the inner ear hears.
Conjure the stillness of post-savasana, or the centeredness of pranayama, or the contentment you felt after a fav yoga class. Then, despite whatever ails you today, how many parts of you hurt, how cranky or tired you are, head to a mat. Begin with your most beloved yoga pose, and let the bliss flow.
As your practice deepens and cycles through the seasons of your life, the boundaries between the refuge you experience on your mat and in the world will slowly dissolve. Moments will gradually grow where life itself is centered in a sweet contentment that is its own refuge, no matter the circumstances. These are the moments when yoga and life are one and the same practice. Observe and recognize that they too will pass, but observe as well that those moments are the fruit of heading to your mat day after day, year after year.
I am an experimental yogini. Lately, I have been approaching savasana, the pose of deep relaxation that I “do” at the end of my asana practice to see what I can learn from ten or twenty or thirty or sixty minutes reclining in a prone position.
The physical aspects of savasana are quite simple: stretch out on the floor on your back, roll the palms up to face the ceiling, allow the legs to flop away from each other, gently lower the eyelids, part the teeth slightly, cover yourself with a light blanket, place an eye pillow on your eyelids, use a folded blanket beneath your head and neck and a bolster beneath your knees, if you’d like. There are other variations and possible supports that can be used to induce a greater level of comfort, but I’ll cover those in another post.
10 minutes: a sudden drop into physical relaxation. The body felt as if it were melting into the floor
13 minutes: another drop deeper ~ a deeper release down
17 minutes: Oh, now this drop felt nearly blissful ~ a tumble into bliss ~ so lovely
I was shaken out of it when hearing voices upstairs talking loudly and I picked up the phrase: “She’s really in bad shape.” Felt my mind turn on with adrenaline ~ thought maybe I should get up ~ racing thoughts, but felt my body still relaxed, so decided to drop back down into the deep relaxation, knowing the alarm was set and I could get up in three more minutes. Later note: this was an amazing realization: that I could CHOOSE whether or not to relax deeply!
20 minutes: the alarm rang and because I had already “come back” a good way, I decided to remind myself to come back s-l-o-w-l-y and resist the urge to run upstairs and find out what had happened (what had happened was in fact, a continuing deterioration of an 86 year old relative’s condition, and certainly not an emergency in the immediate sense of the word)
My yogic journey is a beautiful adventure into the Cave of The Heart.
When reclining, either in savasana or supine upon an angled bolster, I am most aware of relaxing and entering this sacred cave. My true home of holiness. The Silence within and without.
This is a most delicious time.
With the body completely supported and happy, I dis-attach from my physical self, the outer kosha called annanamaya kosha, and commence a journey inward. Though I have practiced for years, it doesn’t always happen. Sometimes the path is blocked, cluttered with Mind and Body chattering painfully, refusing to release my sweet Heart.
Ahhhh, but when it does happen, when I travel through Pranamaya (breath sheath), Manomaya (mind sheath), and Vijnanamaya (wisdom sheath), there is a synergy of Body Mind Heart Awareness opening and growing. I enter a deeper, wider place of no place and no time. I enter a lush cave of Anandamaya, the bliss sheath.
“Life is a journey to find ourselves, our God and our own wisdom. The beginning and end of our journey is the cave of the heart. The cave of the heart is the deepest psychological ground of one’s personality. It is the inner sanctuary where self-awareness goes beyond analytical reflection and opens out into metaphysical and theological confrontation with the Abyss of the unknown yet always present. This is the one who is more intimate to us than we are to ourselves. In Romans 5 in the Christian Scriptures this is the heart where God’s love is poured forth by the Holy Spirit. In the Hindu tradition the Upanishads speak of the spirit of the One who created the universe as dwelling in our heart. The same spirit is described as the One who in silence is loving us all.”
I invite you to venture into this cave during your next yoga practice. There is nothing to do or even to try to do. Just give yourself permission to release into your deepest being. Invite your self to delve into the cave of bliss.
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.
While we were releasing into savasana during tonight’s class in Westfield, D. read from Jill Bolte Taylor’s book, MY STROKE OF INSIGHT. I remembered the video I’d seen some time ago and the awe and maybe a little jealousy that I’d felt at Dr. Taylor’s experience. D. commented that the section she read to us reminded her of her experience in corpse pose: the way body boundaries disappear and sometimes it feels as if the body itself disappears as we recognize ourselves as magnificent bundles of energy.
After all, nirvana is what we are after isn’t it? Or is it? Nirvana is a term that floats around in the pop culture and we know that we should be achieving it at yoga class BUT…..do we really expect to ever experience it? Have you ever thought, maybe it’s just too darn much effort and trouble. It’s easier – safer – to simply stick to the practice of asana or some non-taxing meditation practice.
It’s not like we actually know anyone who has ever experienced nirvana anyway. I mean, sure, we’ve read STORIES about some extreme individuals in India, Tibet, or Japan, but c’mon, but this is the 21st century and we’re too busy checking our Twitter updates to have time for nirvana.
The ancient sage, Patanjali writes, in Yoga Sutra III.43:
How much happiness can a human heart can hold? I feel as if I may break into pieces if any more love comes my way. . . . if one more good thing happens. . . yesterday was my birthday. . . I was able to celebrate with all three kids, one son’s girlfriend, and my hubbie–partner of 30+ years. Received messages and blessings from many old and new friends & far-flung family members…geesh, I get teary-eyed recounting it all. Boundaries dissolve as energy quickens.
I’ve certainly been in the opposite position, asking the universe how much grief and sadness a person was capable of feeling. This happy mode is kinda new to me, but I’m getting used to it — sort of.
Here is a piece that was given to the retreatants at the porches writing retreat in October – a la Hip Tranquil Chick, Kimberly Wilson. Check out her blog; this is excerpted from October 27, 2008:
there is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and (will) be lost. the world will not have it. it is not your business to determine how good it is; nor how valuable it is; nor how it compares with your other expressions. it is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. you do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. you have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. keep the channel open. no artist is pleased. there is no satisfaction whatever at any time. there is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others. – martha graham to agnes demille
Any strong emotion fundamentally ungrounds and uncenters me, but I am practicing watching the feeling rather than engaging. . . And learning to accept the dissatisfaction inherent in living a human life, the blessed unrest as Martha Graham calls it. Holidays really stir up my restlessness — good and bad — sometimes both at the same time. In response, I fill with ambivalent emotions, both loving and hating this tilting off-center.
This is a time when I really need my practice but when my practice is thrown out off kilter because all semblance of schedule is disrupted. Simply remembering that my feet —or whatever — is connected to the earth really helps. Breathing helps. Sitting or savasana helps, even if I do it for only ten minutes.
These can be very rich times to practice because it’s endless …..the depths of *stuff* I’ve been oblivious and/or numb to. I dedicate my life to increasing this awareness.
Is this what is meant by awakening: The pieces of insight or vision that grow larger and deeper with practice? Aspirations and intentions are best stated in the present tense: I AM enlightenment…..I AM lovingkindness compassion….I AM flexible and strong…..
The question is whose life ARE you living? As you go deeper into meditation and yogic practice, as you connect regularly with your core self, your True Self, this question rears its, often, ugly head. For me, there was a feeling for years that I was living a life that was not my own. I don’t know exactly how I came to this place; I try to work it out in my memoir essays.
Furthermore, I didn’t know how to change, nor did I know what exactly I wanted to change. There were many voices clamoring and flapping around like a flock of hungry starlings inside of me. They created a loud, unhappy chorus. But what to do??? I didn’t have a clue.
Finally, there were some rather emotional events that catapulted me into action. People close to me were going through serious life events, the kind that they might not make it out of alive, and I wanted to be there for them. Unfortunately, with my teaching schedule, I had nothing left over to give–always grading or prepping. Giving everything I had, even though I never felt I had enough.
I looked beyond the poverty-level wage because I loved my students; I loved my department; I loved the field; heck, I even loved my little cubby-hole office. Could I love anything else as much? The love always won out over the obvious mental depletion. It wasn’t an easy decision.
Thankfully, I couldn’t even think whether what I was choosing was right or wrong. Would I regret my decision? Would I land in a morass of deeper unhappiness? Who knew? I knew that I HAD to change and so I left my teaching English post. Fortunately, I was able to leave it open-ended, able to return, should I desire.
At this point in time, the desire is certainly not there–I have no thoughts of returning. WHY? Because now I feel I am living my OWN LIFE. And that has generated much happiness. The ripples flow outward in all directions to those near me. And the happiness grows deeper by the day. A deep well of satisfaction and equanimity grows. Fundamentally, that is really what yoga is all about.
Watch this video and tell us what you think….what changes have you made in your life to stay true to your path? Click the little VIMEO star to view it in full-screen mode.
Breathe in and out of your heart center. Practice Savasana. Everyday. Over and over and over. Keep connected with your source. Keep listening with your inner ears. Eventually, the voice that is yours will surface. Eventually you will know what it is that you want. Meanwhile, enjoy the trip.