7 July 2010

Yin yoga

‘Rest in Peace’ is a simple reminder - firstly that I will finally come to rest when I die, and secondly that I can rest in peace in every moment by accepting what IS, right now, knowing the continual flow of life is changing it all with every passing breath.
I’m no longer frustrated by what yoga poses my body can no longer easily do. My body is continually changing and it will all be different tomorrow, next week, next year…

Passive yoga practices leave me deeply peaceful; they cool the flames of ambition, allow for rest, the letting go of purpose, and they help turn my consciousness inwards.
Compare this to the Ashtanga Vinyasa practice – the high energy raises heat and increases vitality, burns impurities, energises the system, raises and expands consciousness upwards and outwards.

Tonight I needed to Rest in Peace.

The evening’s events had thwarted my original plans.
9pm had arrived and I hadn’t even started my yoga practice.
Instead I’d eaten dinner then spent the next two hours trying various means to get the cover off the hot water system so I could re-ignite the pilot light. Two days without a hot shower and I was beginning to feel feral – no way would I take a cold shower in this freezing weather.
Admitting defeat with the hot water system I drove to my son’s house for a shower.
Arriving home at 9pm I needed some serious soothing; the choice was either snuggling into a warm bed or a passive yoga practice.

As I sat on my mat in front of the heater contemplating what to do, I noticed an old bit of paper poking out between the pages of Light on Yoga. It was a discarded Yin Yoga sequence that I’d printed out from Yoga Journal – discarded because the term Yin Yoga had always bothered me – Yin is a Chinese term, who coined this yoga brand name? It seemed like another yoga fashion trend, a passive yoga practice with a shiny new logo attached to attract yet another new demographic, a slickly boxed product courtesy of the American yoga marketing machine.

Yin Yoga, hatha yoga, easy yoga, restorative yoga, call it what you will, it’s just a sequence of passive yoga poses, nothing new.

I swallowed my initial resistance, ignored the bad taste in my mouth and elected to do the passive ‘yin’ sequence over the other option of climbing into bed for an early night.
It was calming, cooling, soothing and deliciously indulgent.

At the end of the sequence I added two supported back arches – the first one with a block under my thoracic spine and arms extended out like a crucifix (nice press of the block into the inner shoulderblades here), the second one a supported version of Setu Bandha with the block under my sacrum. I discovered that by lifting and holding both legs vertical with the block still under the sacrum, it presses deeply into a cross section of my spine, stimulating release though some acupressure points. It was an unorthodox variation, and it probably looked weird, but it felt wonderfully therapeutic.
After that I stayed with the passive theme and did the evergreen reclining twist with bent knees to finish.
Surprisingly just over a one hour practice.

The Yin ‘Sphinx’ pose (an easy Bhujangasana) brought on an influx of sparkles around my lumbar spine, a sign of energy release, and in the final twists I felt a few energy pops somewhere inside the base of my skull.
I don’t know if these pops are a common occurrence, I’ve never read about them anywhere.
I can be holding a pose, using it to gently and deeply reconfigure the lines of energy flow in my body, subtly adjusting the internal dynamics, when suddenly there will be a little ‘pop’, usually up behind my nasal cavity, as if a blocked nadi has been cleared. It happens often in practice - like when I stretch open a hip joint, or reapply pressure to a heel, or rotate a shoulder bone, or slightly nutate my tailbone - and it fascinates me that not only can these small adjustments effectively release energy blocks (like flushing out sewerage pipes), the little pops can be physically FELT and HEARD.

After waking this morning I felt clear and at peace, both physically and mentally - perhaps a result of the passive stretching, or the conscious release of deep layers of tension; perhaps just a sign of emerging clarity. It’s comforting to know my yoga practice can, on any day, be simply a personal exploration without any goals.

6 July 2010

Monday practice notes

The walk home from work was chilling.
It’s a cold, cold winter this year.
I started practice at 6.30pm with the Surya Namaskars and emerged from Savasana at 8.15pm.
So glad to be finding my way back into yoga again.
Perhaps I’m turning around one of life’s BIG corners here. The changes and shifts are massive but painstakingly slow.
Tonight’s practice surprise...I EASILY rolled up into Shoulderstand! Last night’s failed attempt was no doubt caused by the double blankets under my shoulders and the very concave curve of my spine where it dropped off the other edge of the blanket.

The first half of practice was pure and simple Primary, fuelled by breath and bandhas up to the end of the standing poses. I did add in one extra pose, Ardha Chandrasana (yes, that's me in the image) after Parsvottanasana, just because it popped into my head yesterday and I remembered how much I love being in this elegantly poised pose - which made me think about the other standing poses that are missing from the Ashtanga Primary practice – Parivritta Ardha Chandrasana, Virabhadrasana 3, Standing Splits - all up not many really.
Occasionally I see practice sequences that I think of trying out, but somehow they’re missing a lot of poses I need to do. And they don’t have the breadth of the Ashtanga Primary series – it seems to include almost every basic pose in a perfectly balanced sequence. Which is why it has remained my foundation for yoga practice for so many years.

Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana is the only standing pose I’m having to back off from a little. Tonight I worked in it by reaching behind and grabbing my foot with one hand, raising the other arm to vertical and bending forward to hold at the halfway point, torso and arm extended in a horizontal line with the floor. The hold is intense, not unlike Virabhadrasana 3, my balance has to be stabilised by firmly pulling up through the standing leg with an unwavering stream of energy and determination. Bending the upper body through 90 degrees at the hips places a lot of strain on my weakened lower back so core muscles must be engaged strongly to support the weight. There’s a fine line between rebuilding damaged muscle tissue through strength work and damaging it more – it takes intelligence and sensitivity to work within this fragile environment. So this is where I like to work in Ardha Baddha, only releasing the hand to the floor and assuming the final pose when my body (mind?) begins to tire.
On my second (damaged) side, the final pose doesn’t come any more. The turned out hip position of the bent leg combined with the forward bend through the hip is a double no-no. But that’s OK. Finding other places to work in a pose is more interesting than when a pose comes easily.

After the standing poses, I did a long handstand, then I thought about doing Pincha Mayurasana and thought NOT, then settled down to a series of backbends, culminating in two heavy-duty Urdhva Dhanurasanas that surgically opened my shoulders.

The finishing inversions were great: I rolled up into Shoulderstand, then over to Halasana, and then found my way into Urdhva Padmasana (full Lotus in Shoulderstand) – I could have stayed there all night it felt so good. A mere 20 breaths in Headstand before a few minutes in Padmasana and that was practice tonight.

Dinner: a big bowl of winter coleslaw with sunflower sprouts and seeds.
Then I baked a fig, ginger and walnut cake to give to a work colleague, and licked the bowl clean.
Turning 50 I am rediscovering yoga practice and hopefully turning slowly around a corner.

5 July 2010

Sunday practice notes

Sunday yoga practice isn't normally part of my Sunday routine.

But this morning my body needed and wanted to bend out of its inert shape and I knew I had to wait until the evening.

Sunday morning was spent hiking up and down mountains (as usual), a gruelling hike made worse by the kind of back ache that saps my energy – thankfully my strong legs compensated. After the Sunday afternoon ritual of visiting my son, cleaning his house and cooking his dinner (as usual), I rugged up against the icy night air, dragged the heater close to my mat and spent the next hour releasing my body and mind from the tight grips of trauma and tension, bit by bit unravelling the knots through a series of poses my body ached for - a classic Iyengar self-led practice tonight.

Supta Virasana on a bolster to start with, an uncomfortable stretch for my tightened psoas but the muscles softened their grip and comfort came quickly. After a forward Virasana counter pose I stepped into Dog Pose and stayed there for five and a half minutes. Ridiculously long Dog Poses used to be a feature of Glenn Ceresoli’s intensive workshops: one by one after 3 minutes, 4 minutes, 5 minutes, the students and teachers would start to shake then drop to their knees in shame. Only the dedicated, or the hard-core, or just the plain stubborn were left after 5 minutes in the pose, me being one of them. Glenn would delight in pointing out to everyone that it was the mind that caved in long before the body. For my part I’d delight in the mind over body challenge, watching the mental dialogue provoked by his challenge.

Tonight there was no pressure to stay in a long Dog Pose so I played…and I stayed...adjusting alignment, deepening the bandhas, observing the subtle movement of prana, the shifting sensations, and each part of my body that began to feel stress from the extended weight bearing – my right shoulder, then the left, then the lumbar.

Each time I wanted to come out of the pose I didn’t, I stayed and the after effect was worth it.

I hung forward in Uttanasana to debrief, ribcage, lungs and heart sinking gently towards my throat, pulling the upper spine open with their descent. Then I stepped back into a shorter Dog Pose (feet half way closer to my hands), and raised my right leg straight up as high as I could holding it up up for as long as I could. It takes some core strength to hold the leg in correct alignment, and building core strength is helping my lumbar. Left leg followed.

The rest of practice was truly sweet – Janu Sirsasana, Parivritta Janu Sirsasana, Virasana with deep twists, Supta Padangusthasana, 2 very satisfying Ustrasanas that fed my backbend craving, and Prasaritta Padottanasana (the only standing pose) with hands in reverse Namaste to keep my chest open…these are the poses I remember but maybe not practised in that order, and maybe there were others I did but have since forgotten.

It felt too late at night for Headstand so I laid down for Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand), with shoulders draped onto double blankets, but then surprised myself when I couldn’t roll up into it – such a simple move etched into my body memory and I’d forgotten I couldn’t do it because of my lumbar. For the past year of so I’ve been getting into Sarvangasana from Viparitta Karani, feet pressing into the wall to lift my pelvis forward over my shoulders then stepping the feet off the wall (take note of this gentle method if you’ve got students with lumbar problems). Tonight I experimented on the blankets and got into Sarvangasana through Bridge Pose, one leg at a time. A few minutes later I moved into Halasana and then Parsva Halasana.
1 hour of pure physical therapy…20 minutes in Savasana…10 minutes in seated, quiet serenity.
And the bliss of letting go.

2 July 2010

Lost and found

Turning 50, I realize I am completely and utterly lost.
Being lost is very humbling.
At first it's disorientating
Then it gets dark...and quiet.
I am nowhere.
Being lost I realize I am so so SO not special, all I am is nobody.

Turning 50, I realize my body is deteriorating daily.
Yoga practice hurts and I never thought that would happen.
I have always approached yoga as a spiritual practice, a tool to purify my body and mind in preparation for enlightenment; regular asana strengthened and opened my body – it was so gratifying to practice, to feel the changes, to peel away layers of resistance and conditioning, to watch the evolution of my body and mind.
There was a momentum upwards.

Now asana practice hurts and I approach it with great trepidation and caution.
The momentum is downwards.

Sitting in Baddha Konasana, hands clasped around my feet, where once I could bend deeply forward, opening through the groins to kiss the floor, now I am stuck upright, alarmed by the prospect of any forward movement. My back hurts a lot just thinking about it.
Getting out of bed in the morning hurts.

Sometimes, sitting in meditation cools the fiery flames.
At least I can sit…and breathe…and let go...and be present…no longer lost, just here where I am. Except when my back and my hips ache (which is most of the time) and I sit in a heated whirlpool of chitta vrittis.

Turning 50, I realize whatever I thought I had, has been taken away from me.
I have nothing.
I am nothing.
And I have unconsciously orchestrated it all in preparation for the next phase of life.

Eileen Caddy once said that when you have lost everything what a wonderful opportunity you have to start over.

Starting over is part of a continuing journey.

Turning 50 is beautiful.

"Wisdom tells me I am nothing.
Love tells me I am everything.
And between the two my life flows."
Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

"Yoga is the most embarrassing thing. It is the unfolding of your mental process. It is embarrassing because we see we have an infinitely big ego that is unlimitedly stupid."
Richard Freeman