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.