Each year the four seasons come and go, imbuing our lives with their particular quality.
Being creatures of the earth and intimately connected to nature, we adjust our activites and lifestyles, not only in response to the changes in temperature, but to the more subtle effects of these seasonal cycles: winter brings quieter nights at home, a slower pace, more time for reflection, and we naturally choose to eat more earthy foods like root vegetables, pulses and warming casseroles; with the coming of spring we feel the inspiration of resurrection and rebirth, new life emerging, dormant buds beginning to open, baby birds hatching and warm breezes sweeping the gloom of winter away…
I start with this observation for a very personal reason* - our inner lives, like the seasons of nature, are also cyclic – we’ve all experienced a winter dormancy where there is no inspiration and just a plodding along in the darkness, then suddenly, the promise of new life in spring, new ideas seem to hatch out of nowhere upon fresh breezes of inspiration; summer induces activity, the fruition and externalisation of those ideas; our inner autumn is a time when we prune back our frenzy of activities, take stock, mull things over, preserve and absorb what is useful, and consolidate.
*I have never felt this connection to inner seasons more clearly than now. Having spent two full years in a personal wintery hibernation, completely withdrawn from the world, I sense this season has naturally begun to wither away…and at last it feels like spring is approaching.
Friday evening practice
A mixture of surprise, relief and optimism…there’s a glimmer of improvement in my body’s mobility, suggesting that the damage to my lumbar may not be completely irrepairable. The ‘stuckness’ might be shifting.
Only in the past month or so have I noticed a slight improvement in some of the poses, perhaps due to the core exercises done over the past 6 months, or my self-designed exercises that have specifically targeted the damaged and dead areas.
Practice started at 6.30pm. I arrived home from a busy day at work, frozen and wet from the wintry weather.
A hot shower, a heater, a yoga mat and a Light on Yoga sequence: week 19-22.
I did every single pose in this sequence, a rhythmic ujjiya breath threading each pose to the next, a minimum of 5 breaths in each pose with a longer stay in the more challenging ones. The whole practice took me just over an hour, a lot less than I’d expected but there was no stopping or futzing around; it was a very focussed, engaged and continuous flow so I moved quite steadily and thoroughly through the sequence.
Here’s how it went:
20 breaths in Headstand, then 5 breaths for each variation (parsva and eka pada) so a total of 40 breaths (I didn’t time it tonight).
10 breaths in Shoulderstand and 5 breaths for the multitude of variations.
Niralamba Sarvangasana was delightfully strong and straight.
Urdhva Prasaritta Padasana – 5 breaths at each holding point – about 70, 45 and 30 degrees with enormous focus on locking Uddiyana and Mula bandhas while pressing my lumbar curve into the floor.
Chakrasana – as this was the first time I’d attempted this pose in over a year, I paused halfway in Halasana for a few breaths before rolling slowly over like an unravelling spiral
Paripoorna and Ardha Navasana
Utkatasana – I adore this pose but the insertion of it here makes no sense to me, neither in theory nor in the practice. To go from abdominal floor work up to standing in Utkatasana and then back down to the floor for backbends is quite odd. I’d love to know what Mr Iyengar’s reasoning was for inserting Utkatasana at this point. In an attempt to connect Navasana to Utkatasana I did a vinyasa up to standing, then spent 7 breaths working in Utkatasana, then a vinyasa to Upward Dog and Downward Dog and a little jump to Ustrasana (just can’t take the Ashtangi out of me)
Ustrasana then Virasana – a welcome insertion although it was the upright version. I really wanted to lean back into Supta Virasana to prepare my groins for the following backbends but resisted the urge to deviate from Mr Iyengar’s sequence. I was quite determined to go by the book tonight.
Salabhasana, the gorgeous Dhanurasana, Chaturanga Dandasana (which I actually held for 5 breaths) Bhujangasana, Upward Dog and Downward Dog, then a little jump through to the seated poses.
Maha Mudra – great for reconnecting and engaging the bandhas, Janu Sirsasana, Triang, Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana
Marichyasana 1 and 2 - both of these were difficult on the first side though I did manage to bind. Much less lumbar and hip restriction on the second side so binding was easy and forward bending was a delicious reward. I was regularly doing all 4 Marichys at my peak a few years ago (including Marichyasana D), then I lost all of them, so it’s gratifying to be inching my way back into them. Each of the four Marichys require increasing curvature in the L4/L5/S1 joints, the exact points of my injury.
Ubyaha Padangusthasana, Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana and Paschimottanasana.
These three poses were interesting because they highlighted my crookedly aligned body. My left leg is almost an inch shorter than my right leg which tilts my pelvis, which in turn has caused abnormal wear and tear on the joints of the sacrum, ilium and lumbar spine – hence the lumbar and hip problems I now deal with.
Imagine Dog Pose – when my feet are correctly aligned, the left side of my pelvis drops because of the shorter leg. So many yoga teachers have mistakenly tried to correct my Dog Pose by lifting my left hip up when really I should have adjusted the distance of my feet, stepping the right foot slightly further back than the left! (why did it take a severe injury to realise this – it seems so logical now???).
Same story in Uttanasana – Now I know to raise my left heel in this pose which is admittedly unconventional but this kind of adjustment will prevent further deterioration of my lumbar and facet joints.
So while working in these three symmetrical poses with extended legs, I look at my two feet and slide the right inner ankle bone down to sit just below the left inner ankle bone, my right foot extending an inch beyond my left foot. My pelvis and spine sigh with relief.
Purvottanasana – after all the forward bending, moving into this backbend was a slow process, but patience paid off. My arm strength allowed me to hold the pose for 10 breaths, enough time to gradually stretch it open and up into full blossom.
Bharadvajasana 1 and 2 – The half lotus leg in Bharadvajasana stabilises the base of this pose which gives me more solid ground to work the twist, and although I try my best to establish a solid sense of grounding in #1, this version has always resembled the leaning tower of Pisa.
Malasana and Baddha Konasana.
An indulgent 20 minute Savasana with the dog nestled between my legs.
And I skipped the final Ujjiya Pranayama because I’d used this style of breathing throughout my 1 hour of asana. I'm not sure Mr Iyengar would approve of that, but I suspect that's how he was originally taught by Krishnamacharya.
This is a nice evening practice so I may stick with it for a week or two before moving on to the next one in the series (week 22-25)
I can sense my body beginning to unfold again, responding to the faint whisper of spring, and at long last, perhaps even healing.
Thank you to Jenny and Ariana for rekindling my interest in these sequences in Light On Yoga.
Image: taken just outside of Wirrabara Forest last weekend. A moment later, the rainbow had disappeared.