Tuesday evening I walk home from work looking forward to the rare weekday evening with no commitments ahead of me. Tonight some time alone is critical to my mental and emotional health. Ebony (my daughter) asked me to visit her tonight...I said no for the very first time.
I am saying no to more people more often.
At 6.30pm I start my yoga practice, taking a leisurely 15 minutes to warm up - a long hang-like-a- rag-doll Uttanasana and some passive lunges ease the work day stress out of my body; Supta Padmasana prepares it for the early Lotus poses in Headstand and Shoulderstand.
Iyengar's Week 26 - 30 sequence is open by my mat. This sequence is becoming familiar and enjoyable, a reliable old friend that I can visit anytime.
My mood tonight is intense, focussed but steady; it carries over into the practice.
Sirsasana - 20 breaths in the pose then 5 breaths in each variation. I can't get into Padmasana on the first side tonight, but I know it will soon become accessible more regularly in Headstand. There's been a steady improvement in all the poses in this sequence, even though I've only done it on average about once a week for the past few months.
Padmasana in Sirsasana on the second side is ridiculously easy tonight. Noticing this new ease reminds me that with regular practice 'all is coming'.
From Urdhva Padmasana, I lower my folded legs into Pindasana increasing the grip on my core muscles (abdomen and pelvic floor) to support the weight bearing load on my lumbar. The muscles in this area feel like scar tissue, unstretchable plastic, dull, lifeless, unreachable.
All up, 10 minutes standing on my head.
Sarvangasana, 20 breaths in the pose then 5 breaths in each variation, all up 20 minutes in the Shoulderstand sequence.
I stay for 8 breaths in Urdhva Padmasana in Sarvangasana and also in Pindasana, much more willing to stay with the uncomfortable sensations in these poses - hard fibres stretching, the stimulation of root spinal nerves - willing to stay, observe, adjust.
That sums up my approach tonight - willing.
Willing to stay in the poses, willing to be fully involved in them.
Not afraid to face discomfort, in fact welcoming it as a juicy challenge.
Tonight I even make an honest, whole hearted attempt to work at Lolasana for 5 breaths on each side, a pose I usually approach with disdain or contempt!
A series of Padmasana (legs in Lotus) poses follows on from the forward bend sequence and Lolasana.
It starts with a simple seated Padmasana, then progresses to
Parvatasana (sit in Lotus with hands interlocked and arms raised straight up to vertical),
Tolasana (sit in Lotus, hands pressed to the floor then lift the Lotus legs off the ground)
Matsyasana (sit in Lotus, then lay back to the floor, arching the spine into a backbend with the sitting bones and top of the head pressed into the floor).
I do all of these poses on one side, then change the cross of my Lotus legs and do them all on the other side.
Often I will skimp on the first seated Padmasana, staying only a couple of breaths, too eager to move on. Why do a simple seated Padmasana when the next three poses all have Padmasana bases?
Tonight I fold my legs into the first seated Padmasana, place my hands palms up on my knees, thumb and middle finger forming a mudra.
Sitting quietly, chin in to throat, engaging both Jalandhara Bandha and Mula Bandha, I find myself fully content to be in this magnificent pose. I sit in Padmasana, Ujjayi breath rising and falling like waves on the shore. I sit like the God of Thunder summoning the forces of the universe, as if they are at my fingertips, waiting to be of service. Tonight I begin to discover the untapped mystical power of Padmasana.
Now fully conscious of my previous tendency to dismiss this traditional pose in favour of the successive Lotus poses, I shall not pass it over again.
The traditional secret texts mention that the practitioner who can perform Shirshasana (the head-stand) for 30 minutes and Padmasana for a similar period of time, correctly, may consider himself/herself an advanced practitioner of the Hatha-Yogic system.
Having kept both hands together in the lap, performing the Padmasana firmly, keeping the chin fixed to the chest and contemplating on Him in the mind, by drawing the apana-vayu up (performing Mula Bandha) and pushing down the air after inhaling it, joining thus the prana and apana in the navel, one gets the highest intelligence by awakening the sakti (kundalini) thus.
(N.B-- When Apana Vayu is drawn gently up and after filling the lungs with the air from outside, the prana is forced down by and by so as to join both of them in the navel, they both enter then the Kundalini and, reaching the Brahma randra (the great hole), they make the mind calm.
Then the mind can contemplate on the nature of the atmana and can enjoy the highest bliss.)
The Yogi who, sitting with Padmasana, can control breathing, there is no doubt, is free from bondage."
This asana is indicated for the awakening and development of latent physic, psychic, mental and spiritual forces.
During the practice of this asana, the practitioner obtains easily a state of profound meditation, contemplation, worship or prayer.
Its persevering practice leads to the revelation of the Supreme Self, Atman, and it makes possible a beatific state of communion/fusion with the Divine (SAMADHI).
Again in Virasana (Hero Pose) I discover my tendency to do the pose simply as a preparation for the following poses rather than honouring it as a unique experience in itself.
The light of awareness is on.
Virasana is another simple seated pose, too often dismissed by advanced yoga practitioners in favour of more challenging poses.
But the gift is in the silent simplicity and the suspension of desire.
I sit, breathing a deeply resonant Ujjayi breath, quite content to stay in Virasana for hours. Remaining still and resolute, energy flows up and down my straight spine, flushing out psychological weaknesses, empowering my will.
Thoughts about the following poses, Supta Virasana and Paryankasana do not arise to disturb the equanimity of this pose. Virasana has enchanted me with her simplicity and beauty, her purity of purpose.
Tonight I stop...and take time to smell the roses, in every one of these yoga poses.
The practice finishes at 8.30pm.
I remember a recent comment from Samantha, asking me how I felt after a two pose practice when I only did Sirsasana and Trikonasana. The question pierced into me like an arrow because I hadn't taken notice.
We should be asking ourselves that question before and after every yoga practice.
In fact as yogis, mystics, seekers, spiritual practitioners, we should be asking this question continuously, in order to observe the impact on our body and mind of everyday events, conversations, other people's energy, our commitments, our thoughts, the words we speak, the foods and drinks we consume, the weather etc...etc... and our reactions and responses to those impacts.
How am I REALLY feeling right at this moment, and why?
And what is required in this very moment to be stable, balanced, loving and connected (or whatever else we are aspiring to)?
Don't be afraid to uncover the truth.
Tonight, both during Savasana and after, I remember to observe and note how I am feeling as a result of the practice, not only physically but also on the energetic, mental and emotional levels of being. How interesting it is searching for words to describe the subtle and varied shifts of consciousness brought about by yoga practice.
Some words filter through: words like simmering, slow burn, powerful but peaceful, plugged into the power source of all life, drinking from a deep well. I search but I don't have the vocabulary to describe it tonight...and while attempting to put it into words, I realise I am outside of it, observing it, and losing it. I want to hold onto this powerful conscious presence, and drench every cell in it so the essence is absorbed.
I rise from Savasana and walk to the kitchen, passing a photo of Mark on the way. His cheeky, mischievous smile lures me into his world. We connect. I smile back. Wherever he is right now, we are there together, beyond these physical constraints of space and time.