When practicing yoga at home alone I descend into a quiet zone.
I move in slow motion as if in deep water.
I tune in to the undercurrent, opening my inner eyes and ears from within the quiet zone, and I listen, not for outer sounds but for inner sounds: my heartbeat, energy splashes, digestive processes, lumbar vertebrae grating, neck vertebra clicking, the low hum of my breath flowing through my sinuses or my throat…
And I listen on another level, to subtle messages and vibrations, to intuitive directions...
This inner listening that I cultivate on the yoga mat develops the finer faculty of receptivity – this is a pure form of listening - which in turn calls for finely tuned and sensitive responses.
This listening that is learned, developed and internalised on the yoga mat, seeps into everyday life. The transformation of one’s outer life is gradual and subtle.
Noticing this transferance of what I learn on the yoga mat (or the meditation cushion) from my inner to my outer life, observing it AS IT IS HAPPENING, brings me into direct contact with the metaphysical and mystical processes at work in my life.
One of the exercises I found really useful in 'Wake Up Now' by Stephan Bodian was The Practice of Listening.
I did this exercise in my tent by the sand dunes when I last went away. It was nothing special or mystical, just opening my ears and listening to all the sounds around me. What I discovered was an immediate relaxing of my mind which had previously been contracted around thoughts. I usually don't notice this mental tightness until I consciously release it (much like in the early stages of yoga when you don't realise your shoulders are lifted and tense until the teacher points it out and you immediately soften them).
Listening is pure receptivity.
The ear faculty opens out like a blossoming flower ready to receive and this somehow creates a wide open space in the mind from the inside out - the inner ears relax and sounds just enter unconditionally. No barriers.
So I've been listening more intently and openly in my outer life, pausing to take in the variety of sounds that flow through the air and into my ears. And I am listening more closely to people too, receptive to the feelings and meanings underlying their words and body language, not analysing, but sensing from a shared core of connectedness, relatedness, receptive openness.
This is how my yoga and spiritual practice seeps out into my daily life.
During yoga practice tonight I was quietly receptive, listening...
I followed the week 31-35 sequence, but as I am still menstruating, I didn't do the Headstand and Shoulderstand poses. These inversions make up almost a third of the entire practice.
I made up for the omission by soaking myself in the other poses and adding a few of my own to the sequence (the ones below in italics).
After gently stretching in Uttanasana and Dog Pose I picked up the sequence after the inversions, swapping the first two poses around by doing Supta Padangusthasana before Jatara Parivatanasana.
I didn't attempt Chakrasana tonight because my neck muscles hadn't been flexed and stretched and made pliable by the Shoulderstands, so better to be safe than sorry.
I did the two Navasanas then Ustrasana, the Virasana backbends and all the seated forward bends spending lots of quiet quality time in each of them.
I noticed Iyengar's instruction to do "all the Padmasana cycle at one stretch", which I think means doing the 5 Padmasana (Lotus) poses on one side then changing the cross of the legs and repeating them all on the other side. My attempt at Kukkutasana was lame tonight, I couldn't slide my arms through my legs - I hadn't bothered pulling up my yoga pants or sloshing water on my arms to slide them through - and the outcome matched the effort. I didn't bother trying to do Kukkutasana on the second side.
Likewise with Garbha Pindasana, no arms through the legs tonight. Instead I laid on my back, squeezed my Lotus knees in towards my body, wrapped my arms around the outside of my legs and clasped my hands, working gently but deeply to stretch open the area at the back of my thighs and hip joints. I was alert but relaxed in this intense pose, watching and listening for the internal messages, squeezing my legs in, deepening the stretch til I reached my edge. After sitting up, I noticed a lot was still going on, so I stayed seated in Padmasana for a few minutes, curious about how much I could sense happening in my physiology if I remained still and quiet. Surprisingly Supta Garbha Pindasana had stimulated and energised my heart area (not the back of my thighs), it was buzzing all over the place.
Upavista Konasana, Parivritta Upavista Konasana, Akarna Dhanurasana (got both legs straight without falling over tonight), Baddha Konasana, a modified Marichy 3 then Ardha Matsyendrasana.
After the extended intense twists of the last two poses I needed to unravel in a Dog Pose which naturally led to Plank, Chaturanga and a difficult slide up into Upward Dog Pose. Stretching open my front body I started gently with my knees on the floor and shins lifted, before lifting up into the full pose.
Salabhasana, Dhanurasana, Parsva Dhanurasana then Setu Bandha and three really good press ups into Urdhva Dhanurasana, each back-arch deeper and longer and more intense than the last.
I finished with Uttanasana, firstly the easy version: legs apart and holding elbows, then the classic pose: feet together and hands holding ankles. Then I placed my hands flat to the floor before moving into my favourite variation with the forearms behind my knees, hands holding elbows then gradually sliding the arms down the back of the shins - this draws the torso into the thighs while stretching the lower spine open.
Total practice time: 1 hour and 40 minutes before I finally laid down for Savasana.
Opening my eyes after Savasana, I checked in to observe the changes.
It felt like I'd had an intravenous shot of Truth - my eyes were fiery but focussed like laser beams, and every pore was wide open and listening - not an unusual post-yoga state when I practice alone, when I’m not afraid to explore deeply, when I stay calm inside the intensity, when I listen with the pores of my skin and the cells of my body, and when I tune in to the massive core of inner space.
I am so lucky to have learned how to practice yoga from genuine teachers who are themselves deep sea explorers, so grateful to Glenn Ceresoli, Julian Male, Darrin McNally, Simi and David Roche and to their teachers, Shandor Remete, BKS Iyengar and Pattabhi Jois.
After 2 years of self-practice and no classes, the teaching is coming from within, and the learning curve never ends.