I have been a seeker and I still am, but I stopped asking the books and the stars. I started listening to the teaching of my Soul.
While traveling in Spain this Spring, I had a powerful experience with my practice. I'm calling it my REAL yoga practice because it was so honest, honoring and steeped in deep listening.
Does that make my other practices not "real"? inauthentic? or superficial?
Absolutely not, however, I find it so easy to slip into the performance of poses and impose goals on my practice. I get trapped in wanting a “good” practice and my mind frequently runs in the hamster-wheel of “doing something” ( like a type of pose or practice... you can insert your favorite attachment here - ex. exciting, invigorating, challenging, backbends, inversions).
During travel, my practice gets stripped down to what's essential and truly healing in the moment. It becomes a way to care for my body, manage my mind, and open my heart so I can savor my experiences. These practices are short, basic, and yet profoundly satisfying.
I was so enamored with my practice during travel that I kept a journal to share with you:
Pre-travel - practice focuses on inversions because it makes a big difference with my immune system.
Day 1: fresh off a 12 hour overnight plane. Start to get a migraine. Do gentle stretches, legs-up-the-wall for swelling, breathing for headache.
Day 2: headache is debilitating. And the pressure/pain means I can’t hang my head. The fascia of my low back and legs is crazy tight. Do some hip, IT and openers uwing the wall to stay upright for my head. Therapeutic postures and breathing to release jaw, neck, and shoulder tension accumulated by headache.
Day 3: long train ride today. slight sciatica “electricity” from prolonged sitting. Do forward bends, hip openings and deep core work to alleviate sciatica. Pranayama and Uddiyana bandha to aid digestive system.
Day 4: backbends to balance all the sitting! This is the cure for the sciatica. Poses include locust, tiger pose, high lunge, quad stretches, bhekasana, dhanurasana, parighasana, ustrasana, bridge. No forward bends. Not even Uttanasana. You might note the absence of Urdhva Dhanurasana. When my back is questionable or my sciatic nerve is aggravated, I don’t go there because many other poses give me greater benefit with less risk.
Day 5: lots of waking yesterday AND we went out dancing. I did legs up the wall when we got home (late night... okay, it was really early morning), when I woke up (it was around noon), middle of the day, and again before bed. This took care of my feet/legs. I also did an evening backbend and inversion practice because we have a 3 hour bus ride to Granada tomorrow. At home, inversions would mean handstand and pincha mayurasana but I just don’t have the energy for those right now. Instead I do headstand with leg variations and half shoulderstand.
Day 6: a bus ride is looming on the horizon, so I stick with the backbend practices - tiger, locust, dancer, bridge, etc - to keep the sciatica away.
Day 7: bus ride to Granada, lots of walking. I do hip openers, malasana (squat) variations and backbends.
Day 8: walking all day at the Alhambra and beautiful Turkish baths at night. Legs up the wall in the middle of the day. Hamstring stretches and low lunges at night.
Day 9: another bus ride to Cordoba. The travel and adventure is catching up with me. After seeing all that we can (because we only have a day here) I do legs up the wall and literally fall asleep in the pose. I guess that's all I've got.
Day 10: a loooooong travel day. Got up at 6am to catch a train, then a subway extravaganza to the airport, another 12 hours on a plane. I do hip openers before getting on the plane. I had grand plans to do some rolling when we got home but I laid down for a moment and ended up sleeping through the night! Sometimes, rest in a the best medicine.
Post travel: First day home, I resume my meditation practice, I could really see how a week without sitting affected my mind. It felt unruly and unkept, like a garden that has been left intended and weeds have gained a foot hold.
My body is a mess. My left shoulder is super achy because of carrying bags and leaning to that side on the plane. Right elbow is inflamed because that was the arm where I carried my bag all trip. Low back, hips, hamstrings and calves are super tight. First order of practice is rolling, rolling rolling - for like 40 minutes. Then another 40-minutes of asana. I can't even do Down Dog with my shoulder, however, I'm able to do dolphin, sphinx, spider cobra and that starts to alleviate the tightness.
Follow your nature. The practice is really about uncovering your own pose; we have great respect for our teachers, but unless we can uncover our own pose in the moment, it’s not practice — it’s mimicry.
– Judith Hanson Lasater
As you can see, there is nothing glamorous in these practices. Most were only 20-30 minutes. However, the practice was an invaluable asset. As a practitioner, this is when I fall in love with my practice all over again. Since coming home, I'm striving to keep this deep listening alive and not just on the mat, by also in my choices of activities, food, and speech. It's challenging and rich.
As a teacher, I find these practical tools of yoga difficult to incorporate in public classes. How do you train a student to listen to their own body when there is a need to direct a group? Do students become a little handicapped by always having a conductor for their practice? How do you develop an understanding of the postures - the how/when/what/why - during a 70-minute flow?
So I'll be honest with you... in modern yoga with big public classes, these skills are developed in workshops, trainings, and private sessions.
However, once you've gained an understanding of the mechanics, the "grammar" of practice. You can do the creative work. You can make discoveries in the playground of your own body. You can find your poetry of movement.
When you practice on your own, you may feel like you're floundering, or lost, or unmotivated. I promise you, you're just starting to find yourself. With self-practice, classes and precious time with your teachers will become more meaningful; and you'll have a tool to listen, care, and support yourself wherever life takes you.
"Exercises are like prose, whereas yoga is the poetry of movements. Once you understand the grammar of yoga; you can write your poetry of movements."
- Amit Ray, Yoga and Vipassana: An Integrated Life Style