In last issue, we looked at ?Overcoming Obstacles? in the pursuit of attaining and maintaining a home practice. In this, the final in our series of three articles on the subject of creating a home practice, let us focus on sustainability and flexibility in the way in which we approach our practice.
As we go on in life, things change. Sometimes the changes which may at first appear to be counter productive to where we feel our life should be leading, in-fact turn out to be the changes that have most profoundly affected the direction of our lives for the better. So it is in our yoga practice. Sometimes we may feel we have been ‘set-back’ in our practice, either by injury or illness, or by circumstances which have made the maintenance of our practice more difficult. If we can develop an attitude of humility, acceptance and openness to these things, and find a way to work with them rather than fight against them, it may be that our yoga practice becomes the means by which we discover what the universe is trying to tell us!
I have a delicate and temperamental lower back myself. I am very cautious with it, and rarely try the extreme backbends and legs-behind-the-head poses that I used to in the past (which, guess what, always seemed to lead to an injury!) Even so, and no matter how much strength work I do, sometimes it gets injured doing just the normal things. I have come to take this as a sign to slow down, take on less work, and modify my practice so that the focus (in my practice, and in my life) is on re-consolidating, recuperating, and stabilising. Over the years, it has been in these periods of vulnerability that I have learned most about myself, and ultimately about how to work in a way that is sustainable in a yoga practice (and in life!). In the past I would become frustrated if I had to hold back from doing the strong poses that I was working on my back injuries were just in the way! Now my focus in my practice has become not in achieving these extreme poses, but in maintaining a strong and injury free back, at all costs! This shift in perception in the way that I approach my practice has a profound corresponding effect on the way in which I do my life. In the end, a yoga practice should support and enhance your life?not become the reason for living! In other words, one should do yoga to live, not live to do yoga!
I hope therefore that my current style of Asana practice is one which is sustainable for the rest of my life; but increasingly I see my Asana practice as a means to an end. As we progress in our practice, we will ultimately move through the limbs of yoga, so that the practice of yoga Asana also incorporates the limb of Pratyahara the ability to become a witness to oneself. As self awareness deepens, practice time becomes not a time where we bend the body into different shapes, and work toward the attainment of new, more advanced postures, but a time when we observe ourselves, breath by breath, on ever subtler layers. At first we gain a heightened awareness of the physical body in the postures (the differences, for example, of how the a-symmetrical poses feel on the left and on the right side), and gradually we move our awareness in deeper to the breath, to the energy body, to the state of mind. This progression from gross awareness to ever more subtle can only take place if we ‘soften’ our perception, if we are straining in a pose just to be there, it is unlikely that we will be able to feel anything other than strain and pain! If we take a step back and find a more sustainable version of the pose for us, we discover so much more.
The time that we spend in stillness (in Savasana, in meditation, and in recuperative postures) gradually becomes just as, and eventually more important than the time we devote to going through the Asanas. Relaxation becomes as valuable as being active; being becomes as important as doing. Ultimately, a practice should create change?and that change is not necessarily linear. Expect the unexpected..and like water, flow around the bumps!