There are pivotal moments in one’s Yoga practice that we remember for decades. I had one of those this week. I awoke with wisdom. For months my body had been asking me subtly for kindness. For months, I ignored. My mind justified and in all of that, I denied the wisdom of this amazing body that I was gifted to walk in the world with. Like most awareness in Yoga and meditation, we become aware of the easier things first, then the strength of the container develops and the good stuff starts coming. For me, daily meditation has strengthened the witness so much that the mind no longer says, “Yeah, but…”
Every day, I work with clients in pain, clients with chronic medical conditions and weekly, I teach an Adaptive Yoga Class for clients with Spinal Cord Injury. The ways the mind begins to deny the injured parts of our body is profound. From the moment we hurt our back seriously, we begin dragging ourselves around the bed having lost all sense of grounding, we literally feel like an upper body only! There’s a disconnect, an injury to the mind/body connection. In the same way, I get a new knee and the body doesn’t even recognize it (rejection). This extreme rejection doesn’t happen to everyone, but what if we could ask the body if it would be OK to bring in something that we honestly believe will help us? What if we took the time preoperatively to walk the body through what was going to happen. These are the micro traumas.This we can do for every medical procedure that we are able to prepare for, but what about the sudden and profound life changing physical and emotional traumas, like amputation, PTSD, Traumatic Brain injury, Spinal Cord Injury and stroke? We certainly wouldn’t ask the body, “Hey Body. Would it be OK if we got in a car accident today and we lost the use of our arms and legs.” In cases of deep physical and emotional trauma, there IS no time to prepare. We even define trauma using terms such as “sudden” and “unexpected.”
So HOW do we even begin to listen to the body again? The body wants you back. The body wants you to notice and to accept the injured parts and the ignored parts as much as you welcome the parts you love. It asks-subtly at first and then not so subtly, in the form of pain and dis-ease.
The body grounds in present moment so I like to use the elements to help me get there. That’s our opening centering in practice, right? Come into the room. Come to this safe space. Feel the EARTH. Feel the temperature of the floor, the texture under you sit bones. Notice everything about the earth under you. When the mind wanders away to stories about your body that aren’t true, just come back to what is..This floor and everything about it.
Allow some gentle movements that flow in and out like water. Our kryas in Yoga are like this. This is easier for the body than holding. Maybe there is some circling around the sit bones, some easy cat/cow movements. Connect to the sensation of the WATER element of the body. The blood that moves, the lymph, your tears, the way your well hydrated brain floats on the buoyancy of water inside your skull. Allow the warmups to flow like water. Note the places of resistance in both the body as well as the mind and without judging, without story, return to the sensation of water. Return to the buoyancy of that.
I move then into longer holds in my warm ups and if I’m really hurting, these are not difficult postures, but the holds are by nature raising agni (FIRE). Maybe you’ve already identified what asana brings the most fire for you, mind and body. It’s usually the one you hate and the one you avoid, but if you really like fire and pain, you might also dive into that shape without warming the body at all (“I have 10 minutes for Yoga today so lets just dive right into pigeon.”). Did you ask the body if diving into pain would be OK? Quiet the clock. Quiet the mind and listen to what the body is asking for. We meet challenges off the mat every day so challenge on the mat is helping us with that too. If we always avoid that fire, if we always check out the minute fire shows up, just notice that too. In what ways does that show up off the mat too? In the forest fire, there are those that run in and save and there are those who flee. Playing with fire in your practice helps us see where we fall in that spectrum. Lean into the fire of your practice. There is great wisdom there.
The practice then slows, the water and flow come back in to put out the fire. In the meat of my practice I am alternating holds and flow, Fire and water. If my practice is all water, I might lull myself to sleep. If it’s all fire, I might internally combust! Balance the practice.
If you’ve ever seen a forest after the fire has moved through, there is a silence that cannot be described. These are your restorative postures, where the only awareness is breath (AIR/WIND). The forward folds remove the air from the body, the twists detoxify until we sit in that desolate forest with presence. In the ash we return to the earth.
As I move into meditation, the wisdom can now arrive. I welcome it. It is there that I see clearly. The trees are all gone. It can feel like there is nothing and yet everything at the same time. That place before savasana is vital to our practice. I am sitting in it. I haven’t gone to sleep. In chronic medical conditions and pain, I will often use a gratitude meditation practice. “I’m grateful for…” on inhalation and on soft exhalation I say inside the person or thing I am grateful for. As this moves deeper, we see the list is endless, tears may cleanse so we see everything we couldn’t see before. We are grateful for this amazing container that is our body and all the ways it speaks to us. Listen in meditation. Without any effort, in time, the body will speak. You will learn to trust that voice of truth rather than the lies of the mind. In time and without any effort something that no longer serves the health and wellness of your body will leave…because you listened and you acted from THAT place. In the forest, the first green shoot emerges after the fire and the rains, and the forest is renewed, more beautiful than ever.
“Solitude is the soil in which genius is planted, creativity grows, and legends bloom; faith in oneself is the rain that cultivates a hero to endure the storm, and bare the genesis of a new world, a new forest.”
I’m fascinated by cultures where heavy loads are carried effortlessly by the crown of the head, by a well aligned crown. Like the ancient Egyptian water carriers, these loads can be carried for miles in this manner. The typical westerner, sitting at a desk or in their car most of the day, bent over their electronics, might even think this would be a terrible practice for the neck and shoulders. I disagree.
The common postural dysfunction in our culture is not only forward head and shoulders, but habitually flexed hips! Remember my recent post on Lower Crossed Syndrome? https://wordpress.com/post/60000531/911/
If I want to find ease in opening the chest and shoulders that is sustainable and authentic, I will have to soften and open the guarding belly as well as the anterior hips. Through working with the low belly and hips, we create a balanced and stable base upon which the upper body balances beautifully.Your hamstrings will thank you as they will no longer have to fight to hold your pelvis upright.
The upper body is not independent of the lower body! There is an interdependence of the whole of you! Because of that, finding my way to Supta Virasana is a gentle process of opening that can easily take 15 minutes.
It’s the postural antithesis to how we are positioned most of the day. Without that ease, you can understand why it is one of the most avoided asanas in Yoga and why people hurt themselves attempting this without adequate time and intention. People come up with all kinds of reasons to avoid it. ” My knees don’t do that.” ” It hurts my back”. Here’s how Supta Virasana can become your best friend. Allow 15 minutes.
1. Center Yourself for 5 minutes:
2. The open back chair is your friend. As you position yourself, you are gently lifting the lower ribs onto the blanket so when the hips ease into the block you are sitting on, there is some traction instead of compression. Heels UP. Tops of feet press into the floor. 2 minutes.
3. Counter pose after each variation. This is vital to the prevention of injury. In Prasarita Padottanasana, I can position a block or 2 for my elbows to reach into. I’m spinning my thighs to the wall behind me and the feet are parallel to the short edges of my mat. Spine is long. 30 seconds
4. Progression #2: Use all props and deepen slowly. Be sure to strap the knees together. This adds boundary and safety to the shape, reducing any resistance in the body. With each deepening, if the shape doesn’t feel restorative, the variation is too deep for you at this time.
5. Counter pose again for 30sec.(same as #3)
6. Progression #3: My hips are no longer on a block. I have moved the calf flesh away from behind my knees and I have secured a block between my thighs with the strap so my inner thighs can spiral down toward the ground. The heels remain UP. This wider leg variation gives greater space at the sacroiliac joints. Stay 2 minutes with your ujayi breath, switching the hold on the elbows after 1 minute.
7. Counterpose again 30 sec. (same as #3 or deeper)
8. Twist with props: Inhale to elongate the spine first and exhale keeping that length into the twist. 30 seconds on each side.
9. Restore: 5 minutes
The effect is well worth the time spent mindfully exploring Supta Virasana. By opening the psoas, rectus femoris and the low belly in this way, we are creating a balanced pelvis. This naturally brings ease and balance not only to the upper body and neck, but this more balanced position of the pelvis creates a spacious, natural position of the femoral head in the acetabulum (hip socket) thus reducing anterior shearing caused by tightness in the iliopsoas. These backward bends are invigorating and deliver a beautiful feeling of bliss and well being when done slowly and mindfully. There really IS a comfortable and safe Supta Virasana for you, your knees and your back.