|August Flowers by Nina Zolotow|
Now many different disciplines, schools of thought and medical approaches call “your conscious mind” by different names. But I call it that pesky unrelenting little voice in my head that is constantly directing me nonstop. I have noticed though that my pesky little voice has changed from my teens now into my 50’s because of its attention to unending details. What dictated my days then is very different from now. But let me reassure you that my own personal aging process has changed its focus but not its insistence.
Now both Nina and Baxter have very eloquently talked in past posts about meditation, stress reduction, and anxiety management. What I am talking about is different. It is the need or compulsion to be in motion from the time that I wake up till the time I go to bed. I am not the type of person that can “do nothing.” My husband is very good at this activity and often can’t understand why I can’t “just sit down and rest.” This inability to stop motion gets translated too often into my daily asana practice. It is not a frenetic obsession with activity but the time-honored adage: “you don’t rest until all your work is done.” This mind set is very pre-industrial agrarian age when farm work was never done because there always was something more.
But in our computer age with so many technological tools to assist us the busy work really doesn’t stop unless you make yourself stop. It is the same with housework or caring for your family. There never is an end to the work that must be done unless it is your mindset that sets the limit.
So how does one set time aside for a daily practice and then decide what your practice should consist of? It is like do you eat dessert first or dinner? Complicate that with one’s own personality type, the type of yoga that you practice, and your time limitations. If you only have five minutes should you do a quick, one-time abbreviated sun salutation or should it be a Viparita Karani (Legs Up the Wall Pose?) Active vs. Passive. What to pick?
Now here is where the self-introspection comes in and the ability to look critically but without judgment at yourself. What do you feel like doing? Now that is also a very revolutionary question. Our days are filled with doing stuff that we really may not want to do but have to for many various reasons. But when we roll out our mat and give ourselves the gift to make this decision it is very powerful.
There are so many “shoulds” now associated with yoga. Do we do yoga for an external goal? Or is it internally driven? How do we learn to know what we need or what we want? I have learned through my many years of practice that sometimes the decision isn’t obvious and you have to search a little to find the solution.
When I start my practice, I will usually lie on my mat on my back with my knees bent and eyes closed for several breaths as I just check into how I feel that day. I tend to do my practice in the morning (after a 35-minute aerobic treadmill walk and shower), so that is my stiffer time of day even after my own warm up. I might have a vague thought that “oh it is forward bends this week” but that isn’t what I focus on.
I try to listen to how my hips are feeling, or my low back or shoulders, and so on. It always starts on the physical plane. As I start my warm ups (I tend to do a 30-minute practice), I generally try to target those areas in my own body that may be chronically stiff. After my warm up I always do some standing poses. Standing poses can be made challenging by either moving through them quickly or more methodically when one is paying attention to the orchestration of movement. Observing one’s body unfold into and out of an asana is not only mentally engaging but it is a period of immense gratitude.
Then I move onto the main focus of the practice. Is it to be a pose that I love to do, or is it a pose that I struggle to attempt? How hard do I want to work? Is it okay to not want to work? Those are questions that always arise for me in my daily practice. Sometimes if I am sick or getting sick or recovering from some type of cold or flu, it is plainly obvious that a restorative practice is what I need because I literally don’t have the energy or stamina to be vigorous. But it is the other times that are frankly more challenging. I don’t want my yoga practice to fall into the “shoulds” because then I lose the nurturance of the practice.
When I go to a yoga class and the teacher directs my practice it is very different from when I am at home directing my own practice. I don’t have the external guidance of the teacher, but instead I have my own monkey mind that guides me and I have to learn how to acknowledge it but also be a bit firm with. Through the usage of breathing (simple pranayama), I have learned to create my own stress reduction response and I have learned to do it in under five minutes!
The gift of yoga isn’t the complicated poses that I can never accomplish but the ability to work within my own body with the time that I have available. In my practice I try to combine both active and passive asana depending on the day, the room temperature and my own energy level. It is never repetitive and it is always amazing the simple things that you perceive when you give yourself the opportunity to do so.