We’re working our way through the list of obstacles to a home yoga practice. The second reason listed is “I’m afraid I’ll hurt myself.” As far as this one goes, I’ve hurt myself on a few occasions in public classes because of an old bad habit of wanting to please the teacher, or when I’ve been caught up in the magnetic energy of a class, or by just blipping out momentarily. I try take this kind of hurting myself as an invitation to explore how I am relating to my pain, and as a reminder to stay present. Plus, there’s always the chance you slip on a banana peel, trip on the sidewalk, fall off your bike… all things considered, yoga at home seems pretty benign.
Then again, one of my yogi friends relates his introduction to yoga as something like this: “I read about pranayama [in one of Iyengar’s books]. My girlfriend was out of town so I spent about three hours practicing as described in the book. After that, I couldn’t sleep for a week. I was so productive at work everyone thought I was on something.” Then he crashed and burned; but the experience was so intense that he continued his exploration of yoga and is now a very popular yoga teacher. So: home yogis be warned.
Whether or not hurting yourself is on your list of reasons for not practicing yoga at home, it does brings up two psychological walls we eventually hit on any physical, spiritual, or emotional journey: fear and pain. When practicing at home, the fact that we set our own pace allows us to get to know these uninvited visitors as they arrive. A home practice, especially a slow-paced one such as the one described here will often give rise to a world of sensations, unexamined emotions, and undigested experiences that are just waiting for the opportunity to be released. If and when this happens, go willingly. Breath by breath, let your mantra be: “Breathe. Relax. Feel. Watch. Allow.” (This is a technique called “riding the wave” by Stephen Cope and I especially love it for the kind of practice described here.)
The following asanas once again work through the six movements of the spine (flexion, extension, left/right lateral stretching, and left/right twisting) as suggested in part one. Hold each asana for three to five minutes. The Yin Yoga tradition of holding postures for extended periods of time targets the connective tissue rather than the musculature of the body. By focusing on releasing any holding patterns that come to your awareness and moving slowly in and out of the postures, you stand a good chance of protecting yourself from injury. These postures are meant to be held with as little muscular engagement as necessary and can feel quite intense by the time the ‘bell rings’. Use this home practice as a way to mindfully play your edge, explore your own relationship to pain, and to set and stay within the boundaries of safety.
Finally, the practice:
- Child’s Pose (3 minutes)
- Thread the needle (left/right – 3 minutes each side)
- Dragonfly (left/right – 2 to 3 minutes each side)
- Saddle or Seal (5 minutes)
- Reclining Spinal Twist (left/right – 3 minutes each side)
- Savasana (at least 3 minutes – hopefully 10)
Child’s pose is a sweet-tempered front extension. Child pose places the lumbar spine in gentle traction, and allows us to unwind from outside, in. You might notice over time that “arriving” in any posture happens in layers. Allow for the continual release and surrender that is readily available through this simple asana.
For this and all postures on the list: take some time to set yourself up in such a way that you feel comfortable and supported: whether this means using extra padding, or pillows… be creative.
Thread the needle to target the thoracic region of the spine – move into this from table. Just three words: yummy yummy yummy.
Dragonfly is the yin name for upavistha konasana. Take the twisted variation here to open the side body.
Sit on a stack of blankets if you have trouble hinging forward with the legs wide. The difference between upavistha konasana and yin’s dragonfly: in yin there is no muscular engagement in the legs. A variation I like to play with here is to systematically engage and release different muscles beginning in the legs and working my way up to the shoulders. Doing this allows me to explore the way muscular action changes the pose.
Try saddle (yang yoga correlates to supta virasana). This pose enhances the lumbar curve – the one often lost in our forward leaning, computer screen staring culture. You don’t have to drop all the way back and can prop yourself up on the elbows as a modified option.
If neither of those options is working for you, seal is another good front extension option. Seal is yin’s version of bhujangasana, cobra pose, and is easier on the knees (and easier to come out of) than seal pose… though not as relaxing as saddle in that it does require more muscular effort.
Take an easy reclining spinal twist as a gentle counterpose to the more intense saddle or seal pose. Twisting decompresses the spine and prepares us for savasana.
Finish with savasana to allow your body to integrate the experiences of your home yoga practice….
Namaste … and I promise: next time- WE GET OFF THE FLOOR and into some standing postures!