A New Practice

I have a new yoga practice. (I'd end that sentence with an exclamation point, but I'm trying to wean myself away from CAPITALIZATION and excessive punctuation that expresses joy. ) This is one of my favorite parts of the training that I'm doing in yoga therapy.

Here's how it works: I sit down with my teacher. We talk about how things are going, how I'm feeling, what is working in my current practice and what is not. This is my third go-around, and each time my practice - meaning whatever I try to do each day that constitutes yoga - changes substantially.

My first practice was about 1 hour long and based mainly in asanas, or physical poses. I fell out of the habit because I couldn't get myself to work that long a session into my morning routine. A good practice, but not done with enough regularity to effect the central benefits of yoga: decrease agitation and suffering, increase calm and happiness. My teacher has many definitions of yoga, but this is one of my favorites (see, I have lots of favorites): yoga is about relationships and awareness.

My second practice addressed my slacker ways (I was skipping things entirely because I told myself that I could not do the whole thing, or I would start, but instead of decreasing my worrying, I would be thinking: how much more? what time is it? oh, I didn't do that pose long enough because I'm rushing). My teacher split the work into two parts, so that I could fit in a short, 20-minute maximum practice in the morning before the day got away from me and a very brief, relaxing practice with a gentle inversion at the end of the day. This was genius and it worked very well. I could note a significant difference in how I felt on the days that I committed to the discipline of getting up a bit earlier, and the days that I neglected it and slept in. The short session at the end of the day was a healthy antidote to all of the movement and rush and interruptions that are a typical day in retail. Just lying down for a few minutes, doing some very gentle poses, and then propping my legs against the wall were a good psychological and physiological respite.

My new practice addresses my wish for some yoga to do while I finish recovering from an operation. I've been feeling unmoored. Yoga has a big bag of tricks (the so-called astanga, or 8 limbs of yoga, which includes the most familiar aspect to Americans - the physical poses - all the way to meditation and having the right attitudes toward others), but none that I tried on my own was effective. I've tried meditating, but the mind keeps chattering. I've tried doing breath work, but it's amazing how many unfelt muscles you can use just to do a good, long inhale and exhale. (Abdominal muscles are the great, unrecognized workers of the body. Baking cookies is as good a workout as crunches, if you have a stubborn oven door like mine. Who knew you used obliques to pull the door open to check the shortbread?) I've done some chanting with my Yoga Sutras cds, and that was the most enjoyable. And I'd been trying some visualization, which is a fancy work for imagining, in your mind's eye, something that you like or whose qualities you are looking to increase in yourself, as you meditate. Not so successful, either.

I nattered on about this to my teacher. Then, I rambled on about loving the ocean and the beach. Any special beach? No, I said, just any body of water, though ocean is more relaxing than creek or stream. Then I talked about what I'd been trying to do since coming home from the hospital, and my Sutra cd, and the chanting I've been doing over the phone with my teacher in California, and how she compliments me and sometimes I feel like a star at chanting, and that I'd just discovered that, at the end of the Sutra CD, Sonia Nelson chants straight through the whole book instead of breaking each sutra down, and she goes fast, and that I'd tried to keep up and made it to Sutra I.30 or so. The process is like stream-of-consciousness in that I tend to leap-frog from topic to topic, then think of something else that I want to say, and suddenly I'll realize that I've been gabbing solidly for several minutes while my teacher takes it all in.

He then sat for a few minutes, grabbed a book out of his knapsack, and taught me a chant. It's a chant about water. And I do some visualization, but nothing too New Agey. And I do some more chanting, especially if my mind starts to chase around the metaphorical hamster-wheel that is my brain. Then a tiny bit more chanting. Perfect. Turns out that I am musical and can nail the pitch, so there, my fourth-grade music teacher. Magic. Now I just have to work the abhyasa (practice) and vairagyam (detachment from the otucome) part of the program. Those are the toughest parts, way harder than opening the oven door.