I was reading through an article in a yoga magazine today, and it sparked some ‘ah-ha’s’ on some yoga issues I have been wrestling with. And in my practice today, not only did I rediscover the way my hips should be aligned, but I reconnected with a sense of body strength and balance that I though I had lost.
As a bit of background, I used to do yoga very regularly – 2 classes a day, sometimes more (though I was never able to overcome my body’s late-night, late-morning programming to make it to very early classes!). I was very fit, very flexible, and extremely dedicated. I would work on asanas at home, and many of my friends were equally dedicated. Then, I gradually moved away from both those friends, and that yoga-centered lifestyle.
When I took up yoga again, it was very much as a beginner. I had lost that core strength I once had, my flexibility had gone AWOL (absent-without-leave, to coin a military term!), and I could not do many of the poses I once did rather effortlessly. And yet, I still remembered that I could do them! It has been intensely frustrating, to say the least. I found myself really trying to do the ‘finished’ pose, even though I realize now that the plane that my body was in, was way out of alignment.
But the turning point for me began, in a way, by abandoning any set sequence that I had learned. I used to be heavily into ashtanga yoga, and that has a very strict sequence of poses. You start with a ‘warm-up’ pose, like suryanamaskara (the Sun Salutation), and then move into the standing poses such as padangusthasana (Foot to Fingers Forward Bend), pada hastasana (another standing forward bend), trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose), and others.
My problem centered around the fact that between ‘then’ (when I was flexible), and ‘now’, I had broken my ankle in 3 places, had surgery on it, and managed to twist my hip when I broke the ankle. Despite it being 3 years since recovering from that injury, parts of my foot were just not very strong, and I had difficulty balancing as a result. As well as being stiff, those parts of my body just felt almost numb. Not the kind of numb where there is nerve damage. But the kind of numb that is a result of energy (and blood), not flowing freely. If you’ve ever ‘rediscovered’ parts of your body by doing any type of exercise that involved consciously connecting with the parts of your body being used, you’ll know what I mean.
That sense of reconnection is very powerful. And given the way we often go about things, somewhat distracted, perhaps worrying or simply thinking all the time – about the past, the future, the groceries… it doesn’t take an injury to actually feel disconnected from your body. Because yoga is about using consciousness and breath within movement, it is a beautiful way to literally ‘rediscover’ yourself.
I found though, that to start to move back into that strength that I knew I once had, I had to start where I was. This meant choosing certain poses to start to build some strength and flexibility, that were not in a sequence set in stone. I had an advantage in that I had done yoga a lot, and so had a range of experience to draw on. But for anyone just starting out, finding a good beginners class, with an understanding teacher, is a great place to begin. From there, perhaps talk to the teacher, who may be able to advise on what to concentrate. Or book in some private lessons to get a personalized program you can work on at home.
Working on yoga at home is important, even if you only do it for 15 minutes or half an hour a day. Because I felt exhausted, I left the standing poses alone. I made sure to warm up, using some generalized Oki yoga poses I knew, and then concentrated on opening my hips and building some abdominal and core strength. And I did it all lying on my futon bed! That way I couldn’t put off doing something by thinking ‘later, when I get up!’.
One thing that I found was critical in making reasonable progress, was what I think of as doing yoga from the inside out. You’ll know if you’ve done yoga for a while, that once you ‘get’ a pose, there is a real effortlessness. It’s like there is this conduit of energy that just lifts you up, elongates you, no matter how awkward it may seem from the outside. And yet, the way we often approach yoga, when we’re not ‘there’ is like going to the gym. Or like I mentioned before – we try and assume the ‘perfect’ pose. But because we haven’t ‘unlocked’ out stiff bodies, or become strong yet (or both), we just miss it completely.
Once I had stopped trying to fit my body into an ideal of an asana I held in my mind, and did the best I could without sacrificing any alignment, even if my legs were way in the air when they should be flat on the floor, or my hands were on my thigh instead of on my ankle, things started to flow. But the real key, was where I placed my awareness. I noticed where it was tight, just picked the ‘biggest’ tightness, and sat my consciousness smack bang in the middle. Then I very gently breathed out, through that tightness, and felt the sense of radiating energy arcing through it, from the inside out. Instead of pushing my limbs, I pushed my consciousness. Sometimes I didn’t move at all, just held that pose. Sometimes I felt this wonderful release, that heralded a new layer to explore. But these ah-ha moments, these explorations, this reconnection, has allowed a very rapid healing of long standing areas of misalignment in my body.
And the wonderful thing about ah-ha moments, is how they often generate more, until a new approach to one’s own practice becomes blazingly clear.