Sunday, November 11, 2012

Home Practice - Finding your Intention

I used to practice Ashtanga yoga religiously.  I would practice daily and if I couldn't get in a full hour, my whole morning and sometimes whole day felt ruined.  My back hurt after a long night's sleep. I wanted to stretch. I wanted to concentrate on my breathing.  I wanted to clear my head.  I wanted to be alone. During the middle of my Ashtanga obsession, I moved to the south of France for 10 months.  I walked out of my kitchen onto a red clay slab patio.  I practiced, without a mat, daily.  I would get ornery if we had to leave early and I would miss my morning routine.  It meant everything to me.

Near the end of my trip I had a falling accident that traumatized my back.

When I came back to the U.S. I immediately started attending classes at my old studio.  Then one day, I thought my back was healed enough - and from the downward dog posture (adho mukha svanasana) I wanted to try to "jump to the top of my mat" like I used to do in the asana series.  When my hips were in mid-air, something "tweaked" in my back - then I fell to the floor.  It wasn't so much as a crash - I happened to fall quite gracefully actually.  The instructor came over to me, noticing my pained but shocked face while lying on my back, and whispered, "Are you okay?" "Yes," I said, "But I just want to lie here."  "What do you want me to do?" "Ice would be good, but if not, I just want to lie here...please don't disrupt the class." After she slowly backed up to the doorway, still cueing the rest of the students, she looked in lobby for an emergency kit of some sort and came back, still cueing the advanced yogis all around me. She knelt by me again. "I don't have any ice. What do you want me to do?"  "Please continue teaching.  I don't want to move."

At the end of the class, an ambulance was called and I was brought to the local hospital on a stretcher.  Every movement hurt.  They took x-rays but never really figured out what had happened.  Chiropractic didn't work either.  This reconfirmed my opinion that general practitioners don't always look at "the whole picture."

I stopped doing yoga for a while and, as I felt better, would intermittently find classes to satisfy my craving for feeling tip-top.  But again, another injury ensued...this time in my shoulder.  Physical therapist after general practitioner after ultra-sound specialist; more physical therapy and pain relievers, I was getting so tired of searching for answers.

Alignment-based yoga found me.

Two years later, I can't believe the poses I am able to do as a result of practicing correct alignment.  I can't believe how this practice actually reverses injuries - injuries that developed from years of doing postures incorrectly. 
So for two years I have been attending every alignment-based class I can find; trying to soak in everything I can, learning new cues, learning new adjustments.  But something wasn't the same.  In Ashtanga, we did the same asana series every time we went to class. Nothing changed.  Once you knew the series by heart, it would have an incredibly meditative afffect on you.  I knew exactly what to practice at home.
Now in classes I discover poses I never knew existed from different teachers all the time.  I feel my practice has grown exponentially.  But it's never a consistent practice.  Then how do I know what to practice at home?  I started trying to make up my own sequences but never knew if I was doing poses correctly and didn't know if my sequences made any sense.
Then one day in a workshop, one of my favorite teachers said somethign that hit me: "Home practice is so important.  You can be lead by teachers all day long but how do you know if what you're doing is exactly right for your body?"

I went home immediately that week, found a quiet place, and meditated on that thought.  Then I began my practice - will full attention.

Since I am going through all these trainings not only to better my understanding of the practice, but eventually to teach in the same style, how am I going to learn how to create my own sequences if I don't practice them myself?!?!
If I miss a practice or I don't do a full hour every morning now, I don't become the irritable person I used to be - my mind has grown stronger, my heart more patient, and I know that practicing just a few alighnment-based poses, instead of an hour, will do wonders of good. I meditate to clear my mind, then I set an intention for myself to follow throughout my practice, and I start having fun - safely.

I become enlightened anew every day in this practice.  :)