I have been on several yoga retreats in France with Christian Pisano, a teacher with whom I have been studying with for many years. He is French and based down in Nice so I don't get to practice with him very often but whenever I do I feel blessed! He is an advanced Iyengar teacher who has only ever studied with Mr. Iyengar himself. I first came across him about fifteen years ago, when he came to teach a workshop in London, in a packed hall of yogis who had come along intrigued by this man who had a reputation for keeping his students in poses for an inordinate length of time!
Some of the rumours were true. We did do Adho Mukha Svanasana (Dog Pose) for at least five minutes, and we stayed up in head balance for twice as long as I was used to, but this was no endurance test. Yes, our bodies were stretched but I also felt that my mind was expanding. Christian was introducing me to the real essence of yoga. That of simply staying or being in the pose. Cultivating that sense of effortless effort.
Those of you who have attended my classes have doubtless heard me talk about this before. We have all experienced that busy chatter in our minds when we are doing an asana in class, especially if it is challenging. You know the kind of thing – “when will the teacher say ‘come out of the pose’?”, “what time will I get home” or “I hate this one”. All of this chatter is like a screen that prevents us from just being in the pose. When we allow ourselves to simply stay in the pose and that chatter ceases, if only for a moment, we can then get a glimpse of that calm, easy, empty space.
In a sense, yoga postures are like cities. You can visit a city briefly and get a certain sense of what it is like, but to really know a city you have to stay there for longer. Then it really comes alive. And so it is with yoga; by simply staying in the pose things start to happen. If I could pass on one thing that I have learned from Christian it would be about finding a way of being in the pose with less effort.
My pose for this month is Supta Badha Konasana (Reclining Cobblers Pose). I have chosen it because it is accessible to most of us, it can be done with limited or no props and because we can be in it for a while.
In Iyengar classes you may have practiced this pose laying back over a bolster with a blanket under your head and neck and a belt around your feet. At home you can just lay down on a clean rug or blanket. Have your arms beside you and roll your palms to face the ceiling as though you are in Savasana (Corpse Pose). Bend the legs and draw the heels toward your hips. Bring the soles of your feet together and then let the knees roll out to the sides. You can reach under the legs and draw the ankles closer in toward the perineum to make the pose more compact if that’s available to you and then release the arms beside you again.
Breathe in the pose and just stay, observing your breath for several minutes – just letting the yoga unfold. Thoughts will arise, the mind will wander but just acknowledge any stuff that comes up without hooking on to it and bring yourself back to the breath. You are planting the seeds from which your yoga can blossom.