My students often ask me if I practice yoga every day and the answer is most days, yes, but my practice can vary enormously.
Mostly I practice at home but when possible I arrive at the Iyengar Centre in Marseille an hour or two before I’m due to teach so that I can to do a self-practice there. It’s a well-equipped studio so I can use the ropes and the trestle and I don't have to move furniture around if I need a bit of wall space to practice adho mukha vrksasana (handstand)! Being in this dedicated yoga space focuses my mind. In my home environment there are often distractions and interruptions (why is it that the delivery of that book I’ve been waiting for always happens when I am upside down with my legs elaborately belted?) but here I can dive into my practice.
Even at the Yoga Centre I come up against a problem from time to time though...
Unfortunately I lack the immense will and discipline for self-study of somebody like BKS Iyengar himself! I have to admit that I can get a bit lazy and my own practice can become routine and dull. Attending workshops and, where possible, a weekly class is really valuable because here I follow the rhythm of the teacher and there is something alchemic about the energy of practising in the group. After a good class my self-practice feels ignited, it might be that we’ve done a pose with a specific adjustment and I’ll test how that adjustment feels in other poses - occasionally making a ‘discovery’ that I can then pass on to my students.
Thursday is when I usually go to class here. I teach the early evening class and then stay on for the advanced class. Last week however I found myself feeling weak, sniffly and ‘blocked-up’ and as I was bringing my class to a close it was clear that I was coming down with a cold (yes, even here in the south of France!) I had really been looking forward to staying on for Stephane’s back bending tuition but it was not to be. I just wanted to be at home...
When I got back I unrolled my mat. I could quite easily have flopped on the sofa but instead I arranged some props for supported supine poses. I wasn’t going to miss out completely on my yoga and at times like these ‘home practice’ really fits the bill. I knew from experience that some restorative poses would help alleviate my symptoms. BKS Iyengar developed the use of props to open and bring awareness to parts of the body that are dull or weak. I was congested and my chest was tight, I knew that I needed postures which would give me ‘space’ to breathe. Laying back over a bolster the affects were almost immediate. I was also extremely comfortable and was in no hurry to come out of the pose! I changed after ten or fifteen minutes to another reclining pose - the supports were like a ‘bed’ for my body to repose on but what is more they were having a profound effect on my respiration. The long stays in these postures prepared me for dog pose, adho mukha svanasana, my regular students know what a fan I am of this asana!! It is an extremely useful pose and, when one is blocked-up it can really drain the sinuses and relieve congestion. I really wanted to be able to stay in the pose a while so I did it with my head supported. Having the head in contact with something quietens the brain, stilling what Patanjali called ‘the incessant fluctuations of the mind’ - that endless chatter in our heads that keeps us from really being in the pose (you know the kind of thing - ‘shall I make a cup of tea now?, did I post that letter? so and so didn’t email me back’, blah, blah, blah . . .). When I first went into dog pose my head felt as though it was filling up but after just a short time that passed and I began to feel the benefits. My head then felt clear enough to go on to practice sirsasana and sarvangasana (head balance and shoulder balance).
I was feeling weaker than usual so I chose to practice ‘sarvangasana’ (shoulder balance) using a chair, sarvangasana can be tiring but practiced like this lt feels effortless and restorative. Coming out of the pose I felt amazing - renewed! I had practiced just a handful of postures before I laid down for savasana and that felt just right.
Any disappointment at missing my weekly ‘fix’ evaporated and I knew I’d done the right thing - not just for me but for my fellow yogis who go to the advanced class - nobody appreciates the student who comes to class leaving a trail of kleenex in their wake and leaving the rest of us reaching for the echinacea, right?
Since I was at home I could just pad through to the kitchen and make myself a warming honey, lemon and ginger post-practice beverage and then climb into bed with a book I’d been meaning to read for ages. My breathing had improved, my head felt clearer and despite my ‘cold’ my sense of well-being was restored!
It seems to me that one of the main reasons we miss our regular classes is because we are a bit under the weather or just plain exhausted and that for many practitioners, even those who don’t have a regular home practice, it would be useful to really get to know a sequence of postures that can be adapted for home use allowing them to ‘rest and restore’ the body. The great thing is that these are postures that you will really want to practice and they may even provide a kick start to practicing out of a class environment for those of you who cannot get going with self-practice.
The sequences need not be complicated but they will require a bit more effort than laying back on the sofa, remote control in hand. As BKS Iyengar said 'Relaxation doesn't mean yoga is a soft option. It's a disciplined subject - a casual attempt only gains casual results’
If you’d like to familiarise yourself with a few simple sequences that boost the immune system and to learn some techniques for deep relaxation then I’d love to see you at the workshop that I’m teaching at Yogahome on Sunday, November 15th.
P.S. It may be the ideal antidote for those of you who have attended the back bending workshop on Friday 13th - yoga is balance!!