A few months ago I wrote about my struggle with asana practice. After nearly eighteen years of practicing yoga I hit a wall unlike others before. I felt that I was done, that I had done triangle pose long enough, thank you very much, and was ready to graduate and move on to other pursuits.
My mind was intrigued by this idea of letting go of the duty of asana practice. It liked the possibility of diving more into writing and agreed that yes, I had in fact done enough yoga. I rode my bike a lot and that kept me physically engaged. I could just meditate twenty minutes each day to keep from losing my mind, and that would be good.
Thankfully, I have a teacher, two in fact. I called the most available one (I’d been having conversations in my mind with the other for months). Shari listened as I spoke about not wanting to practice, having no desire whatsoever to practice triangle, or downward dog, or shoulderstand. She listened to my argument that I could just be done with asana. I rationalized that I had been doing this long enough. I was ready for something different. Been there done that.
I thought maybe she’d agree. She’d tell me to maybe lengthen my meditation, and give me some fancy technique for someone who had come so far and was ready for the next level. Or she would graduate me, relieve me of the duty altogether. Ha.
“You have to practice,” she said. “If you don’t practice, you’ll be writing for others, not for yourself. You have to practice to continue to know yourself.”
No mention of practicing because I should, or because I own a yoga studio, or because Patanjali, author of the Yoga Sutras says that practice should be engaged in seriously and respectfully over a long and uninterrupted period (Sutra I.14).
Do it to know yourself. Ah.
Here I was thinking I wanted to drop practice because I’d finally realized that I was doing it for others, for the duty, to keep my body fit, as a continuation of the exercise bulimia I’d practiced more blatently in my teens and twenties. Sure it helped me, immensely, but I had held onto regular asana practice because I was told it was good for me, and that I should. It was time to drop this motivation, but not to throw out the baby with the cloudy bathwater.
This was several months ago. I was able to recognize, through our conversation, that I was deeply tired. Shari assured me that my interest in practice would bloom again once I had replenished my reserves and wasn’t running on empty. So I focused on filling up. My practice, for a while, revolved around savasana, corpse pose, and viparita karani, legs up the wall pose, two standard restoratives, poses that give rather than require energy. I put in my ear buds and listened to Yoga Nidra recordings by Rod Stryker and Laura DeFreitas. I slowed down.
After a month I began to add in lunges, and Warrior poses, as my energy returned. I enjoyed them, miraculously, and added more. I stuck with the commitment, and allowed my practice to put down new roots, curiously reaching down into the soil for nourishment.
When Shari visited to teach at 8 Limbs in early May, I had the opportunity to soak further in her longstanding commitment to practice (since the 70s!). I got to water those roots with the threads that she wove in her classes and lectures. We strengthened our core and shined up our chakras. We brought the Yoga Sutras into real time and talked about their place in our daily lives. We all left our time with her just glowing with calm radiance.
I showed up on my mat the day after she left with a powerful interest in practice, not for duty, not for others, but for myself. I followed the pranayama and meditation techniques she recommended to me. After anuloma viloma and nadi shodona.I began prana dharana, the practice of following the breath from the nostrils to the center of the mind and out, to prepare to hold my attention within. After a few minutes I was ready to filled the center of my mind with awareness.
A voice immediately called out to me: “this is where I know myself.”
This. Here. Now. This is where I draw recognition and attention. This is where I become full. Not through my achievements, my friends, my teachers, my students, my children, my family. This, here, now, is where my truth resides, where my dharma unfolds, and my soul swims in bliss. This is where I can be empty, and full, and bear whatever life serves up.
I’ll gladly go there, here, every day.
Posted by: Anne Phyfe Palmer