Be soft in your practice. Think of the method as a fine silvery stream, not a raging waterfall. Follow the stream, have faith in its course. It will go its own way, meandering here, trickling there. It will find the grooves, the cracks, the crevices. Just follow it. Never let it out of your sight. It will take you. ~ Sheng-yen
We live in a frenetic, frantic, culture. When you go on vacation, how long does it take you to wind down and feel as if you are able to relax? Ahhh. A day? A few days? A week? When I worked in the corporate world, I'd just be dropping down into the low gear of relaxation mode and it would be time to rev up and go back to work... And we can bring that frantic energy to everything we do, including yoga.
Yoga means "yoking" - Hatha Yoga, from whence all the myriad styles of yoga spring, is the yoking together, or balancing, the hot energy of the sun with the cool energy of the moon. And yet you might be hard pressed to find a balanced yoga class. Hot yoga is de rigueur. And, truthufully, energetic yoga classes can feel great. They can also help to create or maintain injuries.
So how to practise safely, so that injuries are lessened or prevented? Just keep the following three steps in mind as you practise, and you'll create strength and flexibility on top of ease instead of tension.
Number one. Easy breath. This is so important, let me repeat it. Easy breath. How do you know if your breath is easy? Notice your neck muscles. Do they feel tight or tense? Relax your jaw a little and let your neck muscles loosen up. Soften your eyes. Muscles in the back of your eyes are connected to muscles in the back of your neck. Now notice if your breath is flowing all the way down into your belly, or if it feels tight or constricted to your upper chest. Take a few minutes and practise breathing with a relaxed inhale and exhale. Any time your breath feels awkward or tense, come back to a normal breath.
Ok, so you're practising your breathing and things are starting to loosen up a little. Breath flowing in, breath flowing out.
Number two. Does your movement feel safe? To move a little deeper, do you have to move past a twinge or two, or move into pain or discomfort? Practise really focusing on becoming aware of what you are feeling as you are moving. Slo-o-o-ww down the movement. Let it be soft. Strength and flexibility will come, without pain. Believe it.
Number three. Notice your breath again. Does it feel tight or tense as you move? Are you forgetting to breathe? Can you soften your breath as you hold your position, or is your body or breath feeling impossibly tight? Can you forget about everyone else in the class and just do what is right for you, for your body, in this moment? If you've taken 5 or 6 breaths and your breath feels as if it's getting tighter and your body is not releasing, it's a good time to consider easing out of the position a little. Try breathing into the place where you feel tension or tightness. Focus on allowing the tension to soften and release.
So. Easy breath, safe movement, easy breath. Try this anytime, not just in a yoga class. Enjoy. Relax. Unwind. And remember, you will get good at whatever you practise!
Donna offers a holistic perspective on the relationship and healing of physical and emotional pain.