By guest author Maddy Schafer
Are you consistently inconsistent? I am.
I’m a one DVD yogini. That is, a friend shared her yoga DVD and I got hooked. I quickly memorised the fifteen minute morning yoga series, and started doing it on the floor at work a few days a week. Happily I work in an environment where there is carpet and this is possible.
But that isn’t the beginning of my yoga story. I don’t know how many years prior it was that I decided to start stretching at work in my breaks. I always had relatively short hamstrings and wanted to lengthen them.
Sit on floor, comfortably push hands along legs to where they wish to stop. Hmmm, those sharp hamstring feelings. Respect them. Explore them, find out how malleable the boundaries are and whether there’s any give at the edges.
Breathe in, breathe out. Ooooo, it let go a bit. Breathe in and hold the stretch in the same place, instead of unfolding as my lungs fill up. Now the air has to go somewhere else and it helps me stretch. Breathe out. It lets go a bit more. One day perhaps I’ll reach my toes!
Gee… I can stretch each side individually more than both together. I flex experimentally from side to side. Realise that hamstrings are attached to buttock muscles, attached to back muscles, and all must release and let go, not just hamstrings.
Three short paragraphs… awareness and understanding unfolded over months and years as I picked away at stretching incrementally.
Later I realised that I was much more flexible after a day’s work in my garden, because everything had been thoroughly warmed and mobilised by hours working close to the ground. Sometimes I could actually stretch enough to get my head onto my knees!
Enter my friend, her DVD, and a few simple asanas which challenged me in different directions. I enjoy stepping away from my desk if I’m feeling jaded, in need of movement, or even just a bit cold. Fifteen minutes later I’m warmed, limbered and refreshed, ready to work again.
Simple asanas they may be, but the challenge remains.
There is always more to observe and more to be aware of; the sheer pleasure of stretch and release, of greater strength and flexibility and of balance.
One day I found myself able to get my heels on the floor while doing downward dog – how did that sneak up on me? Very slowly…
Then another teacher appeared, this time in the flesh. A beloved kin-twin that I only just met but have known for a long, long time. A talented yoga teacher. And a beautiful photograph of him at the Luminate Festival early this year, in the process of an advanced back bend.
One foot solidly planted in front; the other leg behind balanced on the knee, toes of the back foot held lightly with one hand. The other arm outstretched, hand moving back to join its partner. Gorgeously curved spine, chin pointing to the sky.
To one like me, unaware of what the asana is supposed to look like, the image is a gesture of abandon, of opening the heart wide to the universe. I love it, and although I know my friend wishes the photographer had waited until the shape of the asana was complete, I’m glad he didn’t.
Because I love this one very much (he is overseas now, following his own bright stars) and because I was already enjoying simple back extensions, I was inspired to explore this new shape. Carefully. Incrementally. Because I know intuitively how to do these things.
It may seem nutty or even potentially hazardous for someone like me to explore an advanced back bend, but I’m not quite as green as I sound. Before I became a writer I was a musician for 20 years, and I have an acute and clear sense of my body and where it is in space.
I am relatively strong and flexible and I know my limits. I observe and mimic movement very well. I have done Feldenkrais work and so I know how to explore movement gently and safely.
I quickly worked out that it’s handy to have something to grab for balance if I need it – as in the mobile unit next to my desk at work. Also that I need to leave my lower back leg flat on the floor. No knee balancing for me – that part comes last!
That the shape begins when I move my pelvis forward over my front foot, and that allows me to gradually accustom myself to the lovely extension along my front as my spine curves. That it is easiest to breathe out as I go back, that I can breathe in and out in the extended position, and it feels good. To bring myself gently back upright by pulling my pelvis back again.
Lately I have begun to feel comfortable enough to open my shoulders and arms a little outward, so I get a lovely stretch across my chest as well. And I’m getting used to the balancing act of staying upright through the process. It’s a delight. I generally make the shape once on each side after I’ve done everything else, and I only do what’s comfortable. That’s enough. Each time it’s a little better.
I might as well be talking about life.
It’s not the big things, the grand gestures or the once in a lifetime experiences that make us who we are. It’s the things we do every day.
Or if you’re like me, every other day, or two or three.
I reckon if you want to get stretchier or learn a different asana or face a fear or write a book or get a new job or whatever, you don’t need to grab the whole thing at once, wrestle it to the ground and conquer it. (Unless that approach suits you, sure go ahead.) I find it more sustainable and much more enjoyable to pick away at it. And get help if I need to.
My main thing is to explore, play, and find out what I like, and what works for me. And forget about the destination because the journey is what it’s all about.
I’ll enjoy it when I can do the complete back-bend for sure and I bet I’d learn faster with a teacher. But I am loving the process of finding out how I do it. Of teaching and discovering it myself.
I wish for you that you remember you are your own teacher, and anyone who shines brightly only ever helps you to see yourself.
Namaste, dear reader.
PS: On a completely different tack, I’m co-facilitating a workshop on how to improve your digestion by making (and eating) delicious cultured vegetables in Wellington on 3 November. If this sounds like something for you, please check it out. I look forward to seeing you there.
Editor’s note: Check out The Yoga Lunchbox’s Yoga Exploration Series for more ideas on how to kick off your home (or office!) practice and tips on how to create, and feel into, a truly intuitive yoga practice.
Maddy Schafer loves to help people like you create positive change in their lives.
Outside her wonderful day-job (working in injury prevention) she loves to use her skills as healing facilitator, meditation group leader, writer and ’snap-as-I-walk-past-it’ photographer.
She loves to ask questions that allow the seeker to find long sought answers, and is aware of the requirement to ask these same questions of herself.
She experiences all of life as a message from herself to herself, and knows that even when the message makes no apparent sense, it’s still perfect.