“Do you have the patience to wait
Till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
Till the right action arises by itself?” ~Lao Tzu
So you’ve gone to a few (years of) yoga classes. You’ve done some streaming videos on your own, craning your neck to see the teacher.
Sometimes you’ll even bust a Tree Pose in the grocery checkout to pass the time. Maybe you’re in teacher training and you’ve been told you need a home practice. Sounds good. But you wonder what it would be like to just roll out your mat and … what? Then what? You listen. With your body. Here are 14 steps to learning to listen:
Step 1: Get a book of poses and choose three. You could use an oldie but goodie like Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar or any of the newer reprises. Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff and Amy Matthews is a fun and geeky option. Or use a template. Maybe you have an idea off the top of your head for three poses that interest you, or ask your teacher to provide one, or even find one online. Don’t get caught up in this step, though. It’s just a trick to bamfoozle your worry mind. Like Ludwig Wittgenstein’s ladder, you throw it out. Think of this as your bubbie.
Step 2: Set a time boundary. Either do it now, while you’re thinking about it or set a time. Really, do it now. Decide how long you’ll practice and stick to it. You can always change the next time, but keeping your deal with yourself is important for longevity. You’re not just in this for the one off. The repetition, the steady rhythm of showing up for yourself is the payoff. One practice can suck. Even two. Practicing is power and grace.
Step 3: Set a space boundary. Find a space as tall as you with your hands raised, as wide as you with your arms outstretched and as long as you lying down with your arms overhead.
Step 4: Roll out your yoga mat. Alternatives: yoga rug, yoga paws, yoga roll or just plain floor, even grass. Avoid bare concrete. Working without a mat requires more core engagement than any of the alternatives.
Step 5: (Optional, requires preparation. Omit if no prep time) Put on music that makes you feel like staying and being. For my money, it has to be instrumental because I want my practice to get me out of my conceptual mind, a.k.a. word mind.
Step 6: Feet on mat (completely non-optional). Step, crawl or leap onto the rolled out yoga mat or, alternatively, into the aforementioned cleared space. Option: Butt on mat.
Step 7: Breathing in, know you’re breathing in. Breathing out, be breathing out. Even if it’s only three breaths.
Step 8: Do the first thing. Stand in Mountain Pose. Try one of the three Warrior variations. Sit in Thunderbolt Pose (sitting on your shins). Shake your whole body (arguably not an asana, but can feel damn good).
Step 9: Trust yourself. Really this step comes before number one, but if I put it there, you might not build your throw away ladder. You’re on the mat, you’re breathing, you’ve taken one step: exhale. Let the chatter of self judgement or day planning or errand listing become like white noise. Fighting it strengthens it. Let it come. But like watching for shooting stars, you let the obvious become background: you blur it out, so you can catch the really special thing when it happens. That twinge in your neck? That’s the special thing, your shooting star. What would feel good?
Step 10: Do the next thing. Follow the special thing. Start with neck releases. Or maybe your body wants to hinge forward? Your hips are the hinge. Move slowly. Bend your knees. Stay within your comfort zone. Do you feel like twisting? Does your heart want to lift as your back arches? Basic principles: do the opposite of what you did in the previous step. If you backbend in step eight—even a baby one, like Upward Hands—counter it with a fold in the opposite direction next. Backbends and Forward Bends counter one another, Twists counter everything. Always do both sides of a posture that’s not symmetrical. If you take one posture, another that’s been just outside your door will pop up. And if it doesn’t? That’s okay. See next step.
Step 11: Use your book or template. I know this sounds simplistic, but do the next thing.
Step 12: Repeat step 9-11 for the time you decided upon minus 10 percent. If you decided 10 minutes, stop after nine minutes. If you allotted 60 minutes, stop with six minutes left.
Step 13: Make your way down to the mat, reclining. Take any final motions that feel amazing. A final spinal twist. Hug your knees. Hug yourself. Take Savasana. Lie down. Let your feet rotate out, rest your hands palm up, close your eyes, let your eyes drop away from your eyelids. Release all effort: all effort of breathing, all muscular effort, all effort of being.
Step 14: Rise when it’s time. Do what’s next. Repeat steps 4-14 at regular intervals.
Step 15: What are you waiting for? You’re sitting here reading a blog… you want to want to do this, so go ahead and take the plunge. What do you have to loose? Want to procrastinate a little longer? Leave a comment and tell me about it.
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Ed: Kate Bartolotta