When I am called to practice and I roll out my mat, my good intention is to start sitting, my body says lie down, but I normally just hit the deck! Perhaps not a befitting analogy for yoga but most of us are doing battle in our everyday lives and a yoga practice is a perfect haven from all that conflict.
There are many schools of thought on how to start a practice, on what is right or what is wrong. I am a do-what-feels-right-for-you kind of teacher as I do not inhabit your body. When yogis walk into my class, I have no knowledge of their day or what orders they have been following, so I would not expect them to start their practice from the same place. Yoga is, after all Svadhyaya, a form of self-study, so here is our opportunity to fine-tune our awareness and study ourselves.
Many of us spend the day sitting slouched over a desk compressing the spine in an anterior way and over-stretching it in a posterior way. The chin pokes forward, the back muscles are over-stretched, and we do not breathe with ease, which makes us feel lethargic. Heard of “Tech Neck?” It is a 21st-century dilemma, in which we are overloading and straining the neck at an unnatural angle. At 0 degrees the weight load is 10 to 12 pounds. The typical angle when using a smartphone is 60 degree, making the weight load a phenomenal 60 pounds. Where is the homeostasis in that? What I observe when the yoga mats are flat, are a lot of yogis hitting the deck!
The beauty of starting my inward journey while lying down at ground zero is that gravity has got my back.
I am supported, all effort stops, I shut my eyes and rest. I’m not immediately transported to Pratyahara (the withdrawal of your senses) but instead to the threshold, or liminal space, my capsule of change, my bunker. I am safe and supported there and I know it. Then I am reminded to breathe, just breathe. This automatic action takes me by the hand and guides my weary body and busy thoughts to a quieter place. Mission accomplished, my parasympathetic nervous system has been deployed. I have shifted from being in action to experiencing inner presence by doing nothing.
If I practice first thing in the morning, right after I wake, then sitting feels right. It lets my spine adjust to being vertical, and the muscles surrounding it wake up. My sleepy support system being brought into the day with compassion and kindness. Here my head, neck, shoulders, back and pelvis need cuddle-some coaxing into an upright position, otherwise I could slouch or even worse, fall back to sleep.
Attention! Sitting to attention with a rigid spine would be ignoring the principles of Ahimsa (non-harming). Find a natural neutral spine with the crown of the head leveling over the tailbone. Any support is fair game. I sit on a folded blanket or bolster or even lean against a wall. I am honest about my alignment.
Why do we do any of this at all? Why don’t we stand at the top of the mat and get going?
Well, these few moments help us decamp from our day or night and set the tone for the whole of our practice. A purposeful pause from doing and connecting with our being. There we are, invited to listen inwards, and take the queues from our intuition, our gut instinct. Follow orders accordingly. Slow it down or switch it up, make friends with our limitations and always explore with curiosity. But whether we start lying or sitting let us be sure to connect with who we are on that day and express our deeper self through each pose.
Is your practice calling you? You are dismissed! I dedicate these musings to a dear friend who passed away earlier this year. She is now lying in perfect peace.
Author: Justine Farnworth
Image: Moyan Brenn/Flickr
Editor: Jean Weiss