Monday, 19 October 2009

The journey back to my 1.

My practice of late has been erratic to say the least. That's actually being rather kind to myself: it's more true to say that my home practice has been non-existent for a period of a whole month, during which time I have made it to the shala precisely once (plus one wonderful ashtanga workshop, a few bikram classes & a community yoga class - but more on that another time).

I've got a good excuse though - ready? I've had builders in. Not convincing enough? For a period of one month, my entire flat (my practice room included) has been turned upside down, covered in 2 inches of dust, filled with building rubble & materials, and I have had to rise at 6 to wash in the kitchen sink before the builders arrive to start work (on the days that anybody turned up, this is - not that I ever knew when this was going to be) The only days I could rely on them to turn up were on weekends, when I was forced out of my home for the duration, but still needed to be around at the beginning and end of the day to check up on them and answer questions. Given my shower-less status, not to mention the stress of living in a pigsty for twice as long as the job was due to take, somehow I was not feeling predisposed to a) get on my mat on a daily basis, or b) go and get hot & sweaty at the (similarly showerless) ashtanga shala I practice at a few times a week. Oh and in weeks 1-2 I also put my neck out. Good enough excuses?

My living room - mid chaos

All of that said, it has turned into rather an interesting experiment. Having started to practice ashtanga yoga in March this year, despite some "off" weeks I have been fairly consistent for the past 9 months, but every so often I begin to wonder why I practice. Having taken some time out I think I have some fairly convincing arguments now. Of course the experiment wasn't exactly scientific, I mean what came first: were the rising stress levels due to my the lack of a safe haven or my lack of a yoga practice? During the past month I have found myself to be constantly exhausted, frequently unwell (I have just come out of a 4 day migraine), my skin is breaking out, I am constantly worrying about the future - in short, from what I remember, I have reverted back to my pre-yoga self.
So now that the work is over (and I have a very fabulous new bathroom to show for it), the dust is all but cleaned up, and I have the keys back from the builders, today was the designated day to get back to my practice. I had planned to start over the weekend but being a moon day yesterday, I took the day to rest instead, ready for an early start today.

6 a.m. Somehow when I knew it was "get up now or be caught mid-wash by a builder" the motivation was a little greater, but saying that I only hit snooze once and was on my mat by 6.15 after feeding the cats and getting into some clothes (no pyjama practice for me today!). My intention was just to get on my mat, I had no clear plans in terms of how far I wanted to get, the benefit of which was I couldn't be disappointed. Practicing in the dark was a new experience, I lit two more candles than normal alongside the incense, got on my mat, and started with the opening chant. I have tried practicing without the chant (especially in a silent shala where nobody else audibly does it), but have found it's worth doing even if only under my breath as somehow the practice just doesn't feel the same without it. Through surya namaskar A I worked on my breath, the recent experience of a worskhop taken with a metronome really slowed down my breath, letting me feel my way into each posture slowly and with grace. And then I hit the Bs.
Now is it just me, or does surya namaskar B feel like it's out to get me? Somehow I hoped that after such a long break things would have changed.Certainly the first one was fine, I tried tricking myself into thinking it's just an opportunity for extra downward dogs (my favourite) as I felt the resistance creeping in. As I came into the second, and then the third, I found my breath getting ragged, or I was holding my breath, certainly running out of air on the upward dogs, and I bailed after just 3. Still, after a month off, I was feeling pretty good. All in all I surprised myself, making it all through standing although UHP was the usual farce - this posture is so heavily assisted at the shala I fear I will never learn to stand on my own one foot (so to speak). Also I noticed during Parivritta Parsvakonasana (revolved side angle posture) that feeling of why am I doing this? which seems a fairly regular place for it to creep in, plus my balance was shot to pieces in that posture today - possibly due to the darkness as much as lack of practice. I closed with the final three postures (no time for full closing) and a ten minute savasana, and wondered if I would notice any difference in my day now that I was back to my practice.
Given that I left the office on Friday being told that the future of the company, and therefore my job, is once again hanging in the balance (my boss's exact words to me were "don't spend too much money this weekend") I had a remarkably productive day today. Surprisingly, as my main contacts in India were on holiday today and I had very little to do, I'd go as far as to say it was my most focused and proactive day in recent memory. The first thing that I realised though was the way I was sitting at my desk. Instead of legs crossed, or slouching in my chair, I noticed myself sitting up quite straight, with my feet planted firmly on the floor in front of me. There is something I've noticed since I began ashtanga with regards to equal weight distribution in my feet and I certainly noticed this today - instead of sitting or standing with weight on my toes, I push down through my legs so that my heels have as much weight as the balls of my feet. It's a small thing, but I notice it most either standing on the tube or sitting at my desk. The other thing I've noticed in recent months on the tube is that when I have to stand and hold on, I feel like I have grown.Now I'm tall anyway (5 foot 10) but instead of reaching up for the handrail, I feel like I am above it and my hand just drops down to it. The other thing I noticed today that I remember from my early days of practice is the strong diuretic effect it has, not to mention the effect on my digestion - but perhaps we're straying into the territory of too much information...
But my favourite change I notice after I have practiced is in my hips. It's a little soon for it to be back today, but after a break from practice I always notice the incredible difference in the way I bend to pick things up. Taking the milk from the fridge at work, picking up the cat's bowls to refill them, emptying the dishwasher, instead of bending down from my back I seem to hinge from my hips and I just love the way it feels. Hard to describe, but I'm sure you will know what I mean if you have felt it, it makes all of the hard work it takes to make forward bends reach the ground worthwhile. The last thing I notice was in the way I chose to spend my evening. Before I went to India, my evening were routinely spent in front of the TV - it didn't really matter what was on, I was just watching it to switch off. After India, I couldn't just sit in front of it. I reclaimed my evenings, and wrote, or read, or caught up with emailing friends. The TV habit has crept back, but this evening I just couldn't do it (and so here I am blogging instead).

Perhaps it's overblown to imagine that all of these effects have come about thanks to me getting on my mat this morning, but perhaps not. It reminds me of a passage in Donna Farhi's wonderful book Bringing Yoga to Life where a lady taking on yoga later in life to cope with a difficult divorce realises that for the first time she finds joy in simple things, the sensation of the wind on her face, the pleasure of a hot bath. "Nothing's changed", she says, "but everything has changed".


  1. Not overblown at all. A great story and you're a good writer. Glad you made your way back to the mat and I"m looking forward to reading more :)

  2. why do you have a toilet in your living room ???

  3. Roselil - It was only temporary I assure you!! Just while they refitted the bathroom - that was actually the old one that had already been removed, some days I had two (old & new). Life is much better now the toilet is located in the bathroom ;)

    And thanks bestlivingpossible - it's a bumpy road but I think I'm slowly getting back on track.

  4. Hi Mel,

    I just enjoyed reading your blog, I hope you manage to join us on Sunday for practice and afterwards brunch.

    Love that black cat sitting in the middle of the mess, my first cat was an all black Witche's cat. Looks like you have the same trouble getting a photo of him or her, a black splodge with 2 green eyes.

  5. Thanks Kevin!! I think I will try and come to YP on Sunday and get over my fear of getting back to practice (despite the optimism of this post I have gone way off track again). Will be wonderful to meet some of the great yogi/yogini bloggers!! Sadly I no longer have the cats but that's another story :(

  6. Hi Mel,

    YP is a great place to get back on your mat, no fear just joy, Cary will nurture your practice.

    Sorry to hear your fury friend isnt still with you.