As I’ve mentioned in other contexts, I’m not a yoga athlete. The core of my practice is from the viniyoga of yoga (you can download a free .pdf of it here).
Teachers of mine have said to me, “Dig one well deeply,” and have also talked to me about “not escaping,” and about “staying home.” It has taken me many years to fully absorb these teachings as more than criticisms of my tendencies to overdo or get distracted, or as other than worthy but impossible ideals.
About a year-and-a-half ago, I realized that one constant in my life has been the core forms practice I was taught in 2002. My daily formal practice is off-and-on, and when I fall off, it takes time to get back on. But I noticed that I returned again and again to the core forms practice. When I get back on the daily practice wagon, it is always the first step. It’s simple, doable and adaptable to pretty much any circumstance (location, clothes I’m wearing, amount of time available, time of day, amount of energy and/or pain I’m experiencing on any given day).
As I’ve come back to this core practice time after time over the years, I’ve discovered it always has something new to show me. The heart of this practice is the bridge form. You can move with the breath in and out of the form, or hold the form for several breaths. In the spirit of “staying home” and “not escaping,” I have been practicing with longer holds, and noticing what happens in both my breath and body.
Over time, I keep being shown how tense my physical body is. As a trauma survivor, I relate to that as a kind of “of course” phenomenon: of course I would tend toward tension in my body, given what it and I have been through. I take a moment to remind myself of that, and to reassure myself. Then I can remember to breathe and release as much of the tension as is within my conscious control.
I often have to remember this over and over again in a practice. I become aware of tension, of the resulting over-efforting, and I remind myself that I can engage in “effortless effort.” As Patanjali says in sutra 2.46, “sthira-sukham asanam,” [the] posture (asanam) [should be] firm (sthira) [and] ease-filled (sukham). (It’s interesting to note that sukha (ease) is the opposite of dukha (suffering). The analogy often used to teach these two concepts is that of the motion of a cart the axle-holes of which are either well- or poorly-centred.)
In bridge, when I become more fully aware of and stabilize my feet and knees, and anchor or press into my feet, rather than efforting through the middle of my body, my shoulder girdle also becomes an anchor (as opposed to my usual anchor, the pelvic girdle, which, in bridge, is not an anchor at all) and my middle stays up with effortless effort. As a result, the back of my heart has support and can relax. I don’t experience discomfort or tension as I hold the form, even though it takes effort to be in it.
The principle that came to me as I practiced was, “Grounding gives me support. I can ‘have my back’.” I was injured in the thoracic spine more than 23 years ago and I have observed as I have worked with healing this that anything upsetting or stressful seems to land and get stuck in that particular spot. Metaphorically speaking, it’s as if, rather than letting my feet be the supports they were made to be, I put the weight of things right where I’m most vulnerable. I “lose heart.” Then my body and mind get stressed and send painful signals.
This is an example of bridging the gap between practice and life: repeated practice of the same form with close attention and an attitude of curiosity allowed an insight to arise. Continuing to be curious about the principle (for example, by journalling about it, discussing it with my teacher and friends, and holding it in my awareness over time) led me to see how it can apply in my everyday life.
I noticed that, when I distribute a load properly, so that it’s not on the back of my heart but rather supported by my feet, I feel better, am more able to connect with a sense of warmth and expansion in my heart-space, and thus have more capacity to address what’s bothering me. In concrete terms, for me, “supporting myself with my feet” means taking action to get myself reconnected experientially with what matters most to me: love, gratitude and vitality.
The experience I’ve documented here is an example of the kind of work we could do together. If you’re interested in exploring this, let’s talk. You can schedule a free 30-minute conversation here: https://shula.acuityscheduling.com.
Have you had times when you have been able to transfer insight from the mat into your everyday life? Why not share in the comments below? I’d also enjoy hearing how you did it. What tips or tricks do you have to share? Let me know below!