Not too little. Not too much.
Earlier this week, I was struggling with my practice. This was not a surprise: I was struggling with my life! For a few nights my sleep had been restless with vivid dreams. I was tired and although I avoided checking it, I am sure my blood pressure was on the high side. I did not feel ill but decidedly irritable: “out of sorts” (as my mother would have described it).
So off I went to practise in search of a better balance in facing and dealing with my life and its challenges!
Much of my recent practice has focused on building strength on a physiological level so I have stamina for some of my current responsibilities. However, because of the high BP suspicion and my scattered mind I decided to focus on supine supportive poses leading to a forward bend sequence with forehead supported and small sandbag on my upper back. In preparation I gathered blankets, belt, a small wedge for a problem knee and a low bench to support my head and help this process of quietening my mind. These days I always wrap my head because of a chronic eye condition but a head wrap can also facilitate repose!
Each posture required some fine tuning. After so many years of practising I have an astute sense of what may be required as regards sequencing, timing and effective use of props. Most important I have learned to discriminate, to be creative and honest: able to take a clear look at today’s needs—not relying on history.
When I was a child there was a huge billboard on the streets of London advertising shaving cream: three pictures of a man shaving. First he was frowning and there was a useless tiny speck of shaving crème on his chin with the caption: Not too Little. Secondly his face had almost disappeared behind a huge amount of froth: Not too Much. And finally with sufficient lather for the task in hand: But Just Right!
This came to mind as I wrestled with the need for a little more support under my head. My throat was sending a plea for help. It was unable to serve as a conduit between core body and head which is vital to wholeness and healthiness. At the same time I experienced strong resistance to disturbing myself to make such a minor adjustment despite the knowledge that this adjustment was vital if this asana were to serve its purpose. I made another small fold in a blanket under my head and began to relax a little. But as I moved into the forward bend sequence I realised I had forgotten the sandbag!
I could see it out of the side of my eye but could not reach it without disturbing my seat (the foundation of a forward bend). I really didn’t want to move again so I hesitated, wrestling with my resistance. Then I began to laugh, maturity reasserted itself as I realised that any hope for repose in forward bends along with any chance of peace of mind was lost until I made the readjustment. Smiling I sat up, retrieved the sandbag, placed it on the responsibility hump in my upper back, and once more assumed supported janu sirsasana. Ah-ha!
Adapt, Adjust, Accommodate! Keeping in mind that the purpose of yoga and the role of this sequence of asana is not to make life more comfortable but to get in touch with the seeker or self within. Contrary to the way yoga is portrayed these days in much promotional material, its purpose is not to make life easier or happier but to make your life worth living no matter what vicissitudes you face along the way.
Yoga is a spiritual practice embracing all aspects of life. Having taken time to acquire some knowledge of yoga from a teacher you trust it’s never too soon to start a personal practice. One that can be practised with others if you don’t have a private place of your own but can also be adapted in a small bedroom (as I discovered during travels to Europe and Asia). You just need sufficient space for your mat, carry a belt and use anything handy including the wall.
As your practice becomes established and matures you will look forward to practising for yourself and by yourself. A good teacher will introduce and train you in a variety of tools enabling you to embark on your individual journey of Yoga. Be creative, adapt, hone your skills.
Strength, clarity and purpose for such a pilgrimage develop by putting what you have learned from your study and practice of yoga into practise in all aspects of your life. The pandemic has taught us to be resourceful and independent. As a student of yoga one of your most valuable resources is the ability to personally design a practice crafted to meet your unique needs.
Om namah Sivaya