Part of teacher training at the Iyengar yoga studio where I attend class is to keep a daily practice log. I'm not in the teacher training program, but I do sometimes keep notes on my practice just to see what it amounts to on paper and to master the Sanskrit names of the asanas (poses). Today's practice looked something like this:
INVOCATION to Patanjali, the codifier of yoga. As I begin chanting, the dog and the cats come racing to see what's up. Buddy (the dog) licks my face energetically.
--Uttanasana (2 minutes, with head supported on block and blanket)
--Adho Mukha Svanasana. I alternate legs in the one-legged variation we learned this week to get the heel on the floor closer to the ground.
--Trikonasana. As I extend to the right side, I catch the slatted blinds reflected in the framed photograph of the House on the Hill, my mother's great uncle Virgil Hines's home in southern Missouri. I've just been to that part of the world to scatter my mother's ashes. I like seeing my life (the blinds) overlaid onto hers (the House on the Hill).
--Adho Mukha Vrksasana (full arm balance). We're learning to do this pose free standing. Going up into the pose farther away from the wall is the first step. I start nine inches from the wall, and as I kick up, my foot scrapes hard against the marble top of my great grandmother Covert's parlor table. China goes crashing, and the animals come racing to see what's up.
--Sirsasana (6 minutes, without wall support). I took a year off my yoga practice recently because of hamstring problems. I returned about four months ago, a little creaky but still strong. Before my leave, I'd been able to routinely go up into and come down out of headstand in the center of the room. I've been frightened to do so, until today. I am able to stay up for six minutes and come down, for the first time in a long time, without crashing to the floor. Legs poker stiff and core muscles firm.
FORWARD BENDS AND SEATED POSES
--Janu Sirsasana. This forward bend incorporates a difficult hip/groin rotation and demands an intense stretch of the extended hamstring. It has never come easily, and I resist the pose's difficulties. So I keep at it.
--Padmasana. Another difficult pose requiring openness in the hips and knees. I'm getting to the point where I can fold both legs into the body for the full lotus pose instead of only one leg at a time. I close my eyes and fold my hands in front of my chest in namaskar. The animals sense a change of energy and come racing to see what's up.
--Supta Virasana (4.5 minutes)
--Supta Baddha Konasana (5 minutes)
--Sarvangasana (5 minutes). We learned a variation of shoulder stand this week whereby the practitioner somersaults up onto a bolster or pile of blankets to get into the pose. The bolster helps lift the body and prevent the settling into the hips and stomach area that often comes as the practitioner remains in the pose for some time. Sarvangasana is meant to soothe the nerves, which in the early years of practice seemed laughable. I am better able today to relax the neck and throat and to unclench the teeth. My shirt slips down a bit in front, exposing my stomach muscles, which I admire. I pull my mind away from this momentary distraction.
--Paschimottanasana (3 minutes). Another difficult pose for me these days, so I keep at it. We are taught to exhale tension in the stomach and groin to better surrender into the pose. Just as I feel a bit of surrender, the timer goes off (2 minutes). Our teacher says a true yoga pose begins only after the practitioner stops fighting against the asana, so I set the timer for another minute.
END OF PRACTICE
--Savasana (22 minutes). This pose always concludes a yoga practice. We've been doing increasingly longer savasana in class. This is the first time I've done such an extended savasana at home. I work on letting go of words and on allowing the energy to release into the back of the body, like blood settles in a corpse (savasana means "corpse pose" and is practiced to tame the breath and the mind). The oldest cat, the one who is most keenly attuned to shifts in energy, settles into the narrow space between my ankles. I feel contentment.