Safe in Practice: An Inside Endeavor
Yoga is a dance between control and surrender, between pushing and letting go; and when to push and when to let go becomes a part of the creative process
- Joel Kramer
There I was …so close to my backside touching the floor. In Supta Virasana, reclined hero pose, I’d dreamed of gliding into the pose with ease and grace. And so, I did. That is, until I didn’t. When I came out of the pose, my knee was screaming. The painful part of this experience is that I knew better than to go into overdrive on the edge of asana.
Therein lies one of yoga’s mysteries - understanding the edge in asana and the edge in life. We’ve all heard the analogy of yoga class being practice for the ‘Big Practice’ called Life. Within this mystery lies a matter of creating a different kind of sacred safe space.
What does it mean to be safe in practice? Being in a clean, comfortable atmosphere aboard a non-toxic mat away from drafts and free of distractions is tantamount. Commonly, yogic tradition also suggests not practicing in direct sunlight, instead allowing the inner fire to heat the core. Even what to wear and how to prepare for practice are all important components. Indeed, the external environment impacts practice from the outside in.
The real crux to safety is in the inner space of practice. First and foremost is loving and befriending your body, demonstrated by inner listening, self-sensing and becoming more familiar with personal limitations in the moment. The body speaks. If we tune-in, we’ll hear the messages, the insights and the intuitive “knowing.” That means moving through your full, safe range of movement for you, inviting challenge yet remembering your current state of physical affairs. Go into each pose with full conscious awareness of every move and be a tracker of sensation. The edge is that place of sensation that is warm and pleasurable, mind engaging and stimulating – but never painful.
Should you feel unsettled or be struggling in a pose, always consult with your teacher. Sometimes, backing off a bit and opening the heart more fully is all you need to find the place where the pose is vibrantly alive in all directions. After all, yoga is the practice of awareness.
Inside my final slide into Supta Virasana was the ego, at a subtle level, encouraging me to go further toward a destination. Safety in practice would have been to heed the calling of the inner guru who noticed excessive pull. There was that brief second where I wondered if this was really O.K.
Another familiar bit of yoga wisdom is, ‘don’t use the body to get into the pose, use the pose to get into the body.’ The pose offers a structure for exploring the inside body. Several principles of practice apply here. First, be mindful of the breath and the mind as you come into the shape of your pose. Secondly, from the place of inner listening through sensation, find the appropriate edge, the safe edge, not necessarily the furthest point you can find. Thirdly, as you maintain the form, track the sensation, keeping the pose alive and vibrant with gentle extensions, heart opening and breath rhythm. Staying safe requires that you refrain from judgment and/or set outcomes, and surrender to the full expression of a pose that feels integral and satisfying. Fully present in the pose, you’ll sense that you can come out of the pose with ease. If returning is a struggle, you went too far.
Inner dialogue, especially if you are a highly critical thinker or perfectionist, gives you an opportunity to practice the inner work of monitoring your thoughts and, literally, using the physical body to travel more deeply inward. Honoring physical parameters with diligence and focus, you are creating a safe inner place.
When you create a safe outer and inner environment for practice, you can celebrate your unique body/mind, adapting practice to your physical form and honoring what you bring to the mat on a given day.
Back to Supta Virasana, the reclined hero. As a far more experienced yogi, these days my journey into this pose has a different look from the inside out. As I begin to recline and the hips come toward the earth, the dull achy pull on the quadriceps still comes with deep sensation. The knees begin to notice, the inner guru speaks, but now, I listen attentively, as I lower to the bolster, not to the floor, relaxing arms down along side, sinking into my perfect edge of warm sensation, letting go with ease as the pose settles and permeates into the body, nourishing and stimulating the tissues. I know well that when the pose takes its course and I release Supta Virasana, I will feel the reward of a happier nervous system, slower heartbeat, supported immune system and much more. Because I honored my body’s strengths and limitations, I understand I am the hero of my own practice.
With a diligent, focused practice, you create safety for the inner and outer body, the breath and the mind. You take a safe ride on the edge. You come to understand the inner/outer environments crave balance and unity. In essence, they are one. It is the yin and yang of practice. Somewhere in the middle, you create a sacred, safe space. In that balancing point, there is the beginning of transformation.
-- Libby Robold
Originally published as a guest blog on www.kulae.com