Yoga for change
All life is change, every breath, every sunrise, is an opportunity to notice this. However that doesn't make change easy, especially if it's beyond our control or traumatic. But even when life moves in an exciting, hoped for direction, change often means letting go of something; and that can be hard.
Dealing with change is my theme for 2015. I will be taking on extra counselling work, which while exciting- means letting go of some much loved group yoga classes. Travelling to Melbourne for some exciting new training in yoga and mental health is also on my agenda for this year, but travel takes me out of my comfort zone! And I will be assisting my children as they transition from primary school to the next stage of their schooling in the coming few years, changes which are likely to be challenging; especially for my boys with learning difficulties.
I have noticed that change creates a sense of anxiety for me; my sleep is more disturbed by thoughts about how to move ahead; my immune system doesn't function as effectively as it could with more minor colds and inflamations. Yoga, of course helps me during these times.
The yogis of old recognised that change is difficult, and holding on (becoming attached) can create physical and mental suffering. Difffculty adjusting to change is not a new thing!
The Yoga sutra states:
Excessive attachment is based on the assumption that it (what you are attached to) will contribute to everlasting happiness. (2.7)
Insecurity is the inborn feeling of anxiety for what is to come. It affects both the ignorant and the wise. (2.9)
So, how to we do this? How do we avoid excessive attachment to things we have to let go of, and avoid feeling anxious about things that we don't quite know how they will pan out for us in the future?
Any of the tools of yoga (breathing, asana, meditation, mudra, mantra) can be useful, but here is my current go to sequence to help me navigate change:
1. Sit still. Any comfortable position. Just stop, tune in. Notice where you hold tension. For me its the jaw, and if I stop and notice I can feel my teeth clenched slightly and stiffness through the sides of my neck.
2. Breathe. Lift up the head slightly as you inhale through the nose, lower the head, open the jaw and sigh the breath out through the mouth. This releases my tension in the jaw, and neck, and also brings me easily into ujjayi breathing, where you make that soft ocean sound on inhale and exhale. Do a few exhales through the mouth and then return to exhaling through the nose, keeping ujjayi.
3. Move. Trust yourself. Practice self enquiry. What does my body need to do in this moment? For me its neck rolls, seated cat/cow movements for my lower back and side bends to open my chest. Go slowly with the breath.
4. Apanasana. This is one of my favourite yoga moves. It is designed to move stagnant energy from the lower abdomen- a place where many of us store nervous tension. Start from easy rest on your back and bring your knees over your chest, hands gently resting on the knees. The variation I enjoy at the moment is guiding the knees into the chest as I exhale and extending the legs to the ceiling as I inhale, keeping my hands connected to the knees. You can also just guide the knees over the chest (on exhale) and away (on inhale), or you can also raise the arms overhead to the floor on inhale.
5. Twist. Again, your body will guide you to the right variation for the moment. I have been enjoying revolved belly pose with one leg extended. Take the right leg long along the floor and bring the left leg in, bending the knee, move it across the body to the right, rest the knee on a bolster or blanket. Stay for 5 breaths or so and then change sides, noticing any slight differences as you go. Using props in this pose allows my shoulders to anchor to the floor, which helps me feel grounded- a really important feeling for me in times of change. It also allows the hip of my bent leg to lengthen- another place I store tension- and my chest to open to the breath- and to future possibilities.
6. Lie still in shavasana. Even if its just for a few more breaths, remember this is The Pose of surrender, where we practice letting go! Practice self enquiry again. How does the body feel now? What has changed? what's the same? What do I neeed to do next? Perhaps there's a need for more movement, or longer stillness, or perhaps other things call more loudly.
Always thank yourself for your practice, and your life journey, acknowledge that life spirals, change doesn't happen necessarily in a straight line!
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