Self-Practice: How the conversation begins

Uttanasana

This post is part of a weekly series about the realities, the challenges and the joys of self practice. For more posts in this series, click here

Often, this is how my physical practice begins (although it doesn’t look anything like this when I start!)

A forward fold is a position in which I can begin to assess, where I can begin to shift my attention from external matters to internal ones. How my body is feeling, what needs opening or stretching or easing today. Because I so often begin in the morning and I so often carry a whole lot of tension in my shoulders and my hips, I fold into this position and immediately there is physical sensation, feedback. I notice the tightness in my hamstrings, calves and feet (they’re all connected), requiring a deep bend in my knees in order to bring my pelvis forward with my torso instead of leaving it behind with the top of my thigh bones. I feel that added length stretch down through my spine, and my upper back pops in a few places as my inhale expands my ribs and my exhale brings some release. I let my arms hang down and assess my shoulders and neck, slowly and gently tucking my chin toward my chest and moving it to one side, feeling intense sensation at the top of the opposite shoulder and radiating down underneath that shoulder blade and further down the length of the long muscle that runs alongside my spine. I work my chin in the opposite direction, breathing deeply, sussing out all the tight spots are today, where I can bring some space with my breath, what I can work out here in this position. As my spine lengthens and my shoulders soften a bit, I begin to feel some slack in my legs and I actively press my feet down into the floor, engaging the front of my thighs. I check in with my psoas muscles as I’m here, another often cranky part of my body, to see if I can consciously soften the front of my hips even as I’m folded. Already my hands have gone from feeling miles away from the floor to nearly able to plant my hands. I notice my mental and emotional states in the next few breaths here – Today: foggy, slow, resistant, neutral emotionally… And this, this is plenty of information to go on, to build my physical practice out of.

More often than not, this is how my physical practice begins. Slowly, with great attention. Exploring those areas that I typically hold tension, looking out for anything new or different, assessing how I feel, what I need – for my body, and for my mind and emotions. Often, I find these things go hand in hand. The muscles in the front of my body feel tight and my brain feels foggy, so I go for front body opening, bringing space and energy into my body, focus to my mind. When my back body is tight and tense, my mind tends to be more on edge and I focus on folding in. Always, an inquiry, always an evolution. Sometimes I begin with an assumption that I know what’s going on. I think I already know what my body needs, or perhaps I intervene and make a decision or a proclamation only to find my agitation level rising instead of settling, my low mood and slow mind becoming lethargic instead of more alert… And I adjust. It’s a conversation. I ask, my body answers. I modify. I suggest, my body counter proposes. I back off and try a different tack. This to me, is what makes self-practice so special, this ability to hear and be heard in such a way that a third party negates or influences. The ability to practice listening. Sensing. Being, conversing. Reconciling. Without judgment, without expectation. My very own exploration.

Does your practice often begin in the same pose or sequence? How do you begin this conversation? How do you determine what your body needs on any given day? I would love to hear. 

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