"Words cannot convey the value of yoga - it has to be experienced." ~ BKS Iyengar.
I came to Iyengar yoga in search of something more. Something deeper, stronger instruction, a spiritual connection to the physical practice of yoga. This was almost five years ago and at that time I was depleted in mind and body. I had moved continents, birthed two babies and was raising and homeschooling them with no family support. I was also trying to recover from two auto immune diseases and had a chronic lower back pain, a side effect of an epidural with my first child. Finding a teacher who was invested in her students growth, a yoga community to meet with once or twice a week and a practice to which I was deeply connected, became something I was extremely grateful for.
Within a few months of practicing I slowly began to build strength in my body and my mind felt more spacious, lighter somehow. My lower back pain eased and I started to set some time aside each day to practice just one or two asanas. I used a spare room to create a yoga and meditation space, I bought books and props, enrolled in an enrichment program with my teacher and gradually my home practice began to evolve.
During the next three and a half years my home practice weathered the ups and downs of everyday life as homeschooling mom with a never ending to do list. It shifted and changed and I tried to adapt it to the needs of my life. I had some moments of clarity, but often felt stuck. Time, or lack of it was a constant challenge and the poor mobility of my lower back made progression in some asanas difficult and sometimes impossible.
However, my relationship with yoga grew ever more profoundly rooted and about a year ago I made the decision to delve deeper and started working towards my application for Iyengar yoga teacher training. I increased my studio classes, workshops and my home practice. I started to look at what was holding me back in my body and in doing so, injured my back. Attempting to move forward had resulted in what felt like going backwards. Weeks passed by and my endeavors to work around my back issue failed. I tried to participate in class, I tried to practice at home, but I was in pain a lot of the time. I had to surrender. My regular practice ceased and I worked privately with my teacher on a therapeutic back care plan of just six poses. Initially it seemed so restrictive and I longed for my usual varied practice, the feeling of well being that my favourite asanas provided and the challenge of working on those asanas that were more perplexing to my body. I didn't know at that moment how transformative this therapeutic practice would become.
Focusing on just six poses provided a steadiness that my body so desperately needed and brought stillness to my mind. Each pose created space in my lower back and the use of props (and the clever use of furniture to create props) gave me support to hold the poses for a therapeutic length of time and educated my body to feel the action from within. I had always used props in my practise, but repeating the same asana over and over again with more support than I would usually take began to alert my body to very subtle changes. As Guruji said, "props help students of yoga in monitoring and directing the right way to do the asana." In surrendering to my back pain, I was allowing my body to take direction and to feel the pose from a new perspective.
Halasana has always been one of my favourite poses. The quietness of mind and the calm stability that it promotes brings me to this asana most days. I have always used a chair to support my legs, as I have found that bringing my feet to the floor strains my lower back and collapses my chest, bringing a feeling of compression to my upper body. I have tried using a lower bench for my feet in an attempt to bring them closer to the floor, but have never been able to get a feeling of lift and lightness in my back that supports the full pose. During the days and weeks that followed my back injury, ardha halasana was one of my six poses. I used a piano bench to support my thighs, as it was just the correct height and the supported asana relaxed the muscles in my back, giving noticeable relief almost immediately. I worked on it twice daily and found that it gave wonderful pain relief. However, as the weeks passed and I no longer needed the pose for pain relief, I began to notice a different feeling in my back. It felt stronger, more aligned and the connection of my thighs to my hips felt deeper. I knew that my feet would now reach the floor in this asana. I removed the piano bench and brought my set up to the wall. I brought my feet to the wall and slowly lowered them down the wall to the floor. I no longer felt strain in my back, my chest did not collapse and I felt no compression in my upper body. I felt the strength and the direction of the piano bench, even though it wasn't there.
This introspective aspect facilitated by props has been a huge learning experience for me. The ability to feel a deeper relationship with areas of my body dulled over time with lack of mobility and desensitized by medical procedure has been transformational. My teacher said that this process of healing through yoga would reshape my practice and shift it to a deeper level. How right she was!
My journey with yoga is ever evolving and as I embark upon the path of Iyengar yoga teacher training I will reflect on this experience and the knowing that as with many aspects of life, surrender, then taking time to pause and focus on an obstacle allows for the unfolding of transformation.
Jill Sinnott - Student at CIY