I started running again. Outside in about eighty degree heat at night in the Santa Clarita Valley. This week, it hit over a 100 degrees. And I have been living and practicing in my home without air conditioning.
I really love running, but I also love when my achilles are so long that my heels almost touch the floor in Adho Mukha Svanasana. So for me, every run is a treat that has to be countered with massive hip and achilles openers. My calling, hah, may be to teach achilles openers.
I usually practice at home around 12 or 1 p.m.. I’ve been beginning with abdominal work because it prepares me for easy backbends, and because my lower back bears the brunt of my practice if I don’t wake up those abdominals.
After pranayama, my warm-up looks like this:
1. Abdominal work lying flat on the belly – resembles leg lifts
2. Setu Bandha Sarvangasana
3. Lateral abdominal work – legs shift diagonally rather than straight up and down
4. 5 minute well-propped malasana squat.
(If you have achilles so thick you could make sausage out of them and your lower back is tight, this one is for you. The goal here is to keep the heels parallel and bring them closer than you may otherwise be able to: Set up so that your back is very close to the wall, roll up a yoga mat and place it underneath your heels. Place a block between the thoracic spine and the wall so that as you press your spine into the wall you are able to lengthen up and drop your bottom down. For a deeper connection to the pelvic floor, place a block between your thighs too. If you’d really like a demo of this, please remind me.)
After the warm-up, I do a number of things that I would call experimenting. Currently, I don’t teach this to my students. I’m still trying to figure out if this warm-up work I do prepares the ‘average’ student in my classes for what is next.
5. Ustrasana * 3 or Urdhva Dhanurasana * 3
6. Urdhva Dhanurasana walk down the wall
After this, we are really talking universal points of movement.
7. 3 * Surya A
8. 5 * Surya B Prep
(I think I’ve talked about what Surya B prep looks like for me in earlier posts. If you are familiar with Surya Namaskar B, the vinyasa is the same. The difference is once I’ve stepped forward, I never come fully up. I spend 5 breaths with my fingertips on the floor and 5 breaths drawing the arms forward.)
Surya B prep is especially useful for me when I’ve been running, or out of practice for more than three days. If you yourself are a runner or have athletic students who are strong but inflexible, I find this opens the achilles in a new way.
Practicing yoga really is an exercise in discovering yourself. One of the things I’ve discovered is that a home practice teaches me that each body really is very, very unique. And the more we learn this I think as teachers, the more I hope we become adept at seeing our students specific needs and learning to create classes and sequences that can work for many bodies.
Teaching and taking class has taught me a couple other things I believe pretty strongly.
I wish teachers wouldn’t say, “For Level 1, do this. For Level 2, do this.” In a very advanced classroom full of teachers, it’s not relevant. And in a mixed level class it’s misleading. It’s also a testament to how far I have to go…because I’m always tempted when a teacher says to move to the “Level 2” variation even if I know I’ll be suffering later.
I myself am trying to stop saying to my students, “You should feel ….” Again, if I’m in a classroom in Malasana asked to turn my feet parallel and I’ve just been running, and the teacher says, “You should feel a steady grounding matched with a light lift from the arches of your feet, and a sense of relief and connection.” Or worse, “You should feel happy.” Hah. Make note. I’m dying. I’m actually in the corner dying. Malasana has killed me.
“You should feel that Malasana has killed you,” might be more relevant for me at that time. And maybe more relevant for everyone all of the time, “Notice how you feel.”
And maybe notice how just changing from saying “You should feel” to “Notice how you feel” slows down the breath.