That thing that I do most(!) mornings on my yoga mat probably doesn’t bear scrutiny from anyone who attends a yoga class or really knows their stuff…its not “proper”, its not pretty, its not lengthy, its just what I do; but the key is in the words “I do it”. I know of plenty of yoga aficionados who still only do yoga when they go to a class.
Its a small routine, a hybrid routine; not even a routine really as I change it all the time…made up of bits and pieces I picked up over the eighteen months I was having private coaching (which I haven’t done this year), from scraps of videos, internet guides, my husband’s tips and his shelf-full of books – the most helpful of all, a hand-sized booklet produced by his yoga teacher. It incorporates manoeuvres I’ve developed for myself because “they feel good”, some using a foam roller that I picked up for a tenner on an impulse one day on a shopping trip to buy suitcases and which turned out to be one of my best-ever buys. I arch my back over this long hollow sausage of a thing with a texture like an off-roader tyre, or I use it to support my glutes, I place my arms flat on the floor and lift legs straight up to the ceiling or bend them bridge-fashion to gain a great stretch…or I use it for my neck and to roll out all the stuck pain in my shoulder blades and the back of my head. Sometimes I roll movements together so much I feel like I’m a butterfly about to take off then, at other times, I use long pauses and gravity to do the work with me, holding positions until my body tells me to stop, a method that can deliver exquisite release to some of the deepest entanglements. The sense of fine tuning what my body is most asking for, to my own rhythm, has been palpable and the real gift of home practice; being unique to me and that most-intimate inner dialogue (the one that starts with the invitation “show me what you want and I will do that” without uttering a word) and not something that could follow the rhythm of a teacher or class. A conversation such as this, based utterly upon trust, is one that never (ever) stops again but, rather, carries on spreading its magic across all aspects of your daily life.
Over time, I’ve melded all these positions together, the theme in common being that “they feel like they help”, they stretch out locked-up myofascial and nerve pain, they twist my spine in all the right places and my legs feel well oiled at the hips and all the way down on my walks when I’ve done these positions at the start of my day. In fact, I’ve watched my body morph into an utterly new shape along with the regular practice; my waist has remembered where it lives, my legs have never been more presentable up to the edge of my shorts – and all through this somewhat laudable routine that would have any yoga-expert shaking their head in despair.
The key is that, in following what feels right, starting (and stopping) in accordance with when my body feels like it wants to be on that mat – even if it lasts only five minutes – means I am there most days; am prepared to at least give it a go knowing there is no tie-in. Little and often is the important thing…and never feeling threatened by it; never feeling I have to do it a particular way, so many repetitions or length of time (since the mule in me has never responded well to that kind of exercise routine). The fact I make it up as I go along – that appeals to me a lot; after all, its how I paint, how I cook – I don’t use a formula or a recipe for them so why would I want to be told how to move on a mat, what to expect “next”? I know, I know…yoga has been evolved, tried and tested over thousands of years and for a reason…and I do follow some of its path (have lost count of how many times I’ve learned that this thing I made up turns out to be a “proper” position with an actual name…) but, this way, I never feel like I’ve failed in what I set out to do or missed a mark; I feel like I’m driving it, not struggling to do what other people do or that my body has let me down in any way. The mat remains somewhere that I’m accomplished, doing something that its impossible for me to do wrong or badly (which is a good starting point to get to know this truth about all of life).
In listening to my body, what it wants, what it calls out for (today…which may not be the same as yesterday), I do something that is a central tenet of what yoga is all about and that takes me into that same hallowed space where the alchemy of yoga really happens. Like a meditation or a pause for breath, a moment of grace in a life that can be physically challenging, a demonstration of pure self-love and of listening to what my body is telling me, I get there…all on my own…and that’s been the sheer magic of adding my yoga-ish moves into my life, which has made such a tremendous difference to all the days of my life.