So many times in the past I mistook beauty for what my hair or face looked like, healthy or a mess. An imprint perhaps of the pain of having tangled ‘swimming’ hair brushed out at 8 years by my mother’s bossy friend or my boss (male) asking me if I was unwell when I wasn’t wearing any make up one day (talking 30 years ago). Nowadays I see beauty in a kind comment, a smile reciprocated from a stranger, a tulip blooming, a blue sky and a puff of cloud, and mostly as a feeling of softening around my heart space when I am more relaxed and receptive. To appreciate the beauty of life unfolding around me, I realise more and more that I need to be consciously awake to it and to get to that level of awareness, I too need to remember to carve out quiet moments of complete relaxation. Otherwise I am just living life on autopilot. It’s been harder to get to that state this year in spite of having more home time. Engrained habits of working and staying busy are habits I grew up with and reinforced over the years so interrupting those patterns and creating a new one of time for relaxation took many years of repeated reminders before this too became something my body expected and now demands or else, it lets me know.
I often use my Yin Yoga practice and I say ‘use’ because it is often used as a remedy to the business or fullness of the day. I notice that I haven’t had to have a particularly ‘busy’ day scheduled and yet I can still feel the intensity of the load and the fullness of the unfinished work ahead. So it’s important for me to choose the right type of practice or movement that my body needs.
Remembering to pause and interrupt the stress response before it settles into the body as something else, like a stiff neck or an ache in the stomach or a budding headache, is a highly skilled response and it can take a practitioner years to realise this what we needed to do; remember. It isn’t what to do. It is remembering to do it. Having a safety net of a basket full of useful practices and favourite tools is a wonderful resource. We all benefit from the practices we have learned over the years and each of us have our favourite ones. BUT and it’s a big but, learning to actually act upon it and to take action when necessary before it is too late, is a much harder skill. There are subtle signs that are sent our way sending out little signals that we/I often dismiss and hope that they will go away. For instance, snapping (at your X ones), ignoring your/my kitty when she comes purring your way, forgetting to look at someone while they are talking to you so you can fully listen in, no doubt you know what yours are too. Our brains and nervous systems have a clever of way of masquerading that we are relaxed when the underlying truth is that we haven’t truly switched off as much as we could have. Let me give tell you one of my clever disguises. I will go to have a cup of tea in my garden in order to have a break and then on the way I will pick up a few ‘things’ that need to be read still and sometimes my laptop comes along too ‘just in case’. I have to remember to put them back down and just bring along me, and my tea naturally!
My best practices come from when I am well and truly immersed and lose my sense of time. I don’t need long and am often surprised that change has occurred in as little as half an hour. Bring nothing with you but yourself. I don’t have a set prescription for what to do when. It’s the question I am most often asked. ‘What should I do if I have X,Y or Z? Or when I am feeling X,Y,Z?’ I don’t know is my real answer. I don’t think anyone can tell you exactly. When I come to my mat, I settle for a while and then if I am really listening without effort, my body will start to do what it wants to do. Roll around, stretch, sit for a while, lie and stretch and then settle into a pose of choice naturally because that’s what my body knows it would like to do. It doesn’t arrive conceptually. There isn’t an actual thought process. It’s something so instinctual that has come after years of following prescribed practices from others that just didn’t work in the same way. It was wonderful to learn them initially and have a tool kit filled with ideas and practices and that’s why I too love the continual learning and education experience I have received from all my teachers past and present. I will and do offer suggestions to others as it’s not helpful and sometimes hurtful to be turned away by a teacher you trust when you are looking for ways ahead and how to carve out practices for yourself. But the truth is you know your body better than anyone and the point of practicing being in it, moving in it and settling in it is yours to experience. We’ve been so well schooled to think someone who has been practicing for longer or has a knowledgeable voice has a better understanding of what’s going on in your body or what you should do. Think about it for a moment. Can you just walk into a room and be diagnosed by a doctor without spending alot of time describing your symptoms? We all know misdiagnosis is often the result of not listening to the patient properly. It’s no different in yoga.
After some years of undoing what I thought I should be doing, the true freedom of an uninhibited and unprocessed practice is what brings me to a full aliveness. No permission needed. No prescription needed. Practice is an unwinding process and it is always unfinished.The benefits of having a more consciously relaxed body from our own enjoyed practice are endless. Our ability to bond with others can improve, we can appreciate beauty in us and around us, our brain waves transform literally in the cerebral cortex and our memory and ability to make decisions improve, the amount of gray matter increases in the sensory regions of the brain and our relationship to pain can improve significantly too. Aren’t those reasons enough? Enjoy your practice and your precious moments of exploration and freedom to be in your body as you choose. You own it after all!
~ Sarah Lo
A crisp dry Spring day, April 16, 2021in England.
Mother, writer, educator, movement and stillness practitioner.
Flowers grown by me, sky is yours too.