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For reasons I’m not quite ready to talk about, I wasn’t able to physically practice yoga for about a month. I’m now in a position to move my body a bit more, but that month of practicing yoga without asana (the physical practice of yoga) was rough. I’ve been reminding myself that asana is only a small part of what yoga is all about.
Aparigraha, or non-attachment, is one of the five yamas of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga. Yamas are like moral or ethical considerations by which we try and live by. I never really thought about asana as something I was attached to. I do recall having a conversation with my friend, Charlotte, about what we would do if we couldn’t physically practice yoga and we didn’t really have an answer. I’m totally attached to my asana practice. I love the feeling of moving my body in synchronization with my breath and the quiet stillness that envelops my mind afterwards.
Things happen sometimes to remind us of how impermanent everything really is. Change happens all the time and a lot of it is out of our control. So, what did I do during this month to keep up a yoga practice without being able to do asana?
When you can’t move that much, that’s fine, you can still train your mind. Apps like Calm and Headspace are amazing for meditating. I particularly like Calm’s timed meditation section (you choose how long you want to meditate for and it dings some bells when the time is up) and their “Breathe” section. You can adapt the settings to change the length of breath and it gives you indicators on when to inhale and exhale.
Our breath…provides an immediate connection with impermanence as we experience it continually arising and dissolving back into space. Using the breath as the object of meditation introduces us to the fundamental groundlessness of life and to the experience of letting go. – Pema Chödron
Meditation doesn’t have to be practiced formally. Mindfulness, a form of meditation, can be practiced throughout the day.
Pranayama is the practice of regulating the breath using different techniques. It is “conscious breathing, bringing full awareness to the breath.” (Mark Whitwell, Yoga of Heart) There are several different techniques used in which to practice pranayama. My three favorites are Ujjayi, Shitali, and Dirga Pranayama.
Ujjayi Pranayama is a constriction in the back of the throat as you inhale and exhale.
Shitali Pranayama is a cooling breath where you inhale through the teeth (or curl your tongue and inhale through the mouth) and exhale out the nose.
Dirga Pranayama is a deep, three part breath in and out the nose. You start by inhaling and feel your belly, ribs, and then chest expand. As you exhale, the chest, ribs, and then belly deflate. I like to place one hand on my belly and one hand on my chest while I practice.
Reading is yoga? Yes it is. I place reading under Svadhyaya. Svad-what-what? Svadhyaya, or self-study, is one of the five niyamas of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga. Niyamas are like self observations. Books help us learn and can potentially teach us something about ourselves. You can open any book and have the potential to learn something from it.
What’s on my reading list?
After recently finishing Every Body Yoga by Jessamyn Stanley, I am now reading quite a few books at once:
Living Beautifully: With Uncertainty and Change by Pema Chödron
All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Andres
Women Who Run With The Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés
The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur
and this doesn’t even include all of the yoga books I constantly use as reference or to read a passage here and there from. There are also so many more on my bookshelf that I haven’t even touched yet. We won’t even talk about all the books saved up on my Amazon wish list. (I think I need to focus more aparigraha on the purchasing of books…)
Not practicing asana for a month was hard, but there were other ways I could practice my yoga. Yoga is both on and off the mat. It just happened that that month it was all off the mat. There are so many more things that I didn’t even mention that is still yoga. Chanting, writing, self-reflection, walking, drawing, painting, and even washing dishes. As long as we’re practicing mindfulness in our other activities and maintaining full presence, that is yoga. Actually, one of my favorite yoga quotes is by Krishnamacharya and he says:
If you can breathe, you can do yoga.
There is no mention of any physical prerequisite beyond the physical ability to breathe. This is something in which every human being can do. We may all breathe at varying degrees of ability, but if you are here and you are reading this, then you can breathe. You are alive. Physical ability can’t prevent you from practicing yoga. Yoga is so much more than asana. Sometimes it takes an injury or other life event to really, truly, and deeply remind us able-bodied people of this fact.