DAYS 38 and 39 : Trial, Error and Energy

I’ve been feeling completely exhausted for the last couple of days. I guess maybe I hadn’t been sleeping well while my shoulder was hurting. (The pain has now reduced to a dull persistent ache, for which I’m very grateful.) Continuing on the basis of choosing my daily practice by really listening to what my body and mind need, I that I needed to inject some energy into both.

For Day 38’s practice, I started by browsing the videos on Ekhart Yoga and came across one called “Tiramisu”. I’ll admit that it was the name that initially drew me to it, as tiramisu is one of my absolute favourite desserts, but the description of a class that would “pick us up from sluggishness and laziness and make us bright and clear again” also appealed. Now there have been times throughout this project so far that I have wanted to give up during a practice, but I haven’t… until this one. It just didn’t click with me at all. The movements felt disjointed and I found myself getting more and more frustrated. I knew that I should be accepting that frustration and just working with it, but it got to a point where I felt that the adverse effects of the frustration and annoyance would outweigh any benefits. So, I stopped the video, refused to beat myself up about that, and moved on to another practice.

The replacement I chose was a Yoga With Adriene Shakti practice. In the Hindu tradition, “Shakti” is the word for divine, specifically female, energy. It is, apparently, the energy essential to living a healthy and vibrant life and is synonymous with empowerment, creativity and movement. I’m not sure about all that, although I will accept that there appear to be various different types of energy – that’s something that can be determined just by observing how the body feels in different situations – but which is not quite the same as seeing different energies as having distinct, maybe even divine, origins. That I can’t really get on board with, so I put all of that to one side and focused on just clearing out the sluggishness from my body and mind, which this practice did very nicely. The spinal flexes and side body stretches at the start felt amazing, as did opening up the hips with the hip circles and Lizard pose, while the flow aspects helped to shift some of the mental and physical cobwebs. I also loved that this practice incorporated Lion’s Breath, which is one of my favourite pranayama techniques. It feels childlike and a bit silly, but it really does provide a quick shot of energy.

On Day 39 I felt even more tired, to the point where I’d fallen asleep on the sofa for a couple of hours after lunch without even really realizing it. I needed a practice that involved minimal movement, but which would still perk me up a bit, so I chose an Ekhart Yoga Yin practice called “Connect to your Vital Energy”. I was intrigued as to how a Yin practice could really increase energy, but I certainly felt more energized afterwards. I liked Esther’s focus on just letting everything be, rather than resisting any thoughts or emotions that came up. That constant resistance to certain thoughts or feelings (or indeed to tiredness itself) can be exhausting, and just stopping that can free up that energy to be used elsewhere. One of the best aspects of Yin Yoga, or so I have found so far, is how it encourages slow, deep breathing and an intense focus on the breath. It’s easy to forget the connection between the breath and how we feel – it’s far more difficult to panic, for example, when the breath is slow and deep – and Yin encourages an awareness of that connection.

Without wanting to jinx things I’m feeling much more energetic today, and my body seems to be craving a more fast-moving, intense practice, so I’m going to try to fit one of those in before I head out for the day – the perfect way (hopefully!) to get my mind and body set up for a busy weekend.

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DAY 27 : Yin Yoga and some thoughts on Chi

In my last post I said that I would take a couple of days to figure out where I want to go next, rather than just jumping in to another yoga programme. I’ve decided to try out some different forms of yoga so that I can learn a bit more about them and see if they could enhance my regular practice.

Yesterday I was feeling in need of something a bit slower, so I tried a Yin practice on EkhartYoga. Yin is a slower, more passive form of yoga, with poses being held for significantly longer, in this case a few minutes each time. From a mental and emotional perspective, it almost felt like a series of mini meditations. Physically, it was pretty clear that my body needs this kind of practice. The almost permanent ache in my shoulders and upper back (which are permanently tight, probably due to my pretty high baseline of stress and anxiety) almost disappeared, and was reduced to little more than a nagging sensation until I woke up this morning. I did adapt the practice to focus more on that area of the body. In place of a pose which was intended to stretch the feet, but which I found put too much pressure on my knees, I substituted a supine twist. Holding that pose for a few minutes each side felt amazing in my back and shoulders.

This sort of practice is also, I think, excellent for requiring the mind and body to really engage with each other. In a faster yoga flow, it can be easy to switch the mind off in a particular pose if it’s starting to trigger feelings of panic and unease. When a pose is held for several minutes, the mind has to accept and sit with the physical sensations in the body. From there, with sufficient focus on the breath and observing rather than engaging with any negative thoughts, it’s possible to get to a point where you realise that it doesn’t actually feel that bad after all. Admittedly none of the poses in this practice were ones that tend to trigger the worst of those thoughts, but hopefully it’s an approach that with a bit of work can be carried over to those poses.

Circling back to the beginning of the practice, it started with some arm and back movements intended to “feel and enhance the chi” in and around the body. A Google search for “what is chi” comes up with the following definition:

“The circulating life force whose existence and properties are the basis of much Chinese philosophy and medicine.”

Essentially, I think, it is apparently energy that can be increased or decreased, the flow of which can be improved or impeded. Do I think that this is actually A Thing? I don’t know. Rather than try to grapple with the idea during this practice, I put it to one side (rather like the chakras during Revolution) and used that part of the practice more as a moving meditation. I did get to thinking afterwards, though, that these are concepts that I need to explore, even if I do eventually reject them (as I’m really not the sort of person who will just accept what I’m told without questioning it). I then wondered if it’s necessary to be fully on board with these sorts of concepts in order to truly get the most out of practising yoga. The answer I came to is that I don’t think it is. Yoga is a very personal practice and it is surely going to be more beneficial to only include concepts that serve the goal of that practice rather than try to force it to fit into preconceived notions of what a practice “should” be, or to consistently try to grapple with concepts that I don’t click with.

Based on this practice, I will definitely be incorporating some yin yoga into my practice on a regular basis, as well as looking more deeply into the philosophy behind it. I’ll also be adding chi to my growing list of yoga research topics.

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