Sustainability & Longevity….
Those are two words I associate with an authentic yoga practice. One that will be a remedy to the demands of life; work, relationships, transition, motherhood, grief, illness, ageing… the list goes on and often cycles back on itself. Sustainable yoga is a healthy, considered approach to the body that can respond to the highs and lows of daily human experience and isn’t interested in photogenic poses. If a practice designed for longevity sounds like your sort of thing, consider stepping away from the power vinyasa studio and into a Yoga Therapy, Remedial yoga or Restorative yoga class – I’m hoping you have one of these available nearby.
Yoga Therapy is an antidote to the high-intensity, athletic styles of yoga. It is small-scale, holistic and focused on the individual experience of yoga. You may be drawn to Yoga Therapy to address ongoing pain or dysfunction from an injury, to heal staid emotional pain, re-discover yoga after childbirth or just to learn more about your body. Yoga therapists are generally trained in healing people on a more traditional, often spiritual level as well – they may offer guidance for recovery from trauma, for example. Some will even diagnose for you your Ayurvedic dosha (your constitution) before designing a yoga, meditation and pranayama practise that helps you to maintain optimal health by remaining true to your prakruti (original, natural state).
I’ve learnt from an excellent yoga therapist how to address sciatic pain (salabhasana, utkatasana and modified tadasana) and I taught myself to avoid deep back bend asanas because they do not serve sciatica. I have such a loose sacrum that I once badly injured myself getting on and off a bicycle so I wouldn’t dare throw myself around like a gymnast these days. That means no full vinyasa practice for me, even though that was the style I trained in. Through yoga therapy I learnt not to over-stretch the tendons that hold my sacrum, but to instead strengthen the area by engaging my adductors, abdominals, lower back and pelvic stabilising muscles. From my Yoga Therapist I also gained a deeper appreciation of how to cool, not stoke up my pitta (fire) dosha, too. No heated studios for me!
These days, my home practice is more remedial than anything else. I would best describe it as being a pain-relieving session with my body as my teacher, noticing asymmetries or fatigued muscles and always respecting my limitations. It is an exercise in applied anatomy and is very effective at targeting areas of pain or limited function before working to relieve them. I don’t go into my ‘mat time’ with a plan any more – that doesn’t work for me. I reject the idea of having ‘yoga goals’ and I get a lot more out of my practice if it isn’t another chore on my to-do list.
Most often I am trying to self-massage with yoga. When my tight lower back needs attention, I warm up with a cat/cow-child’s pose-down dog sequence. I close my eyes to better sharpen my awareness before asking my spine to articulate and undulate in snake-like movement. Ahh….. that’s what I needed as an antidote to being sardined in a train seat for an hour. Slowly and carefully, I then move through asanas (poses) that isolate lower back muscles and I come back to them repeatedly throughout a gentle set of sun salutes or whatever my body wants. Whatever happens, happens. Janu sirsana, kindling/firelog pose and angled child’s pose give a great pull on the latissimus dorsi and erector spinae muscles. With repetition, choreographed breath and gentleness, I can usually tease my muscles out of their tender, constricted habits and return them to length and suppleness. That’s my home remedy.
Like with Yoga Therapy, you may be drawn to try a Remedial Yoga class to address ongoing pain or to recover from an injury. From there, you may be able to develop a home practice like I have. As a style, Remedial Yoga is becoming more popular and several studios are offering teacher training certificates for those who want to bring it to the community. Remedial Yoga is for teachers who believe that yoga works magic for the injured, elderly and less mobile members of the public (isn’t that about half of us?) So if Remedial Yoga is not available near you yet, I hope it will be soon.
Restorative Yoga also departs a fair bit from the traditional mode of a yoga class – it is far from a barrage of traditional poses strung together with fancy sounding sanskrit names. Fully letting go of tension is the aim of the game, tension that many of us almost constantly feel in our soft tissues, joints and in our minds too. Restorative Yoga is research-based and focusses on finding poses for profound rest. The teacher’s job is to support everyone in a really good, long, supported savasana experience (lying down supine) where blankets, bolsters and other props hold you so your muscles don’t have to. Judith Lasater is the clever American yogi who has promoted the Restorative Yoga movement for decades and continues to pioneer the movement through online tutorials, teacher training (plus mentoring) and some very sensible writing. Of Restorative Yoga she says,
“We work very hard in our lives, and while we may sleep, we rarely take time to relax. Restorative yoga poses help us learn to rest deeply and completely.”
If I lived in the States*, I’d be signing up for her 21-day “Savasana Intensive” course. The title might sound like a contradiction in terms to some people, but absolute bliss to me.
*Glad to not be living in Trump’s America though! #yogatrumpshate