After a recent conversation I began asking myself: In what way does my yoga practice provide nourishment to me? I feel around me, among many I dearly love and those I meet through my teaching and individual work, a need for the nourishment of the rain after a drought.
An interesting medley of thoughts came in response to my question. I offer them here to all of us as we move in a world that might be too dry or too wet or in bodies and spirits that are hurting or exhausted. I offer it with humility for each of us has our own way. Many of the responses are “small” moments. But they take me into spaciousness. In a series of books by Ursula LeGuin, there is a grove of trees on the island where the wizards are trained. From a distance, the grove looks small but when one enters and walks, the grove expands indefinitely. The Patterner lives in the grove. He watches the patterns of leaves and light and gains understanding and wisdom through them.
Perhaps there is a pattern of understanding and wisdom in observing some of these small moments related to my yoga practice that nourish.
* * *
The hawk calls almost every morning during my pranayama practice. This wild hawk call pierces through to some forgotten wild place in myself and I hang momentarily suspended from even breath. I hang suspended in a wild mystery. The wild place nourishes me.
* * *
During the summer months I practice on my outdoor yoga platform under an oak tree. I built it with my own hands. If one traces the word asana back and back and back, as I have learned from Richard Rosen, it is the platform the yogi’s had outside their small houses to practice on. And before that it can be understood as an altar. And so as I practice outside I feel I am offering my practice on an altar to that mystery of the hawk call. The layers of understanding reaching back toward my yoga ancestors, nourishes me.
* * *
Some mornings, if I am very tired, my practice consists of primarily or only reclining pranayama, as was the case on the morning I write this. I lay over the pranayama blanket, my head wrapped in a cloth, my legs belted, a sandbag on my thighs, and a blanket wrapped around me as if swaddled. Amelia sleeps on top of my legs. I go very quiet externally and internally and all that I feel is breath and space and Amelia. The quiet is nourishing.
* * *
Sometimes on a Sunday morning when I am there, Elenna invites me to her outdoor yoga studio – a pier out over the water in Alameda. The birds are usually there. Often we practice in silence. Or we enter into conversation that I can only describe as sacred. Practicing by the water with a friend nourishes.
* * *
My mother has macular degeneration so she is unable to read without some kind of magnification. Recently, she was waiting for her regular treatment of having an injection into her eye. She could not read during her wait so she decided to practice her relaxation breathing, something she had learned in her yoga class. She waited an hour. She sat breathing and coming back to her breathing every time she found her thoughts wandering.
Normally, when she receives the injection in her eye, her body jumps as the needle is inserted. It is not pain, she has been given something to prevent her feeling the needle. It is more of a reflex. This time, after her hour of breathing, she did not jump. She was pleased and intrigued as was the doctor who thought perhaps his technique had improved. She explained to him what she had been doing. He agreed as how it was possible.
My mother began practicing yoga at 75 and is now 83.
I feel nourished by her story.
* * *
As I write this, an email comes in from someone I have not heard from in a long time:
Pooraka is drawing the breath up. Kumbhaka is retaining the breath. Rechaka is the exhaling of breath slowly from within.
Many sorts of cakes are prepared from the same rice.
So also, by breath, everything is accomplished.
Nourishment comes in surprising ways.
* * *
Sitting with fifty some other people in Durango, Colorado in the afternoon – the soft light shines over the mountains and Patricia Walden talks us through a pranayama practice. The precision, the place, the dedicated people around me – all melt into a timeless experience, again of breath, that is like walking into the grove of trees Ursula wrote about. This is nourishing.
* * *
A friend who is a brother to different parents, knowing something difficult has happened for me, leaves me a phone message. He says that when I am next in headstand, I should think of him also in headstand giving me a hug. His interweaving of support with his knowledge of my yoga practice nourishes me.
* * *
My whole body hurts on the morning after I have been moving some very large rocks from one place to another to wait for when I know how and where to place them. They are rocks I gathered five years ago with vision for them that I have lost. I have been swearing at them for years when I weed whack (not really at them but at me for not finishing the project) so during my time off over this holiday, I move them. My body hurts when I enter my practice the next morning. This physical practice of inversions and backbends and twists does not magically take away all sensation but softens it or makes it more fluid so that I can move through my day without discomfort. I feel a physical body nourishment similar to eating when I am hungry.
* * *
The hawk calls almost every morning during my pranayama practice and I am pierced and suspended in a moment of wild mystery.