Yoga, Asana and Practice: Attending to the heart

Six years ago I was pregnant with my first son. I had been studying Iyengar yoga intensely for several years. During the pregnancy I completed my training with Patricia Walden. Being pregnant meant that going up for certification in the Iyengar system when finished, wasn’t possible. My birth had some complications and my asana practice post birth had to be very amended. Within the next years,  I moved states, started and quit a full time job doing national event development work in the yoga world, founded a preschool, bought a house, lost my grandfather, and then welcomed a second son into my life.

The particular story that is coming to the surface right now from the many that were a part of this time  is about the practice of yoga, the practice of asana, and the experience of becoming a parent, and parenting small children as it relates. It is also a story about practice and what it means in a community of practitioners. When I did my formal yoga training, I was incredibly dedicated. I practiced every day almost seven days a week– I have two three ring notebooks full of notes on the primary actions of the yoga postures . I have notes and note cards of the sutras I memorized, the terms, the anatomy. I was flexible, strong, confident, and filled with information. I was also very fond of teaching– I gave my heart to it fully. And then circumstances began to demand that the length of time I spent doing asana change. My strength transitioned. My focus changed. I had to give up teaching for a time. At the end of a long work day, it felt more essential to be with my son than to do asana, more important to sit with my breath and simply breath.

I still practiced. I studied the sutras. I called on the strength I had cultivated and the capacity to understand the yamas and niyamas each day in a very active way– pasting a yama or niyama in my work space and working with sutras as mantra. But my asana practice became very different and much less regular. Yet, over time, something else crept in: guilt. Once I had transitioned my work to be with my children more, and started to settle into my life with two boys in a new city, with a business to run, I found that I felt guilty about the practice I had lost. I felt sad and disappointed.  I wanted  not to have lost the practice of 1-2 hour asana sessions. I wanted to do drop backs after a 1/2 hour of practice. i wanted, still, to be able to recite 10 sutras in a row from memory. But I couldn’t. This coincided with wanting to start to teach more again  as well and slowly starting to have the time to attend more workshops with others as well.

I stepped back into the world of formal and social yoga study gingerly  I wanted to hide my newly found /created neck injury– from nursing two children, co-sleeping with at least one child for 5 years, lugging my things and theirs, and not taking the time to dive into the asana I actually knew could help my neck. I wanted to hide. Somewhere in the space of this time, I also began to suffer from depression. I have always had a serious edge– but in the face of landing from 5 years of major transition, it was oddly, the attempt to reintegrate into the yoga world that made me see how down I felt and sort of pulled me more fully into the gloom I was standing at the edge of. The judgement I felt or imagined that came into conversations with other yogis immobilized me. Somehow I started to feel that because my asana practice wasn’t what it had been, I no longer deserved the practice at all. I started to disallow myself any of the practices.  And I started to fall deeply into habits (samskras) that those practices had held at bay– my ego, my attachments, my aversions, all started to feel overwhelming.

As I more formally move back into my study of asana and scripture again after this dark time, I am reminded of something that poet Mark Strand writes of at the start of one of his books of poetry. He writes that the book he is introducing was a book that he wrote during a year when he felt like he was not writing at all– a year he worked in his garden and did not sit at his desk. Later, as he returned to writing he found that he had indeed written the poems that made up the book during that year– in his head/ his heart– that they were being written internally then to come out externally in the form of poems later.

What I am finding are deep and also painful discoveries. I am understanding how much the ideas and concepts of my yoga practice were deepened in the last years when I had no time to settle into my drive to do a better drop back or a longer head stand. I had to get on the mat when I could so that I could hold myself together enough not to scream at my children when I was too tired or throw in the towel when my new director wanted to fire me after my first maternity leave. It was the essence of yoga living in my cells and heart, as well as the non-asana-centric practices I utilized,  that got me through the 5 years that I felt like I had not been practicing in.

The perspective has also helped me to see how judgmental I was, how sure I was pre-children, that I had somehow managed to evolve more because  I found the time to study, to practice, and namely, to do so much and such beautiful asana. There are so many layers unfolding in this time when I come back into the routines that used to shape my practice. There is much to reflect on for me. This harvest is very very rich. And, yet, it is also time to dive back into this garden— to get the weeds out and make space for the new growth that I want to invite into myself and my life.

The yoga I have known and practiced saved me because it was more than asana— and yet, as I return to an asana practice again that is deeper and more intense, I hope not to get caught in it, to believe that it is the measure of the movement and evolution of this heart. Edwin Bryant, in his commentary to the Yoga Sutras, writes ” There is no flower bed, however perfected, that can counteract the relentless emergence of weeds if left unattended. ” (pg. 51). I also understand this. In the darkest time of the past years, when I allowed my discontent about my asana practice to be an impetus for throwing out all of the other practices I more formally engaged in, I did find that the weeds started to grow– without the active work of reflecting on yamas, niyamas, the meditation, and the asana, my consciousness was totally overwhelmed with sorrow.

It is with deep gratitude that I continue this practice.

abhyasa-vairagyabhyam tan-nirodhah

[The vrtti states of mind] are stilled by practice and dispassion.

tatra sthitsau ‘bhyasah

From these, practice is the effort to be fixed in concentrating the mind.

sa tu dirgha-kala-nairantarya-satkarasevito drdha-bhumih

Practice becomes firmly established when it has been cultivated uninterruptedly and with devotion over a prolonged period of time. 

(Yoga Sutra 1.12-14– translation from  Edwin J. Bryant--Sanskrit is missing the correct diacritics due to keyboard limitations )









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2 comment(s) on “Yoga, Asana and Practice: Attending to the heart

  • I am very touched by your story. I fell out of yoga myself after a bad pregnancy.
    I was full of confidence too – I was healthy and strong (the result of years of yoga), I thought having a baby would be a breeze and I’d still be able to do what I wanted to do with my life. I had to make a choice instead. I think I made the right one. I’m now going back into yoga and on search for self-fulfilment.
    I hope it all works out the way you want it to – that you will find space in your life for all the things that are important to you. All the best!

  • Thank you for sharing!

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