I first started practicing yoga about 10 years ago, and have practiced on a sporadic basis since then. My intro to yoga was a cross between power yoga and hot yoga, and it was one of the best workouts I have ever had. My body is not usually limber; I cannot even bend over and touch my toes. After attending yoga classes on a regular basis, I felt a lot like gumby. This gave me the motivation to continue, because I didn't want to lose my newfound flexibility.
Flash forward 10 years to my yoga session yesterday. This yoga session was meant to be restorative, contemplative, and relaxing. There are certain poses that help bring the doshas back into balance, and several of them I had already been intuitively practicing. It still amazes me how the body knows what to do if we quiet the mind and listen.
Before we started the session, I mentioned that I had been feeling chilled frequently. I am always cold, but this was a different kind of cold. Normally, my hands and feet are like ice cubes when I am cold. I am required to wear socks to bed and keep my hands off of my husband until they warm up, to give you an idea of how cold I can get.
Lately I have been feeling chilled just through my torso, even when the rest of me is warm. The yoga teacher informed me that a vata imbalance lodges in the spine, which was probably causing me to feel chilled. The poses we were going to work on would loosen up the spine, which is something I have always had trouble with anyway. I have never been able to do a backbend, even as a child. My spine seems to move in one solid mass, from my neck to my waist.
I also mentioned that I wanted to work on my posture. I have always been tall, and as a child I compensated for towering over my classmates by slumping my shoulders. Never a popular kid, I didn't want to draw any more attention to myself than necessary. Lately when I walk past a mirror, I am appalled at how slumped my shoulders are. It feels as if I am carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders, and it is almost too much effort to hold them back.
The yoga instructor focused a lot on my core, the area in the stomach close to the navel. I had heard this term before, although I must admit I never really understood it. She told me to imagine pulling my stomach in through my back. The trick is to be firm but not tense, which takes some practice. The area in the back behind the belly button is associated with will power. When I started focusing on holding my stomach in this way an incredible thing happened. My shoulders immediately went back and it was almost impossible to slouch. Normally after attempting to hold my shoulders back for about a minute, it was so uncomfortable I would give up. But by focusing on my stomach instead, the shoulders became a mere afterthought. And I can handle a little burn in my stomach, I like the thought of flattening it while strengthening it. A win win situation all the way around.
This yoga session was not the hard core workout I was used to, but I must admit I enjoyed it immensely. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I was able to get out of bed an hour early this morning and practice again. An hour early - on a Saturday. Previously unheard of. I guess there is a reason Ayurveda has been around for 5000 years. I'm glad I'm finally catching on.