A reprieve from the world

During the hiatus, I was going through some things at work and at home. It wasn’t bad, but I was taking a step back as I transitioned between positions and it was complicated. Likewise, a family business was happily growing and taking a little extra time and a lot of extra energy. By the end of the day, I could barely make it to the mat. Nevertheless, I knew I had to make it there, at least sometimes. I didn’t have the energy for a “workout” but that didn’t mean that I didn’t need to do some yoga. Eventually, I fell into a routine that I have found restorative enough to turn into the workout I knew I also needed.

Part of that is music. I know everyone loves the traditional yoga music that they hear at yoga studios, but I’ve never had much success finding something I like to buy and have at home. I do have my Alexa and I can ask for meditation music, but that doesn’t always do it either and I’m not always home for my practice. Sometimes I have to get in while still at work. On those days, I start with a song called Worn by Tenth Avenue North. Yes, it’s a Christian song. It’s amazing. I sit in easy pose for like half the song, adjusting my breathing and feeling every word of the song.

For a little context, it starts like this:

I’m tired, I’m worn

My heart is heavy

From the work it takes

To keep on breathing

I’ve made mistakes,

I’ve let my hope fail

Though the opening is less than hopeful, it makes me feel better by the end. It’s kind of a prayer and usually how I feel on those days. It gets me in the right mindset by reminding me that though I feel this way, it doesn’t have to be this way and I don’t have to fix it on my own. At some point, I get the motivation to start moving and getting into my practice, so I start a warm up.

It’ll work with whatever song brings you back to center and to life. When the desire to move comes, slowly lift your arms on an inhale, bring them together and down to heart’s center on an exhale and repeat 3 to 5 times.

On the last one, rotate wrists on the way down, switching directions at shoulder level. This is a good time to get eagle arms in too. I love the full expression of eagle, but eagle arms is great on a warm up too.

Eagle Arms

A little twist to either side is also nice here. Inhale and then twist on the exhale, inhale to center and twist to the other side. It’s not a deep twist but just getting the body into the movement. Pay attention to breath and just move a little.

Take a deep breath and lean your head back, exhale and bring the chin down to the chest 3 to 5 times. Then either shoulder, inhaling to center and exhaling down. Then looking to each shoulder. I know one school of thought is to rotate the neck but that isn’t always accessible to all people without hurting necks and we all get older at some point.

Roll on to your hands and knees for table top. Then sit back into child’s pose.

By this time, the next song is usually playing, which for me is Alison Krauss’s Down to the River to Pray from Oh Brother Where Art Thou. I know, another Christian song. These are usually days when I need yoga and Jesus. I don’t know about you but that happens to me. More often than I want to admit lately. It’s not that things are bad, far from it. Even good things can take a lot out of us sometimes. It keeps me from burning out too fast. Anyway, I like to stay in child’s pose for this whole song. There really is something about laying prostrate that reminds me of the tug of war that yoga and life are. It’s the balance between control and surrender, and this is for days when I’ve tried to control too much and really need to surrender a bit. There’s nothing quite like an extended child’s pose for that, especially after admitting that I am worn out by the day.

When Down to the River to Pray is over, my next song is A Million Dreams from The Greatest Showman. I get the idea that we only get what we take, but that’s neither a very Christian nor a yogi sentiment. Life’s not about take, it’s about give. It’s about the big dreams and the hope and surrendering to hope itself. I have a million dreams too and it seems like everything is converging on me at the same time. I’ve needed to take a step back and remember to be grateful for the adventure I’m on and to pace myself but not forget that it’s my dream too. It can either run me over or I can surrender to the ride it’s taking me on.

As far as the practice, there are two options, depending on how I still feel. I can transition right into the Warrior/Standing poses from here and carry on with a normal workout if I’m up to it:

Or continue a restorative practice. There really are times when I feel up to a normal practice by this point. Not always. Here’s the rest of the restorative practice that I’ve built up lately.

As A Million Dreams is starting up, this is a prone sequence I’ve been doing:

Slide forward into baby Cobra, exhale down to the mat

Inhale to half-cobra and exhale to the mat

Inhale to full cobra and exhale to the mat

Slide back into child’s pose for a few breaths

Press up into downward dog and hold for a few breaths. Inhale the left leg up as high as it will go, stacking your hips. Exhale the knee forward between your elbows. Inhale the leg back up, this time keeping the hips level. Exhale the knee to the left elbow. Inhale the leg back up, hips level. Exhale the knee to the right elbow. Inhale the leg back up, hips stacked. Exhale the foot back down. Transition to the other side and repeat with the right leg.

By now, the song has probably changed. For me, it’s Moana’s Know Who You Are. I loved this song in the movie and it’s a great reminder that we can be the fire-breathing monster sometimes when we forget to practice surrender. Or don’t have the heart for it, as in the movie. Its followed by the Pitch Perfect 3 version of Freedom sung by Anna Kendrick. I liked the song when it first came out but something about listening to it now as an adult, I get all tingley when she sings “all we have to do now is take these lies and make them true”. It is my ultimate goal to take the lies some people have told my coworkers about where we work and make them true. Same for the family business. It’s all the things we believe but aren’t good at practicing. I believe we all have those principles that we adore but aren’t so good at in practice. There are a few interchangeable love songs after Freedom too.

In my practice, Know Who You Are is about the time to transition to standing. Rather than working through the warriors, this is a good time for balances. Remember that this is the practice that balances me out after a long day, of course there muse be balance poses! After a helping of surrender, control has to be reintroduced, if you will. The best way that has worked for me, is to step into the balances that require a little control and a lot of surrender. It pretty much follows my normal balance sequence.

The thing about these poses is that even though it requires quite a bit of physical control, the surrender side is still mental. I have to surrender to where my body is at the moment and that might not be the most flexible place today. The most flexible is not the point. The point is surrender to where I am before I can control where I’m going. This is especially important when doing standing hand to big toe.

This might be a good place move through a round of warriors or a sun salutation A here, it depends on whether or not we’ve completely shaken off the day yet. Sometimes it doesn’t happen until savasana. If not, transition back down into prone for pigeon:

I usually like to get into pigeon from wild thing, but on these days, it’s better to just bring the knee forward from downward dog. This is one of those stretches that just makes everything better, especially once I’ve leaned forward and put my head on the ground. Well, as close as it will get. I usually like to do a slight back bend and point my heart up for a few breaths before bringing my forehead down. Transition to the other side and then come back up into downward dog. Drop to your knees, and then child’s pose again for a few breaths before coming up and into camel:

Again the heart to the sky, the dynamic of the position helps me really feel like my heart is being lifted. Also the loves songs, usually. I have it timed so that I reach Everything Changes sung by Staind around the time to get into the sitting poses. From here, I close it out as normal, fitting in some reverse sit ups if I’m up to it. At this point, the rest of the music is Ed Sheeran’s Perfect, Jason Mraz’s I Won’t Give Up before savasana. Yes, an assortment of other poses can come into play, depending on the remaining need for control or surrender to balance out. There are some poses that I can just do over and over to either meet up the timing that I’m looking for or that my body or mind needs. It took some years, but I’ve recently come to a point where the poses tell me something and if you’re there, this is the practice for that. Get them in where you need them. Along with the music. I know most people don’t like music with words for yoga, but this is a special playlist for me to with a special practice to find peace and maybe some healing too. It won’t work for everyone, but it’s always worth sharing for those who might be looking for just this sort of thing.

The last song on this yoga playlist is Hallelujah sung by Tori Kelly from the movie Sing. Every version is beautiful, but this one has a verse that has special meaning for these days that I had never heard elsewhere. It’s one of those final thoughts that I need to remember on a day that I’ve run around all over the place working on dreams and doing my best and feeling like I’m failing more than getting it done. All of which makes it the perfect savasana song for this practice. I try to time it so that I’m in savasana for the entire song. Here’s the verse I’m talking about:

I did my best, it wasn’t much

I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch

I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool ya

And even though it all went wrong

I’ll stand before the Lord of Song

With nothing on my tongue but

Hallelujah

I try to end every day with that feeling. Maybe it will all go wrong. How do I stay in a place where I’m still grateful? I usually find the answer somewhere in savasana. Where do you find a reprieve from the world or the head space to get back into the fight?

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