I got home from work the other day with one thing on my mind — that I was going to be home early enough for a totally indulgent, non-rushed, much-needed yoga practice. Time to be alone, away from any responsibilities to others, time for rebuilding myself a little after fragmenting, splintering a little, under competing demands of late.
Hubby greeted me at home with the odd question of “What are your yoga plans tonight?” Clearly a loaded question, so I answered equivocally, noncommittally, wondering what he was getting at. Turned out he needed yoga too, but wanted to practice with me. “Just give me a class” was his request. Oh yes, just like that, because I’m full of experience and have a host of class plans for different scenarios up my sleeve… Not to mention that practising with a spouse presents unique challenges as well as joys.
I made no promises about how we’d balance shared practice vs guided practice. We just began. A tentative OM, a slow warmup that I talked through while the rest of my brain went into overdrive of possible combinations of poses, a useful focus, what from my recent explorations I might be ready to share a little…
None of this hasty off the cuff planning was needed since half way through the second surya namaskar he stopped and asked me to demo folding down into Uttanāsana. I did and I watched him in turn and then the rest of our time turned into a focus on the lower back. He has chronic pain here so I was treading carefully (and feeling very unschooled in anatomy or anything I might need to know) but…
I tried to help him explore the relationship between the muscles in the belly and the lower back suggesting that he stabilises the lower back by engaging the abs especially in standing forward folds when gravity also gets involved. I demoed the ‘swan dive’ style of forward fold which I think he should avoid. I had him doing half down-dog (or half Uttanāsana as I thought of it) against the wall to support him while he explored what a flat back felt like, in contrast to the arching that he tends to do.
He asked me to watch him in ‘puppy’, which is a pose he loves to do at home since he feels it’s good for him. What I saw was someone trying to relieve their sore lower back by stretching it out, but actually perhaps making it worse by overextending as he dragged the chest down towards the mat. Ditto his downdog.
Then he asked if we could look at Bhujangāsana. I know that he usually avoids the backbend sequences in class, so this is delicate ground for him. Whatever I explained clearly ‘worked’ for him since he said for the first time ever he felt in his body why people might like backbends and why they get called ‘front openers’. Whatever was going on he clearly felt something different. I reckon that’s good.
I then had him do a goofy stretch that I sometimes take to explore my upper back — standing with your arms outstretched to each side and imaging that you’re being picked up by the armpits. It’s the best way I know to explain the chest-lift that initiates a backbend. He even asked me to hold him under the armpits (such is my wifely duty!) so he could really focus on imagining this. He stayed there for ages, me balanced on the sofa behind him.
I try hard not to think about yoga as getting somewhere all the time. There’s a subtle balance between recognising what is and feeling one’s way toward what could be. But Hubby is seeking remedy, craving change and relief. I tried to find a way to show how small changes to what he already does could make a big difference. And he was so smiling, excited, and positive afterwards.
I insisted on him closing with Śavāsana although he hates the pose like nothing else. I set him up with props which he also hates, but afterwards he said it was really comfortable (especially once I’d stopped clowning around taking a photo and tucked his arms under the rolled blanket that was supporting his lower back).
At the end of that we’d been on the mat together for well over an hour. He left me to do a very short practice of my own (finally! 🙂 ) while he went off to chop veggies for dinner.