On practising when tired

Teachers often caution against practising when tired: it’s when the injuries happen. Your attention lapses or you’re not well set up. It’s sensible advice, but sometimes it really bothers me and I hear it too personally. My inner demons wickedly translate these words into “you’re sick and you have no place here and this practice is not for you”. After all I used to be tired every single time I practised. I’d have never started if I heeded this advice literally — it’s not called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for nothing!  But the advice isn’t really about not practising when you’re tired, it’s about not practising without proper care and attention when you’re tired. Big difference.

I’m starting to realise that I am aware enough, and have enough tired practice hours under my belt, to register how I am feeling and to modulate my practice accordingly. Interestingly two physios have made the same comment recently on my chronic rotator cuff issues; they tell me that if this has improved since starting yoga (esp given that vinyasa style is well known for being tough on shoulders), then I’m doing something right in the way I practise, that I am being mindful and respectful of my body. Good to hear! But I shouldn’t need someone else to tell me this, should I?

trust the body quoteBut taking on board this bit of ‘evidence’, I’m trying now to play with the idea that being tired isn’t inherently such a bad thing. Can I relate to the experience differently? Can I escape from the thought that tired = bad, energy = normal and good? Can I see some potential in tiredness? — after all if it’s the secret to keeping my shoulders relatively safe then that’s a good start! Can I move from the safety of my awareness into some soft exploration and curiosity? Who knows where that might lead.

So sometimes I explore by choosing to keep myself moving through tiredness. Deliberately and humbly. There’s no place for ego in this exploration. In class with the energy of the room I can allow myself to be carried myself along by the flow of the practice. And what do you know — this can be really interesting! It needn’t be frustrating and paralysing, it needn’t mean that I feel I’m missing out on peak poses, and in fact it needn’t mean that I rest more than others. Although I’m not sure I’d wholly recommend it, actually it can be amazing!

I must keep my humility though. It is through this that I can experience each breath and each movement as an offering and not a triumph I have attained, and this is very liberating. Suddenly, paradoxically, an exquisite freedom as I allow myself to fall into the experience, supported by the intangible but undeniable strength of simple breathing and releasing. Each breath has to count and each new transition and each āsana feels like a gift, perhaps never to be experienced again. The preciousness of each moment provokes a sense of awe at life itself and the absurd, wondrous possibilities it contains. But the sense of frailty and vulnerability is immense and I balance always precariously on the razor’s edge of being overwhelmed by the simple intensity of being. How to be fully in each moment and then let it pass, let it go to flow into the next moment of being?

yin-yangA recent experience: an amazing day of yoga. What wonderful things my studio offers! Plus the support from my teacher — that, no, it wouldn’t be total madness for me to do a doubling of classes. Even though that meant two hours of strong vinyasa before three hours of unbroken Yin practice. Just about time for a shower and a snack between sessions.

The vinyasa practice for me was a wonderful flow where I just lost myself into the experience, letting my body make the best expression of the instructions offered, revelling in the control of my transitions, gliding over obstacles and limitations. I don’t know where my thinking brain went, but it was in a different mode to usual. Almost a trance — but a highly aware one. I can’t explain. Maybe you know what I mean anyway…

So, a beautiful practice in itself. And this Yang set me up for the Yin. Three hours of slow, slow unfolding of poses, a gentle revealing of softness and ease and contentment. This too demands focus. But my brain and body were ready. Ready to settle, to relinquish all control and expectation, all fears and frustrations, and just allow each āsana to arrive. The spaciousness was quite wonderful. The gentle urging from the teacher to let go our narratives and just be in the present were timely reminders.

The days following I feel some quiet pride (failing now to stay humble!) in how gracefully I was able to manage this experience. But mostly I’m full of gratitude for the opportunity, for the teachers who create this safe space, for setting me up well in my practice, and for the generosity of their teachings.

Tired but happy is how I feel most days now. One day I might shift the adjectives around subtly… Or change that pesky conjunction…

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