A woman came to Yoga Therapy on recommendation. She was going through an unpleasant and contentious divorce to her husband of 35 years, and whilst physically fit and in general good health, was anxious, scattered and profoundly unable to sleep. She had always been interested in yoga, but had not practised before. She hoped it would help calm her mind and prepare her for the long legal battle ahead.
Gentle observation of the client on first meeting showed that much of her energy was in the head, neck and shoulders, and that the area across her heart chakra was (understandably) closed and defended. She had little connection to her core and it seemed as though her feet barely touched the ground. It was as if she were an athlete on the starting blocks, about to run the race of her life, overly alert and hyper responsive for the sound of the gun.
We did very little during our first session. I encouraged her to move fluidly through circular motions of the neck, shoulders, hips and knees. I suggested she lie face down on the floor and simply surrender to the earth, focusing on a deliciously long, sighing exhale. She explored long-held back bends (such as sphinx pose and bridge) to restore vital energy in the kidneys, and restful, chest-opening positions (such as supported fish) to soften the protective shield she had cast across her heart. We ended with supported shoulderstand, heart only slightly elevated above the head, and I explained the settling effects of inverted postures on the nervous system.
Our next few meetings followed the much the same pattern. Restful restorative positions interspersed with mild flowing movements. At times she found this frustrating as she was keen to 'make progress' and 'do things right', but I felt it important that she learn to go slowly and be in the present, rather than always be rushing ahead towards some future goal or outcome.
The weeks passed and her demeanour began to change. Her eyes were less haunted, her shoulders less hunched. She was sleeping better and felt able to focus her mind with more clarity. The divorce 'battle' stepped up a notch, but with the help of supported balances (tree, eagle, shiva pose, all against the wall) and specific core strengtheners (plank, drawbridge), she was able to find her feet, stand firm and discover her sense of self. I would throw a balance unexpectedly into a sequence to see how she would fare, encouraging her to connect with centre in the unlikeliest of scenarios. And in time, she was able to meet the challenge without blinking.
As her energy levels and self confidence grew, we advanced to strong standing postures as well as lion and goddess poses. She roared, fired arrows, stuck out her tongue, rooted her feet to the earth and breathed deeply and powerfully into her navel, igniting strength of will. But she also learnt when to sigh, be quiet, soften and let go; rest and activity, fierceness and mildness, dancing together to create perfect poise.
Our sessions continue (as does the divorce) and it is fascinating to see not only how a strong, self assured, self aware woman is rising phoenix-like from the flames of her crisis, but also how yoga practice has something to offer in every situation. Sometimes she is tired and world-weary, needing to restore, other times she is fired up and defiant, ready to express her inner warrior. Sometimes there are tears, sometimes there is laughter. But whatever the need, this vast science of yoga always has something to meet it, allowing the client to step back, centre herself and realize that life doesn't have to be lived on the edge, in constant expectation of trouble. Instead, the ups and downs can be embraced from a place of balance, self assertion and trust in the bigger picture; from a place of union ('yoga') with what is.
Penny Jane Fuller 2014