Illustration & stick men by Jon Lander, originally for our blog Yoga with your Slippers on
The Beginning Things are the most important - you might not get round to the Middle Things. In fact a good little yoga practice would be to skip right from the Beginning Things to the End Things. The End Things are Sitting-and-Breathing and Lying Down.
My Beginning Things are these:
1 - Lie down.
1a - If your legs are straight you might be able to relax them more but your waist may be more arched, your abdomen less soft.
1b - If your knees are bent and the feet are flat on the floor, the back of your waist may be more comfortable. Monica Voss once told us that Europeans in a yoga class lie down with their knees bent and North Americans with their legs straight. Settle. Notice things - your breath, body, thoughts...
2 - After a while, breathe out and cuddle your knees in, noticing if the back of your waist rounds out towards the floor. Move, investigate, enjoy.
3 - When you get bored with that, keep hold of one knee and relax the other leg away along the floor. This is MY most important yoga thing; you may find it doesn't do much for you. You’re closing and compressing one set of joints – hip and knee on one side – and opening another set. But better still, it’s great for the lower back, as you ease the pelvis up on the side where you’re holding the knee and tilt it away more on the side the leg is stretched out. If the floor leg can't be heavy, the foot can be on the floor with the knee bent instead of relaxing away.
4a - The next thing is to bring both feet to the floor, knees bent. Put one foot into a belt or strap and relax the foot up towards the ceiling.
4b - If this is easy for you, stretch the floor leg away. You will usually feel a pull along the back of the raised leg – this is most likely to be behind the knee, but could be in the thigh, calf, ankle, back or a bit of everything. You can move the feeling around by bending or straightening the leg, angling the foot or leg differently, curling your toes towards you… There are so many ways to vary every single thing, just enjoy them.
5 - Then a Floor Twist – arms out at shoulder height, bend your knees and let them both drop to one side. Most often it’s nice to turn the head in the opposite direction to the knees, but you can also try looking up or to the same side as the knees and notice what this does. The knees can be tucked up nearer or sent away further, and you can land the knees on a cushion or book if the pull is too much. Find something that feels useful, interesting and perhaps fun or even life-changing. Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ wrote that floor twists can change your destiny.
5 - The last of my little group of beginning things is Bridge. I used to call this Setu Banda, but was once in a class which ground to a total halt while the teacher hectored us about our stupidity in not calling it Dwi Pada Pitham, when none of us had opened our mouths to call it anything. Yoga teachers. What can you do? You lie with both knees bent and both feet flat on the floor, a few inches apart, keep breathing and roll the spine up and down. Start with the hands down by your sides, but vary the arm movements after a while – you can lift them with the hips, have them out to the sides, tuck the hands next to your ears with the elbows lifted as if you were going to do a full Wheel. But I mean just lifting the hips, Wheel (or 'crab') really is not a Beginning Thing.
And that's that. Time to move onto the next thing, whether it's more yoga or the rest of the day. You've begun.