Have you ever looked closely at your shoes? Take a look at them and you will discover how you move through the world.
Most of us tend to lean into the space in front of us. If you live in a big city you may notice that your entire body presses forward just to get on the subway, cross those crowded intersections, or shop on Fifth Avenue. I have a friend who lives in the country and drives for hours every day. Her upper body has become permanently tilted forward, so that even when she’s not driving she’s still hovering over an invisible steering wheel.
This is why we all need to take some time off-we are constantly in the position of advancing and to balance that we need to retreat. Recently I went to a writer’s retreat at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York. The directions to get there seemed simple, but I still managed to lose my way almost immediately. Singing along with the oldies station was fun until I suddenly realized I’d been driving too long and had missed an important turn. I began a fruitless search for information. No road signs, no towns, no phones, no gas stations. I hadn’t a clue how to get where I wanted to go, but in the process of focusing my attention I became very alive to where I was. I felt the clear, clean air of springtime in upstate New York and saw clouds tinged pink with a sunset that made me pull down the windshield visor of my old Buick. I liked having to slow down and drive with squinty eyes until the treetops bent over and held hands, shading the road. I pulled over to ask directions of a farmer mowing his lawn, but the pastoral scene was so exquisite that after a pause, I decided to just kept going.
This was the beginning of my retreat. No more pressing forward, planning, accomplishing, meeting deadlines, crossing things off my list. I dropped back, I relaxed. I felt light and grateful. I didn’t know where I was on the map but I knew what it felt like to be me right there, right then.
Retreat is the act of withdrawing into privacy. It can be a physical refuge or a time of retirement. If a vacation or an extended retreat isn’t a possibility for you right now, here is a yoga retreat that you can do at home. All you need is a 10 ft. by 5 ft. floor space, a body, a commitment, and 15 minutes.
This a complete program of yoga poses, or asanas, that work every part of your body. You will discover that you like some parts of this sequence and not others. Do the whole thing anyway. Let go of what you think you are good at and what you should look like doing this. And please let go of the idea that you have to already be flexible to do yoga. Start right now, just how you are.
1. Mountain Pose Stand up with your arms down by your sides. Take a moment to feel the earth beneath you and the sky above you. On an inhale, lift your arms up to the ceiling and gaze at your palms.
2. Standing Forward Bend As you exhale, bend your knees, reach your arms out to the sides and swan dive over your legs.
3. Lunge Inhale and step your right leg back behind you. Gently lower your right knee to the floor. Place your palms on your left thigh and lift your spine up to a more vertical position.
4. Twist Put your hands and left knee on the floor, coming on to all fours. On your next exhale, spin your torso to the right and reach your right arm up to the ceiling. Exhale and come back to all fours.
5. Knees Chest Chin Spin your sitting bones up to the sky at the same time that you lower your chest to the floor right between your hands with your elbows up. Let your chin touch the floor too. This is challenging, but don’t worry. Keep working on it and you will begin to build strength in your upper body and abdominals.
6. Baby Cobra Slide your chest through your hands. As you inhale, lift your head, chest and shoulders up. Keep your bottom ribs on the floor and maintain length in the back of your neck.
7. Child’s Pose Press the floor away as you reach your hips back over your heels. Rest there for as long as you want.
8. Side Bend Roll your spine up to sitting. Breathe in as you lift your right arm up and as you exhale, bend to the left. Try to maintain length in both sides of your waist and keep both sitting bones down.
9. Downward Dog Come back to all fours, tuck your toes under and lift your hips up.
Reach toward the floor with your hands and heels and up to the sky with your seat.
10. Downward Dog Split On an inhale, lift your right leg up behind you. It doesn’t have to go high.
11. Lunge On an exhale, swing that top leg forward and place your right foot between your hands. If it doesn’t get all the way there, try it again and make sure you are bringing your pelvis forward along with the leg. If it still doesn’t get there, use your right hand to move it into place. Lower the left knee and place your hands on your right thigh.
12. Forward Bend Place your hands back on the floor and as you exhale, step your left foot forward to meet your right. If you feel any strain whatsoever on the back of your body-lets, neck or lower back-bend yur knees. This will all open up with time, but you cannot force it without creating injury. Breathe and be patient.
13. Mountain Pose with Prayer Hands Inhale as you reverse your swan dive, lifting your hands all the way up over your head. As you exhale, draw your palms down in front of your heart and tand in mountain pose.
Repeat this sequence stepping back with the left leg (#3), twisting to the left (#4), bending to the left (#8), and stepping forward with the left leg (#10). You can work up to doing the whole program four times on each side.
After you finish you asana practice, lay down on your back, close your eyes and rest for five minutes.
The word asana is sometimes translated as “to sit with.” Let your daily yoga retreat be a time to sit with yourself, to let go of your agenda, to make your own acquaintance. Yo will gradually discover that yoga pracice will not only give you a stronger body, deeper breathing and a more stabilized and spacious mind, but it will awaken your senses and open your heart. Anyone can experience this. It might even change the shape of your shoes.