by Annie Finch
In the season leaves should love,
since it gives them leave to move
through the wind, towards the ground
they were watching while they hung,
legend says there is a seam
stitching darkness like a name.
Now when dying grasses veil
earth from the sky in one last pale
wave, as autumn dies to bring
winter back, and then the spring,
we who die ourselves can peel
back another kind of veil
that hangs among us like thick smoke.
Tonight at last I feel it shake.
I feel the nights stretching away
thousands long behind the days
till they reach the darkness where
all of me is ancestor.
I move my hand and feel a touch
move with me, and when I brush
my own mind across another,
I am with my mother’s mother.
Sure as footsteps in my waiting
self, I find her, and she brings
arms that carry answers for me,
intimate, a waiting bounty.
“Carry me.” She leaves this trail
through a shudder of the veil,
and leaves, like amber where she stays,
a gift for her perpetual gaze.
Annie Finch, “Samhain” from Eve, published by Carnegie Mellon University Press.
Copyright © 1997 by Annie Finch.
Last weekend, at Jeju Yoga Kula’s Autumn Yoga Retreat November 4th-5th 2017 (held at Seogwipo Recreational Forest, Jeju Island), I used the analogy of a pumpkin to describe the inner processes of the tendons and ligaments during my yin-inspired yoga class.
As Halloween had just passed, alternatively known as the Pagan festival named as Samhain in Gaelic referenced in the poem above, it seemed that this was an image that could be readily brought to mind. The carving or preparation of a pumpkin during October is something that most of us could relate to. Scientists will remind us that we are not that far genetically removed from any vegetable in terms of D.N.A., so it’s not too far-fetched to visualize our skin and fleshy parts as that orangey stuff inside the pumpkin. The seeds, high in calcium and minerals, could equate to our bones. And the tough, stringy, slightly elastic substance that holds the two together with great tenacity, could be thought of as our tendons and ligaments. This sinewy element can be twisted and re-aligned, but it is to be treated with respect, kept firmly in place and not to be ripped or torn from its socket.
During this time of year as the last fruits of the harvest ripen, as the days lengthen and our mood mellows, I had really slowed my pace down almost to a complete halt. I was gathering pumpkins, persimmons, apples galore, and hoarding them around my home. A chill hit the air seemingly overnight, my shorts had been reluctantly stashed in a box marked ‘Summer Clothes’, and I found myself wanting to eat more wholefoods, take more time both preparing and eating them and to truly absorb and feel nourished by them. It was almost as if I wanted to take all the nutrition down to my core. I felt like I was strengthening my rhizomes, using all my energies to draw everything inwards and send it down to my roots, just like the plants shedding leaves all around me.
Therefore, it seemed an obvious choice to work on the deeper tissue of the body and get closer to the bones with my yoga practice. Yin yoga, often referred to as therapeutic or restorative yoga works deeply into to the tissue beyond muscle. Whilst massage and dynamic yoga operate by working muscles and softening the fascia surrounding them, hot yoga and sun salutations work to bring out sweat and stimulate the internal organs with inner fire, yin yoga works into the innermost layers; perfect for our retreat theme of ‘Turning Inward’. I chose to work on some movement therapy techniques: partner mirroring to start with, followed by a standing inner body visualization to set up a personal theme for the class (summarise your present state using an unspoken word which could be an emotion, colour, sound or utterance and try to remember to recall to mind at the end of the yin practice).
I have been using a similar techniques with my 1st and 2nd year undergraduate students during last semester’s evening campus yoga class.
At the retreat, I guided a simple sequence of postures to work on psoas re-alignment. Working with a lengthened exhalation throughout the 60 minutes, each posture is to be held for at least 5 breaths. Here is the sequence:
- Viparita karini
- 2:1 pranayama (exhale for 6, inhale for 3)
- Optional inverted bhada konasana
- Optional ananda balasana
- Pawanmuktasana with elevated left leg
- Pawanmuktasana with elevated right leg
- Inverted balasana
- Titli asana
- Seated bhadakonasana with optional forward bend
- Ardha matsyendrasana right
- Gomukhasana right
- Ardha matsyedrasana left
- Gomukhasana left
- Virabhadrasana 1 on right with bent left knee
- Arhda hanumanasana right leg forward
- Virabhadrasana 1 on left with bent right knee
- Arhda hanumanasana left leg forward
- Body scan and internal visualisation
- Savasana or supported viparita karini
In between lavish vegetarian meals, workshops on making homemade peanut butter, hummous and cosmetics with Amy Sigsworth, pranayama and yoga classes by Dominique Le Breton and Julia Brooke Fochtman, and short walks through the forest resort, the day and a half long retreat passed extremely pleasantly. For me ‘turning inward’ has recently not been a problem. I live in quiet surroundings where no-one nearby speaks English fluently. The weekend retreat had been preceded by a week of introspection, as my students had been quietly buried in exam preparations all around me. The question was, perhaps, when was the last time I truly turned outwards? I am not sure. Here I am writing for the first time in a while, and deciding to share some of my year’s yoga activities as another year date on the calendar quickly approaches and I wonder what has become of the days, and if I have directed my efforts appropriately. Have I even achieved anything this year? Yet right now, I’m reaching out from a deeper, richer and more contented inner place.