Thursday, July 2, 2009

The small stuff matters in inner work

The practice of yoga has recently brought my attention to some different layers in my experience. When I am in a yoga class there is what's happening in the present moment: yoga instruction and yoga practitioners, my body, my breath, my sensations, the room, sounds and sights are all there. Then there are also my memories that contribute to the experience, but they can also distract me from it: Memories contribute to my experience when they help me to build my poses, and they distract me when they might take me to a conversation I had just before class. I also might have an emotional response that triggers other thoughts and stories: One time I had a flash of anger come out of a groin opener and shot it at one of the teaching assistants (years ago). And at the time I knew it didn't make any sense to be mad at that person, but at that time I just sat with it, observing, and exerted effort trying not to shoot that person with evil eye beams. Pains can also call one towards thoughts instead of practice: I might feel pain in my foot and spend some psychic time in Jamaica where I injured it years ago.

Each person brings a unique mix of who they are into yoga, including the layers I mentioned above. Sometimes during a class certain aspects of the mix can come out. We might find a hidden tightness and we might find a hidden memory or desire. When we do yoga we are working with the WHOLE PERSON. So don't be surprised when these other aspects come up. They are aspects of who we are.

And just like we all have unique fingerprints, we also have unique patterns of tension in the body and mind. Luckily, there is enough overlap in these patterns so that group classes are useful, and very beneficial. Even so, there are things that are unique to individuals that can be discovered and addressed with yoga. One woman told me that the first time she did Warrior Two, Virabhadrasana II, she had had a strong recollection of physical abuse that she had experienced years earlier. The experience had been so powerful that she was afraid to enter the pose again. We were working individually and she brought up the courage to do it, and this time the pose became empowering.

A man in his seventies and fairly new to yoga, courageously shared that he felt layers of tension and also fear (releasing) in his legs in Supta Padangusthasana II. In yoga we are stretching, and enhancing our alignment and athleticism, but you don't have to look too deep to discover that you are working with much more than that in yoga. Our stories about who we are, both the ones we know about and the ones that we've repressed are written into the structure of our bodies, and when we practice yoga we have an opportunity to read the book of ourselves.

And amazingly, with regular yoga practice we also have the ability to work towards balancing ourselves from this physiological level that also affects emotional and mental aspects of ourselves. Just like a spider builds it's own web, we also have the ability to spin our own stories from the body level. And this internal structure that we learn to build and maintain, sustains us with a sense of continuity as we go through the many changes that life brings. 

With yoga, depressed posture can be transformed by the physiology of optimism with noticeable psychological effects. Traces of anger, gripping the bones together, can be transformed by being attentive to these sensations during practice. By noticing what kinds of attitudes relieve these feelings and which ones exacerbate them we can tinker in our inner workings with a noticeable effect, when we favor the poses and attitudes that go towards the desired effect.

Remember the next time you go to a class that everyone has a unique mix of these layers working in them at any given time. Everybody is a little different. Everyone has unique memories of the past (and judgements based on these memories that may or may not be correct) that affect their bodies and posture. Everybody has hopes and fears about the future. And every person has the ability to heal and move towards a greater sense of well-being: yoga practice is a tool that can be used in this way.

And when we choose this path the "small stuff" does matter. The flashes of fear running through the legs (that might be ignored in certain kinds of situations) can be a revelation. In this case I would say be sure to work with this often. Don't ignore the leg work if you experience the fear there (I feel it, too.). Yoga is an opportunity to relieve that.


Linda-Sama said...

our emotions always wind up in our body and they will manifest physically, whether it's within an hour or 20 years later. always.

if you sit long enough with your body, it will always tell you its story. the way we move, IS our life's story.

Megan said...

So true.... Wow.... I'm going through the same thing. There is now a correlation with people who suffer from PTSD and complex PTSD coming out in various poses in yoga. Yoga can, too, be a trigger..... It's something 'om' really looking into at the moment and a friend directed me to this site. Thx for the post. Good one.