As I lay in savasana (corpse) pose this week, I thought about what yoga has taught me. I’ve done yoga a long time – 25 years – and I’ve learned so much from it. Key elements include body wisdom, emotions, energy, and breath. Today I’d like to share these core learnings with you, dear reader.
Do you live in your head? If you do, you’re not alone. In fact, I think most of us spend too much time using our cerebral matter and not enough using the other parts that make us whole, body, heart, and spirit.
Yoga moves you out of your head and into your body. You likely know the physical benefits of exercise. You may already realize its effects on your mood. However, you may not be aware that your body is an information source, just like your mind.
In truth, your body teaches you.
It teaches you about vulnerability when you pull a muscle and can’t perform to your usual standards. It teaches you strength when you hold Warrior II without force, maintaining steady breath while your heart is pounding.
Yoga specifically teaches you poses that offer a physical expression for a feeling you experience.
Take one of my favourites: tree pose. Get “planted, rooted, grounded” as I learned from Eric Schiffman, my first yoga instructor, in the Ali McGraw yoga video from 1994. Doing tree pose helps me feel grounded. In tree pose, I balance strength with vulnerability. “Trees sway. Get more grounded,” advises Schiffman.
Yoga teaches you that emotions get stored in the hips. By physically releasing the tension in the hips, you can open yourself up emotionally. It’s not unusual for new practitioners to experience a flood of tears when doing pigeon pose or its equivalent on your back, reclined pigeon.
Yoga can also reveal emotional blockages.
Bessel van der Kolk, a trauma researcher who got trained as a yoga teacher, says in The Body Keeps the Score that certain poses like Happy Baby can be traumatizing for assault victims. Another example is Camel pose, which opens up your chest. It can make you feel vulnerable because you are physically baring your heart to the sky. If you are not willing to feel vulnerable, Camel can make you anxious.
Physical poses release stuck energy which is why exercise is such a great way to shift your perspective. The body carries a lot of tension. Too often, tension becomes normalized as a by-product of life’s stressors. Yet the price of this viewpoint is less vitality because you are expending energy on maintaining that tension instead of releasing it.
When you release that tension, you create new space for yourself. “New space” takes the form of energy. You perceive differently, with resources that weren’t available to you before.
Breathing is the most direct way to get present. You spend a lot of time in yoga focusing on your breath as a way to manage the physicality of the practice and to empty the mind to prepare for meditation, which was the initial intended purpose of yoga.
The monkey mind wanders, even during a yoga class, but breath is something you can do in every moment to bring you back to the present because, without fail, breathing happens now.
When you’re present, not worrying about the future or ruminating in the past, you recognize you can do and be anything in THIS moment.
I love yoga. Friends and family know I will do it for the rest of my life. It feels good, fills my heart, and nourishes my soul. Yoga also helps my monkey brain settle down. Try it. You’ll see what I mean.
Header Photo by shu lei: https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-doing-a-yoga-tree-pose-on-a-boat-by-a-lake-13849306/