Recently I attended a workshop on backbends, some of the poses in yoga that most effectively open the front of our bodies and strengthen our backs. It was a wonderful experience, filled with the awareness that, in moving ourselves and our students deeply into this area, we are entering the places where the difficult moments, feelings and traumas of a lifetime tend to be held. I learned new ways of approaching these poses in my own practice and new considerations to hold as a teacher. But the most striking take away of the weekend for me was our teacher's beautiful articulation of what freeing ourselves from the grip of these tensions and holdings really means.
He spoke of how, before coming to acknowledge these guarded places within ourselves, when we show up in a room in real time, we are also actively carrying with us all of the "selves" that we were when these painful moments or traumas occurred. We may be a 45 year old woman, a 50 year old man - but we are also carrying, showing up with, the 5 year old who survived the accident, the 14 year old who broke a leg, the 22 year old whose heart was broken in the demise of first love, the 30 year old woman grieving a second miscarriage, the younger version of us that couldn't save our beloved wandering pet from the oncoming car. The any-aged version of us subjected to violence and abuse from another. For so many of us, experiences like these are stored and guarded, deep within the body. They can come to effect how we move, how we feel, how we breathe - and to limit the options we have available to us in our moving, feeling and breathing.
The practice of yoga brings us into these places. The numbed-out places. The hard and still-holding places. The places that once protected a wound, whether that wound was physical or emotional. And slowly it opens them, it brings them to awareness, it brings them to light. This process of seeing and opening into the parts of ourselves that we held so tightly, that we kept out of our awareness, this process is actually one of clearing our attachment to the past. The deep reason we feel (and often physically become) so much lighter over time thru our practice is that, as we remove all of these holdings, as we release our attachment to these past selves, we begin showing up, more and more, as simply who we are in this moment. Only that.
"There is such a thing as sincerity. It is hard to define but it is probably nothing but your highest liveliness escaping from a succession of dead selves. Miraculously."
- Robert Frost
When we begin showing up as just this one in this room, not only are we lighter but suddenly new options appear. We can move differently now. How many movements is this body now capable of? How many shapes, how many varied speeds can it move thru happily now? How much more of our internal experience can we now express thru the vehicle of this freed-up form? We must explore! And as we are moving and feeling more freely, as we are exploring ourselves and our world with more curiosity, we begin to experience greater choice in our lives at large. Our vision can broaden, our palette of options for how we respond to and relate to others expands. More nuanced shades become available to us. And here, alongside the adventure of exploration and the relief of freedom, we may also experience challenges. Change can be disorienting, and can be scary even when it's positive. New found freedom carries with it new responsibility - we now know that we can change our experience of life through our efforts and intentions. What will we do with that knowledge going forward?
In my class this week at Dharma Yoga Austin, we moved through some gentle flows designed to quickly relieve tension in the neck, shoulders and upper thoracic spine - areas that itools have developed near-constant tension in, for many of us. This week, I added a twist. We went through the movements normally on the right side of our bodies, slowly and with attention. Everyone experienced greater range of movement in the right shoulder and a decrease of tension in the neck and shoulder on the right side. How wonderful to have relief after only a few simple movements, which required little in the way of "working" effort! Here was the twist though - on the left side of the body, we experienced the same series of movements by simply visualizing that we were doing them. With no physical movement, we pictured ourselves performing these same simple movements, slowly and with great attention. When complete, we re-tested our range of motion thru the left shoulder. Everyone had a noticeable increase in their range of motion (some had even greater increase than on the right!), and a decrease in felt tension on the left side. While the potential for this in purely physical terms is enormous and beautiful (and I hope that you'll spend some time contemplating this), what I most appreciate about an exercise like this is it's delivery of great truths in an irrefutable and embodied way:
Our thoughts are incredibly powerful.
Our intentions show up in our material worlds.
Our bodies are listening to what our minds are saying.
And that, dear ones, is both wildly empowering...and more than a little scary! After all, how disciplined ARE our minds? How clearly are we focusing on what we actually want to create in our experience of life? How often are our thoughts hijacked into creating visions of doom and gloom, incapacitation, ingratitude, lack, despondency? RIght. We've got a lot of responsibility now, don't we? Fortunately, the practices of yoga and meditation help us bring our awareness to what our minds are doing, thinking and creating. Over time, we get better at noticing the moment we start weaving fear and lack and "I can't" into our narrative. And we notice when those thoughts just don't reflect reality. What a gift to give ourselves! What a gift to give our world!
Today begins a new month, and I invite you to actively bring the above questions into your life, to begin noticing what messages your mind is giving your body, your life. And I further invite you to spend a few moments each day this month consciously giving your body messages of appreciation, vitality and health. Consciously visualizing your body moving with ease, with buoyancy, visualize moving in ways that perhaps you no longer feel safe moving physically. Just try it. Spend a few minutes each day visualizing your life and your relationships as you would like them to open. Play with it, but stick with it. What changes will you create in the month to come? There's only one way to find out...
In deep nights I dig for you like a treasure.
For all I have seen
that clutters the surface of my world
is poor and paltry substitute
for the beauty of you
that has not happened yet...
- Ranier Maria Rilke
from The Book of Hours II, 34
Wishing you each a month of incredible self-discovery!
Dana Wyss Healing Arts
Breathe deeply, practice often, be well.