Flexible Body = Flexible Mind
I can’t help but think this is one of the greatest cases for maintaining a yoga practice. That restoring joint function and increasing your mobility only enhances your life experience. Yes, less chronic pain but also the potential for deep vulnerability.
You are given tools to stand firmly in the four corners of your feet, lift the arches and to take up space purposefully. This directly leads to a healthy sense of “I.” One where you can choose your thoughts more often than be victimized by them. One where you can assess the validity of your thoughts and question EVERYTHING. Eeek!
So we attempt to bring the mechanics in asana to our daily life. You might find yourself about to lose your temper but you choose to breathe fully first. A little Ujjayi goes a long way even if you sound crazy. You might stand steady and masterfully, exerting your presence to the world before giving a presentation. Your mind will then act accordingly if the body is there offering support. The strength in your legs and an upright, spacious spine gives you the room to deal with struggles; to move throughout life with a solid foundation and to have meaningful interactions with others. Time to learn your body’s unique mechanics AND assess your own moral values.
Our asana practice is a series of patterns that increase in difficulty. When you get comfortable, more gets asked of you. More space, more strength, endurance, speed, etc. Then one morning, you can finally breathe in a twist that felt like you were suffocating so many times before. The time you can control an arm balance after falling on your face. The desire to change your eating and sleeping habits to be more fully functional. It’s in the consistent attempts that amount to something. Gratitude for the chance to try to improve in some way. Yoga “practice” because you’re in pursuit of ultimate bliss. We’re works in progress!
And yes, I believe directly from experience that postures have the ability to make me think and act differently. I know that backbends and twists for me have created the most extreme variety of emotions. I’ve felt random tears (not always paired with sadness) before, the inability to speak, extreme energy, quiet spaciousness, disgust, angry determination and the list goes on and on. Sometimes the feelings come from something that is going on in my life outside and it gets brought up, NO HIDING! Other times, it feels entirely random. The key for me is to try not to be beholden by the sensations. Curiosity and appreciation for the experience rather than dissecting the “WHY DID THIS HAPPEN?!”
I think practice has made me feel more myself than anything else. It’s given me the strength to gamble on teaching yoga full time and the vulnerability to also rely on my husband, family and friends for support. It has brought out qualities I didn’t know I’ve had (patience for one) but also made me deeply self reflect…which is not always so pleasant of an experience. The shifts in the body and mind might not always feel pleasant. In fact I would say there was a good long time in practice for me when in felt quite scary; necessary for self development but also quite painful in the sense of assessing faults and shortcomings. Perhaps most of all, it’s tested my capacity for any emotion; made me question the variety of ways I can love and also what I think about death.
Everyone has a different body therefore everyone will experience postures differently. The sooner you can create healthy curiosity for your uniqueness the more interesting the whole process becomes. Questions like, what do you think about during practice? Do you spend time dreading a pose coming up in 10 minutes? Do you look off into space rather than the drishti points? No answer is bad or unworthy just as no practice is worthless. It’s just data for you to be aware of and then redirect if you are interested in pursuing a different outcome.
As they say, our body remembers more than we can. You can read “The Body Keeps the Score” by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk if you want to freak yourself out a bit. We all have holding patterns, ticks, and protective stances. Yoga postures come in and try and redirect them; teach your body how get out of it’s own way so that you can hopefully do the same in your life.
All of this forces healthy questions surrounding the choices you’ve made and how you want to move forward. Observing and acting with the Yamas and Niyamas as an individual and as a citizen in your community. CHOOSING to view all the parts of you and ATTEMPT to participate in life more intentionally.
The postures are powerful and if you pay just a bit more attention, you might just notice their impact on you. Of course, you can practice without paying attention to the mental pieces but what a missed opportunity that would be!