I have spoken in many of my classes about the body’s tendency to react to the events that we encounter in our daily lives…the seizing up of the shoulders towards the ears in moments of stress, the habit of rounding the shoulders to unconsciously protect the heart center when feeling like we’re the target of an emotional onslaught, the tightening up of the hips and groins when dealing with breakups and relationship woes. The physical asana practice is already known to lengthen and tone the body’s muscles, as well as to open and create space in the joints of the body, allowing toxins that have stored themselves there to be released with each fresh rush of blood to the area. On a much more subtle level, however, the physical yoga practice also allows us to shed what the body stores, and after reading Alanna Kaivalya & Arjuna van der Kooij’s book, Myths of the Asanas, the way we behave as humans dealing with the events of our lives has been intelligently and refreshingly put into perspective.
Based on what they have written in this amazing collection of mythological tales of the Hindu gods and goddesses (that inform & define the asanas), I find my belief system towards how humans deal with trauma and shock reinforced by some very simple words. When we look at the names of the yoga postures, we find many that refer back to animals, as well as to the earth and to all other beings. We take the forms of all these other beings to be able to put ourselves in their situations and embody their existences and realities, all in the aim of strengthening the connection we have to all other things that make up our reality on this earth. When we take the form of the tree, we establish the connection to the earth through our standing leg while allowing for the body to sway, as if being blown in the wind with our branches outstretched. When we take the form of the cat, the dog, the cow, the locust, the snake, the eagle, and all the other animal-embodying poses, we assume their identities, forms and realities to gain insight into conditions other than our own. All in the hope that we can move toward a place of compassion for all things because we all co-exist and it is through that unifying fact that we understand how to hurt one being is to hurt all beings and to cherish and preserve all beings is to cherish and preserve ourselves.
In keeping with this notion of our commonality, when animals are hunted and escape, or suffer trauma and do not succumb to it, they don’t spend years afterwards discussing it and seeking out advice on how to deal with it. As I’ve seen with my longtime companion Oliver, the most animated of Jack Russell Terriers, despite his having lost both his sight and hearing, if he takes a wrong step and crashes into something, he takes a step backwards, shakes his entire body as if shaking off the event from wherever his body may have felt or stored it, and then continues on obliviously, never looking back on the event as something that scarred him. Now I’m not saying that when we fall victim to trauma or find ourselves the target of a crime, we can just shake it off and pretend nothing happened. I believe that everything that happens in our lives serves as the container of a lesson that we are meant to learn, and we have the capability of rational and analytical thought at our disposal so that we can assess what happened and learn from it, regardless of how severe the event may have been. What I am saying is that occasionally we allow these events to become THE defining moments in our lives, relegating us to a place of fear and alienation where our social and interpersonal skills become stunted and sometimes atrophied as a result of the fear that has settled in as we have spent our time analyzing what happened.
And so yoga, once again, allows us to step back from our behaviours and see them for exactly that – something we do, but by which we do not define ourselves. For those of us who feel like we’ve given enough time and energy to something that has happened in the past and which we cannot change, let’s try infusing our yoga practice with the intention of embodying the earthlings that are able to escape harm, shake it off, and continue to barrel forwards with strength and certainty, confident in their roles and duties. As the authors of Myths of the Asanas state, “Fear lives in us as tension, and asana postures are designed to release tension from our bodies. The absence of tension is the absence of fear. And the absence of fear signifies the presence of joy, love, and open-heartedness.” Let’s dedicate ourselves to moving away from fear, towards a place of peace and certainty in who we are and our roles here in this life, on this planet. Let’s allow our pattern of chasing the temporary to slowly whirl down to a full stop, so that we can begin to live in the permanence of our connection to each other and to the soul that exists in every single one of us, so that we can start reminding ourselves what we already know but have at some point lost sight of. That is Yoga. That is the meaning of life. That is letting go.
Addendum: I’m so happy to announce that I’ve been added to a list of yogis from around the world who will post 3 or more blogs per week (with an ultimate goal of one each day) about some aspect of yoga throughout the month of April. Blogs may be about asana, meditation, philosophy, experiences, yoga types, yoga history, Sanskrit scholarship, etc. and can focus on any type or style of yoga. The goal is to share yoga with one another and with others, to illuminate the full range of yoga possibilities that go far beyond the stereotyped “yoga butt” seeking gym enthusiast to a process of creating peace, unity, and oneness through the practice. Each post will contain the YIOM (Yogis Inspiring Oneness Month) logo and will link back to the original source and creator of the project, TheVeganAsana, where a full list of participants is found. So consider this post my first for the month, and stay tuned for the ones to come!!!!