Tag Archives: Body

On Yoga and Writing

Today I thought that maybe I write for the same reasons that I practice yoga. It’s a way of accessing another part of the brain, another part of the body. Perhaps, if you’ll allow me the liberty, another part of the soul.

I was introduced to yoga over ten years ago and have maintained a regular practice since the beginning. It has evolved over time, naturally, and I have written at length on this blog about my experiences with yoga. It tends to come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I practice both yoga and meditation, light incense, look for the spiritual. By this I mean, yoga is a way of accessing, through the body and breath, a different outlook on the world. It is a way of reaching, physically, to parts of my body that I might not fully notice otherwise; it is a way of reaching, spiritually, towards both energy and stillness, towards forces in the universe I cannot explain.

Towards forces in the universe I don’t need to explain.

Maybe I write because writing is a way of expressing what lives in the body, the sensations of being alive on this planet and looking up at the sky. Writing is a way to capture the pulse of energy that sweeps you away when you let it it. Writing brings sensation back to a foundation, back to a centre where it can be grasped, felt, explored.

I write because I am feeling and I practice yoga in order to feel.

Sometimes, and certainly the case in much of my journal writing, I don’t understand what I feel until I write it down. Moving from sensation to articulation requires a conscious slowing down, letting go, a certain objectivity that reduces an emotional component, or at least requires me to detach from it just enough to inquire into it, unpack it. This is what I mean when I say, as I have known to be true for a long time, I think better on paper.

Yoga moves the sensation through the body and begins an exploration of how the body is connected, constructed, understood. I was first fascinated, all those years ago, with the shapes I could create with a breath. Perhaps years of dance training facilitated the ease with which I found my body in a new form, or perhaps innately understanding the possibility of movement in the body meant that I have always approached yoga with curiosity. Let’s see where I am in this body today. And then let go of the body and move with the breath.

Or maybe I’m trying too hard in linking these two aspects of myself together. I have had profound experiences in both contexts, that of doing yoga and that of writing. I do not aim here to explain what those experiences were or where they came from, but rather to make the bold claim that they existed. There are things in the universe we cannot explain, and the statement of such is what makes the claim true.

What is true, however, is malleable. There are days when the body and mind flow as a unit more smoothly than on other days. There are days where we walk easily, calmly, gently though the world. There are days when we are literally and figuratively bent out of shape, and we may or may not know why, or days when someone else knows something is wrong even before we know it.

I cannot write without being vulnerable enough to look inside myself and there is always the threat, sometimes realized, of finding something I don’t like. I cannot practice yoga without the willingness to sometimes feel a little foolish, or to be humbled by what my body is and is not capable of. There’s an element of letting go of control in both contexts and a requirement for honesty, authenticity, sincerity that strips away whatever masks I happen to be wearing. It’s a question of how much I am willing to give in that moment, and the question is answered moment after moment.

Maybe yoga is the physical manifestation of what I look for in writing, or maybe writing is the intellectual element of synchronizing the breath and the body. That they come together in this way is what drives the continued exploration. The satisfaction, the sensation of which lives somewhere beneath the sternum and is captured by clauses and phrases, is in the journey itself.

As for the universe, the magnificence of which is unexplained as far as I am concerned, there is no answer within reach because there is no answer to find.

Breath & Body

I started practicing yoga about 11 years ago. My roommate was on a quest to lose wait in a natural and healthy way – by monitoring what she ate and making a habit of exercise. She asked if I’d be willing to get up early and do yoga with her. Of course I was! All I knew of yoga at that time was what I had learned through years of dance classes – knew child’s pose, plank pose, tree pose, and perhaps down dog had slipped into popular culture by then. At the time, my own exercise aside from dance was running, largely because my then-boyfriend was a runner and according to him, running was the only type of exercise worth doing.

But yoga was different. It was mine, first of all, something I started to help a friend and something that helped me far more than I helped her. Yoga was a way to stretch that helped me in dance, but also helped with the meditation that I’d been dabbling in for many years. I was in middle school the first time I read about what I now understand to be a body scan meditation, and I was in high school the first time someone led me through one. Yoga pulled all of this together, but like with many things, I didn’t realize it at the time.

The beginning was not glamorous, and certainly not spiritual or mindful. Yoga was for stretching and it was a way of exercising that was not running. YouTube videos with titles like “Power Cardio Yoga” and “Yoga Cardio Workout” caught my eye, or “Yoga for Weight Loss,” and “Cardio Yoga for Fat Burning”. I felt guilty about not running, guilty for loving every moment of yoga while I was still trying to even like running.

Looking back, the choice of videos tells me not only about what my body craved (intense physical activity), but also about where my mind was willing to go. I avoided videos with too much downtime, or what I saw as unnecessary focus on breathing, stillness, and relaxing the mind.

As a gift from my parents about a year into my practice, I received a yoga mat and classes at a newly opened Bikram yoga studio. I had never felt stronger in my body than I did during the nine or ten months that I practiced there. I had never been more amazed with what my body could do. When I left that studio, I knew it was not likely I would go back. Bikram was never pleasant, as those who have tried it will know, but it was there that I let myself truly feel my body, and it was there that I first realized the meaning of energy in a room. I have never forgotten the first time I viscerally understood that there are forces in the universe that science cannot explain.

I remember the first time I allowed my body to just be there. I was in my first yin yoga class in Bali, already on a journey through my mind and heart that I still see as pivotal to the places life has taken me in the five years since. Yin did not allow me to ignore the mind through quick movement or to hide myself in flexibility. Yin opened my body and forced me to breathe. And I did so, first in an effort to reduce the intensity of physical sensation, and then because I was fascinated with how much my body could give me if I just gave it space.

I have come a long way in 11 years of practice. I have had many teachers, both through YouTube and in real life. I have tried many different styles, and I have learned where yoga comes from. The point of asana, the physical yoga postures, is to breathe. The breath itself is the practice. The body, if you let it, will move with the breath. The breath will move the body. This synchronicity aligns the mind and slows down our experience of the world.

There has been a great deal of yoga practice for me recently, a product of the amount of time I am spending at home since our return to online learning. But unlike this time a year ago, my mind is quieter, my body is more responsive, and my heart is finding it easier to smile at what I have in my life rather than crying out for what is lost.

And for this, I am deeply grateful.

Ubud, Bali, Indonesia – February 2016