Body, mind, gollum…

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I’ve been thinking recently, it’s interesting how the human body reflects mental and emotional states.  Given that the majority of what we think and feel is communicated non-verbally – through our body language – the idea that we hold onto emotion and mental tensions on a physical level is not a mind-blowing revelation.   If we’re having a bad day, we might not hold our head up as high; our chest might cave inward in an attitude of defeat, or of protection; our posture retreats.  On days we’re feeling glorious and impenetrable, we might puff out our chests; walk taller; take greater strides.

Walk with me.

When I was training as a yoga student, I unmasked a previously-hidden fact.   I have always been aware, in a peripheral kind of way, that my posture isn’t fantastic.  But it wasn’t until one of my fellow students photographed my body from the side for a postural appraisal assignment that the reality hit home: I have the posture of a buzzard.

Imagine: head juts forward quite a bit more than is anatomically necessary for a standard human being; the shoulders slump forward, melancholy, as if somebody kicked their puppy.  I look like some forlorn creature slouching around the place with nothing much to live for.  Oh hello Gollum, how are you today?

If I’m honest, my body is an emotional inventory of my life; a snapshot of my mental self-image.  It says, among other things, ‘I am afraid’.

I’m reminded of another phenomenon I experienced during my yoga studies.  Whenever I did shoulder rolls, I felt angry and wanted to stop.  Weird!!??  I’d understand if I was frothing at the mouth during some kind of challenging upside-down- pretzel pose but shoulder rolls?  Gimme a break.  Rolling the shoulders is about as innocuous as taking a breath (unless you’re asthmatic… or have emphysema… bad analogy, forget that one).  But there it was, every time, rage bubbling up from under the surface.

A scientific mind searches for scientific explanations.  But I didn’t have a completely water-tight one, so I blended a little bit of science with a little bit of yoga knowledge, with a little bit of intuition and a chunk of life experience, and came up with a hypothesis.

There are three types of reactions to danger in the human body – one is to fight, one is to flee, and one is to freeze.  I’m a freezer.  I lack the faith in my own strength to either fight or flee; perhaps I lack the self-worth.  Maybe if I stand still enough and squeeze my eyes shut tightly, the cave lion will simply not see me and continue on his way.  Make the body look small, yes!  Now there’s an idea!  Roll the shoulders down, huddle in!  I’m adapting!!

When in danger, in any mode, the muscles in the human body tense up – this is how the muscles prepare to either fight back or to run away.  When you fight or when you run, this fear energy moves, it propels the body into action.  When you freeze, this energy freezes with you.

This is how I hold it.  I hunch the shoulders up and forward, for protection.   I have made a habit of holding my fear this way, mostly unconsciously.  I am always looking out for the cave lion (head jutting forward buzzard-style – is he behind THAT rock?).  This anxiety is temperamental; it was there when I came into the world (hypotheses around this one pending).

When I attempt to roll the tension out of the shoulders, the emotions release.  In the development of human emotion, fear gives rise to many strong secondary emotions, including anger (others include jealousy…hate… sorrow… ).  Shoulder rolls = Jen aka Cujo.  The upside is that this releasing is not a bad thing.  It feels ghastly in the moment but as it finds expression, the tension eventually subsides.  And I don’t even have to punch a cave lion in the face!  Hooray!

So, thank you yoga.  You are my release.  You are my mirror.  You may have shown me that I am a buzzard but you give me hope yet – that by watching the body, by gently working with it, I can change my mind.

Copyright © The Yoga Experiment, 2012

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Yoga Space

Creating a yoga space can be a lovely thing to do to keep you connected with yoga in your daily life.  A yoga space can contain anything that reminds you of yoga.  A yoga space can be a shrine, or a corner of a room, or an item on a bookshelf – anything that draws your consciousess to a state of calm and well-being; anything that fosters a sense of gratitude or love or joy within you.  For some, it might even be an empty space!  There are no rules around it.  Like yoga, it is a personal experience.

The yoga spaces in my home seem to have evolved quite unconsciously.  I have a habit of collecting objects at church fetes and op shops.  Many of my spaces contain items I have created myself, indulging my love of crafts.  I love colour.  Colour warms me inside and out.

I’ve become quite a collector of cushions.  When I ran out of lounge space, I started making cushion piles on the floor around the skirting boards.  Cushion stacks remind me of the ashram where I studied yoga.  They have a practical purpose (great for propping under the tailbone to align the spine for meditation!) but I like the aesthetics, especially of the lovely warm colours and different patterns.  I got 3 of these cushions at my local St Vincent de Paul op-shop.  They cost around $2-$3 each.  The covers got a good wash and away we went.

Candles… yum!  I am a sucker for candles and candle holders.  There is something lovely about the ritual of lighting a candle.  I don’t know what it is but I don’t need to.  I light a candle in my room every day.  I light a bunch when I have friends over.  They seem to create a beautiful and calm atmosphere.  In the background here is my tibetan singing bowl – a magnificent gift from my parents for my 40th birthday last year.  I still can’t play it.  But I’ve added it to my list of things to do.  I’d love to play it for my students during meditations.  It makes a sound that seems to resonate with some deep part of the human consciousness. It’s a profoundly comforting sound.

I have a thing for Ganesha.  I’m probably the least ‘spiritual’ person you’ll ever come across but for some reason, I am so attracted to Hindu art, I keep collecting bits and pieces.  Again, I love the colours and the whimsical nature of the paintings and illustrations.  Ganesha is known as the ‘remover of obstacles’, as patron of the arts and sciences, and the God of intellect and wisdom (golly-gee… no wonder I can’t get enough of him!).  This postcard was given to me by my lovely friend Katie (aka Yogachakra) who inspired me to train to be a yoga teacher.   I bought the frame for a dollar from my beloved St Vincent’s.  The candle was a valentine’s day gift from my precious boyfriend who is a total non-yogi bloke’s bloke but who seems to, against all odds, know just what speaks to me (it is berry scented – yum!!).

Another precious cargo – my yoga texts.  These are a source of unending inspiration for me.  I dip into them daily, both to help me with my teaching, and to inspire my own personal practice.  These fabulous retro bambi bookends I found at a car boot sale at $15 for the set (bargain!!).  Yoga texts and bambi are an unlikely coupling.  But then again, maybe not.  They speak to the child in me.  Maslow (the great social psychologist) declared that having a healthy relationship with the childish/playful part of the self is an important factor in self-actualisation.  Yoga tradition also directs us to take ourselves lightly.  (It also guides us not to attach to material things… I’m still working on that one… hehe).

Yoga in the garden.  I can’t recall where I picked up this little fella but he is sitting amongst by beloved succulents in my balcony garden (along with many other little buddhas hiding among my pot plants).  When I look at him, I am reminded of where I want to go; of what I hope to attain for myself.  He has a book in his hand – a representation of knowledge.  He is my little jnana yogi – seeking answers through his own experiences; looking inward to try to know himself better; seeking meaning in life.

I have more yoga spaces to share.  I will do so along the way.  I hope you have enjoyed this taste of my yoga spaces.  I hope it inspires you to create spaces of your own.

(c) The Yoga Experiment, 2012