20 signs you could use some yoga

1.  Relatively small inconveniences, like not being able to find a pen, make you feel like popping an artery.

2.  Your toe is itchy but you can’t reach it to scratch.

3.  You haven’t done a poo for three days and when you do it takes three hours.

4.  You continue to engage in behaviours that you KNOW make you feel bad (like eating the WHOLE block of chocolate or picking arguments with people or watching Jersey Shore).

5.  You have the posture of a buzzard.

6.  You can never find your keys.

7.  You spend a lot of time looking into mirrors.

8.  You spend a lot of time avoiding looking into mirrors.

9.  You frequently say yes when you want to say no.

10.  You always say no.

11.  Your morning tongue is coated in a white substance that looks suspiciously like perkin’s paste.

12.  You hold the world record for how many colds and flus one person can catch in one year.

13.  Your Facebook status is a perpetual rant about how much life sucks and all the ways you hate humankind.

14.  Being forced to sit in a quiet space with only your own company agitates you to the brink of spontaneous combustion.

15.  You can’t sit cross-legged.

16.  You recoil from hugs.

17.  You often find yourself smiling only on the outside.

18.  You feel unable to change.

19.  You can’t possibly leave a list at number 19 because odd numbers in the context of making lists leaves you with a feeling of profound uneasiness.

20.

Copyright © The Yoga Experiment, 2012

Body, mind, gollum…

Image

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

Are you your job?

One of the first questions people ask when meeting each other for the first time is ‘what do you do?’ It’s a telling question.  It shows us what we value most in ourselves, in others, in life.  It shows us the depth and power of our social conditioning.  Who you are = what you do for a job.

What happens though, if misfortune strikes you (or fortune depending on how you look at it) and you’re unable to perform a ‘job’ in the material world?  Who are you then?  Do you lose your value?  Do you lose your identity?  What do you do?  How do you answer that question when somebody asks it?  How do you feel about yourself?

Moreover, how do you react when you ask it of somebody else and they have no conventional answer?  They can’t tell you they’re a ‘doctor’ or a ‘secretary’ or a ‘stay-at-home mum’ or a ‘garbage collector’ or a ‘social worker’ or a ‘teacher’ or a ‘<insert job here>’?  What is your internal reaction to a person who doesn’t have a job?  And what is your reaction to the type of job somebody has? Is there a judgement there?

If you’ve been raised in a western society, then chances are there will be.  This conditioning is largely unconscious.  It’s hard to escape, unless you’re prepared to question social conventions.  But often it is not until we feel different or alienated or disadvantaged in some way in society that we start to question what is real and what is illusion.  Am I important because I have a good job?  Am I unimportant because I don’t have a good/job?  Is this objectively true?

Having a job is a necessary pursuit in a capitalistic society, there is no doubt about it.  It’s very difficult to survive without one, so we need to work – that’s reality right now.  But we build this importance around ‘job’ and ‘career’ that goes beyond economic necessity.  We build an ego identity in relation to the work we do, to how much money we earn, to our status in the workplace.  We link our jobs to our inherent value as human beings.  We make work our identity and we attach to that identity.  If we lose that job, that status – that identity – we are bereft.  Who am I if I am not this job?  How am I purposeful?  What will people think of me?

In yogic philosophy, this preoccupation with our performance in the material world is known as ‘Asmita’.  It is an ego state that keeps us bound to very small notions of self.  It stops us from seeing a bigger picture of the self that is beyond the social and economic roles we play in life.  It causes us pain because when we attach to an identity, we cease to value our essential nature (who we are behind the roles we play).  We do everything in our power to maintain the illusion – to ourselves, to others.  If we lose that identity we feel empty and confused.  Who am I if I am not what I do?

This is not to suggest that we should renounce our jobs, or the satisfaction that we can get from working.  It just means we can do a job without allowing it to define who we are.  Your job is not all of you.  It is an expression of one part of you.  It shouldn’t make you bigger or smaller in the eyes of yourself, or of others.

When you are able to stand back and identify less with socially constructed norms about what is good and bad, and right and wrong, you open your mind up to an experience of true peace.  You are not bound to egotistical notions of who you are and should be.  You release the need to impress yourself and others.  The judgements and expectations stop.  You start to glimpse a deeper part of you that exists – an essential part of you; your essence.

©The Yoga Experiment, 2012