Last weekend I attended the Empower Flow Yoga program with Seane Corn at Kripalu. It was extra-fun because I also met Elephant columnist (and long-time Internet friend), Jay Winston for the weekend.
The first night just felt like such a celebration of flowing yoga—facilitated by Seane Corn—practicing right next to Jay! It was like an impossible dream coming true. It might sound a little over-the-top, but the name “Jay Winston” or “Dr. Jay” (as he is fondly known on his blog, Yoga for Cynics) was formerly perceived as an Internet entity with great values, ideals, and a friendly, affirming vibe. And now I found myself working my ass off on my yoga mat right next to the flesh-and-blood, adorable guy! So fun!
Yoga is commonly described as a union of body, mind and spirit. That night I experienced the practice as a joining of body, mind and celebration. It felt great!
During one of the next day’s yoga sessions, Seane was breaking down some of the ways that yoga works for us. She mentioned that it affects our physical bodies (heck, yeah!), our minds (fer sher…), and the symbolic aspect of experience (huh?). So here we are: instead of yoga being broken down into body-mind-spirit, here it is called physical-mental-symbolic. And from an empowering perspective of yoga, this was starting to make sense to me…
It occurred to me that this is how we can relate with our spirituality: through symbolic understanding. Otherwise the spiritual aspect just seems totally amorphous and undifferentiated, and according to some interpretations it is. But to relate with spirituality from our human perspective, we need something we can wrap our minds around like symbolism. Seeing experience from a symbolic perspective allows a greater sense that we might participate in our spiritual growth, rather than leaving it as totally beyond what the human mind might be able to understand.
This symbolic aspect of consciousness comes into play as we consider questions like how yoga might help us in becoming better partners, parents, friends, and world citizens. This is definitely part of the dream for me.
How can yoga help us to become better people?
Seane made a great connection between physical tension and feeling separated from others. I had felt that in action just the night before when Jay (I think he is more advanced than me when it comes to a compassionate conception of people in the world) was telling me about a situation in his life that was something just outside of anything I had considered before—at least not so closely. It might have conflicted with an assumption, or my unconscious picture of this real-life person I was meeting. And I literally felt my body tighten and my breath constrict—I was protecting myself from a false danger, and experiencing fear of the unknown. In essence my tension was hardening me (just a little) and this was creating an experience of increasing separation between me and Jay.
Yoga does a great job of releasing the body’s tension, and in some cases (like me on that weekend) it clears the way for celebration and pure bliss!
I think that it was the yoga, sleeping on it, and Seane’s talks that brought me to a place where, later in the day on Saturday while Jay and I were walking in the woods, I got the courage to ask about the thing that had wrapped me in a touch of tension the night before. And hearing more about it helped my heart to melt, and my mind to understand better the life journey of this other person. For me, it was a journey from tension-separation, to a relaxing, opening body and mind-connection. …which seems pretty good—spiritually speaking—to my limited human mind.
Yoga is an incredibly empowering tool when seen in this light. There are instincts, old beliefs, unexamined cultural or religious values that can cause our bodies to tighten and breathing to constrict. This just happens. There is nobody to blame. The effect of this is a feeling of separation, like we can’t relate with what we are hearing at a time like this. If we just believe this first response, then the world stays small, and we might be allowing ourselves to be controlled by unconscious beliefs that are not really true for our conscious minds. Physical yoga practice offers a way to release the body’s tension, so we might feel ourselves as a bit more connected to others. And from this more relaxed place we might find the ability to consider and choose a better understanding than the old, outmoded instinctual response.
Tension lodged in the body becomes symbolic of unexamined beliefs that are controlling and limiting our capacity to think freely and act consciously. The way I see it, this fear also blocks us from the evolution of thought that is needed to help us to become the best people that we can be.
Let’s do our yoga!