Tonight I found myself sitting on the floor with my two-year old son.
We built a tower of Duplos. Duplos are like Lego but smaller, i.e. harder to swallow.
You may be led to think that this is my regular pastime on Friday nights, but it’s not. I usually let my husband do the honors, because I don’t have the time or patience and I’d rather do the dishes and make sure the house is tidy.
But tonight, after my first week of taking the online seminar, Yoga for Writers, my readiness to observe how we all express ourselves had increased significantly. So I watched this incredibly lively little boy, who is not known for his ability to sit still, become focused and engaged.
He seemed to enter a special zone, and I believe it was because, with those little bricks, he was finding a way to express himself.
In all these years I had never thought about it like this. However, after a week of discussing writing attempts and ambitions with fellow writers online, I have had one major insight: Self-expression is a very fundamental human need.
Whether we are amateurs, professionals or somewhere in-between, most of us have a passion that has become our vehicle for self-expression—painting, playing an instrument, singing, sewing, dancing or writing.
Just like my son, when you find your voice, or your vehicle, you enter that special world. You get tunnel vision and become fully present. Everything that was troubling you, suddenly slinks further away. Not surprisingly, these are the words I often use to describe the effects of a yoga practice.
Could it be that this need to express ourselves is also what keeps bringing us back to our yoga mat time and time again?
As we practice Asana, our body becomes a vehicle for self-expression, similar to dance. We express ourselves by placing the body in different positions. We draw cobras, warriors and triangles in thin air.
It’s true that the poses are set and look like they don’t leave much room for interpretation. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The poses look and feel different on everybody and every body. And who says you are not allowed to play with the poses or transitions in between? Who says you are not to explore and discover which creative variations work best for you?
Every pose is a unique expression. Every pose is different from day to day and evolves over the years, as we get more accustomed to this practice or take breaks from it for a while.
As I was teaching today, it occurred to me, that the beauty of self-expression even goes as far as our breath. On a micro level, we are constantly expressing, and I mean this in the literal sense. If you consider the Latin root of expressing, pushing out, then you realize this is exactly what we do when we exhale—pushing air out of the lungs, sending back out what we originally took in by inspiration.
The breath is a metaphor for every creative process. First we take in what enlivens us and gets our brain working (oxygen) and then we send out a new version that has been through our system and has emerged slightly altered (carbon dioxide).
Making sounds, talking or singing, happens on the exhale. Whatever we communicate to the outside world is inextricably linked to our exhalation.
Yoga links breath to body movement, one way of self-expression to another. Eventually, yoga creates a container for all emotions that arise. Whether positive, neutral or negative, at some point emotions will well up. Being in a yoga pose when that happens, represents an alternative to simply reacting to our emotions.
As we stay present in the body and with the breath, we are able to fully inhabit what we feel in our body. We are not denying our emotions, but we are also not acting upon them. We simply make space to experience them. We literally embody them. Within the container, we can express what we feel and submit to our emotions, without causing harm or disturbance to others.
I now see the reason many yoga teachers like working with intentions. I always considered it a valuable technique for positive thinking, for planting a seed and slightly shifting the conditioning of the mind, but it is a brilliant stratagem.
As we plant an intention on the physical plain, we pair it with a second intention on a mental level. On the gross level, we can immediately witness the outward manifestation of intention. Could it be that this alchemy, the power of externalizing intentions speedily when it comes to the gross body, rubs off on the mind, so that the manifesting of our intentions in the world can be considerably accelerated?
I like to think that this is true. Just imagine, the things we could do, if we silently voiced our intention while exhaling or silently expressed a mantra on our exhalation.
This, right here, is the miracle of life.
Creativity and self-expression are basic human needs, not just for professionals, but for everyone who has been kissed by the muse.
After a week of sharing with my fellow yogi writers, it’s painful to see how we all measure our own merit by gauging the results of our practice. Could it be that this is exactly when the beauty of self-expression starts eluding us? As soon as it becomes about results, we start missing out on the process.
While it is rewarding to see our work completed, what is truly healing is the work itself, feeling the breath moving through the body as if it were hollow bamboo, feeling the body warm up from the inside as we move through sun salutations and feeling the mind become open and still as we approach Shavasana.
This is the beauty; not becoming more flexible over the years and one day, suddenly, mastering forearm stand.
Being in the zone, forgetting time and space, while searching for that perfect metaphor or perfect light or perfect music phrase, is what connects us with ourselves. This is what it means to be fully present.
Like all journeys, this one won’t radically change who we are.
Still, every time we return, we will never be quite the same as before.
Author: Elisa L. Malinverni
Photo: Sarah Zucca/Flickr
Editor: Lieselle Davidson