Express Yourself: How Yoga Helps You Say What You Wanna Say
By now, most yoga students have probably heard (once or twice) that yoga means union. Union is a very flexible (wink) word. Within the yogasphere, it brings together body and mind, movement and breath, individual and cosmos. We can also think about union as connection.
Yoga works to mend some of the disconnections that many of us experience in the course of living our modern lives. The practices of yoga, including asana and meditation, start to reconnect us to things we may have been conditioned to suppress, like the sensations within our own bodies and our true feelings. Through yoga, we can tune back in to some of the most basic aspects of our humanity.
When we are young children, we’re very acutely aware of our bodily needs. If you are hungry, cold, or have scraped your knee, there’s no filter that stops you from communicating that, sometimes very loudly. As we get older, we start to wonder if it’s ok to feel hungry because maybe we’ll be judged for eating more or that it’s better if we don’t feel pain because that makes us tougher.
In early adolescence, many of us also become much more aware of how our bodies look and are influenced to value that over how they feel. When we deny the validity of the messages our own bodies give us, it creates a vast disconnect between the body and the mind.
Yoga asana is really good at starting to rebuild those connections by encouraging us to tune in to the sensations, both large and small, that are occurring within ourselves all the time, even when it seems like we are just sitting or standing still. We call this body awareness.
Yoga teaches us to be aware of where is the body in space and how it feels to arrange it to be more aligned and balanced, hence more comfortable and less likely to trigger pain. Little by little, moving on our mats helps rebuild the connections between body and brain.
Feel Your Feelings
Just as we can get disconnected from our bodies, we can also feel disconnected from our feelings (which sounds like it shouldn’t be possible but it is). Again, when we’re little kids we feel all our emotions strongly, laughing hysterically when something is funny or crying just as hard when we are sad. We may not be good at expressing why we are happy or sad but we know that’s how we feel and we have no problem letting it out.
As we get older, we’re often taught to control the outward expression of our feelings because it’s better to be rational than emotional. Societal conventions come at us hard, telling us that to be taken seriously, we have to tamp down that exuberance. Hiding our true feelings starts to feel more comfortable than talking about them.
If we’ve experienced emotional trauma, we may completely wall up those feelings because they cause too much turmoil or anguish. Once those barriers are in place, it can be really hard to figure out what the heck we feel about anything any more.
Reconnecting the Dots
As the body and mind forge new connections through asana, so meditation helps the mind begin to reconnect with itself. When you are meditating, you learn that your thoughts are not the only thing going on up there. If you can observe your own thoughts, then who the heck is observing and who is thinking?
In a meditative state, an identity that isn’t just defined by the current thoughts flickering across your consciousness reveals itself. Now your observing mind can begin to cut through the chatter of your monkey mind. Now you can begin to feel your feelings without judgment.
Ok, now that we’re all doing the work necessary to reconnect to our essential selves, let’s take it one step further. Express those feelings, baby. Say what you wanna say. Speak your truth. If you’re sad or stressed, it’s healthy to talk through it. Work it out instead of keeping everything bottled up inside.
If this is the hard part for you, you may benefit from practices that focus on your Throat Chakra (Vishuddha). Although the chakras are part of the subtle body (meaning they are more metaphysical than anatomical), clearing them often includes opening related areas of the body. For the Vishuddha Chakra, these include chanting, pranayama (Ujjayi and Lion’s Breath in particular) and asanas that focus on the neck and throat areas.
If you’re happy and you know it, share that. Share the love, share the gratitude, let them well up inside you and overflow their goodness into the world. Expressing our feelings with language is a uniquely human privilege that has the power make us all feel more connected to each other.