“Our bodies are the texts that carry the memories and therefore remembering is no less than reincarnation.” ~ Katie Cannon
We know that our body language shapes who we are. Each time we put our body in a position, any position, we give it a message. We also give off a message. Do you understand what your body is saying? How often do you listen to it? While any simple movement we make is a way to explore and engage with the world, exploring our bodies through yoga is one way of striking up a conscious conversation between our interior lives and our exterior surroundings.
Just like words, asana is a method of communication with an overall purpose to connect. Both are ways of living in discourse with the world and with ourselves. While words are a creative human invention that serve us well, they do not always process an experience in its entirety. Have you ever lived through something that could not be put into words? A happenstance in your life? An emotion? A sensation in the body? Sometimes, over time, we can speak to these things in hindsight but even that verbal account often feels once removed from the visceral sensations. Verbal language originates in the brain and can fall short of expressing the experience of the body.
We know our bodies pick up experiences from events or happenings in our past, if simply at a level of developing tension in our shoulders from too much time at the computer. Or a dislocated shoulder from a fall or a twisted ankle from mistepping off the curb. These are only the more straightforward traumas of a life. If we do not or cannot let go of these experiences, they can go unprocessed or undigested and they can get stuck in our bodies. They keep talking to us though.
One of the main reasons that people take up yoga is by necessity. If we don’t take care of our bodies and listen to its intelligence, our body screams out for attention and make it literally impossible to ignore any longer. Sometimes the knee screeches ‘take it easy’, sometimes the lower back cries for us to slow down, or we can't sleep. Often, we don’t have a clue what our pain is saying until we are forced to spend time with it. Asana helps us encounter our bodies so that we can listen to what they are saying, what they need, how they need to be loved. Through yoga, we find out they have a lot to say, a lot to teach us, and can give us access to a whole realm of understanding that is inaccessible through the mind by itself. Our bodies are intelligent in a way that cannot be put into words.
Just like learning a new language, learning to move our bodies the way our yoga teacher asks might be uncomfortable and awkward at first. We might not be able to form our mouths or our bodies around the new vocabulary. Eventually, with practice, we learn that the word for apple is pomme or manzana or apfel or we learn that sitting on our heels and placing our forehead on the ground stretches our hips, thighs, ankles and we notice that our thoughts slow down, our spine stretches and our hips release. Maybe we learn how to string a sentence together ‘How are you?” or we learn to lift our foreheads off the ground and straighten our legs. We might begin to enjoy a conversation. Our bodies will all have accents in one form or another as our pronunciation of poses speak to where our bodies came from and our current stage of life. Our intonations or manners of moving our body are personal just like our voice is entirely unique.
Each time we utter a word, it resonates in the body and our experience of that word is unique and personal the same as our bodily experience of a pose is ultimately unique to the doer. What comes to your mind when I say ‘lake’? I see the dark grey, blue, green and a sometimes black body of water that is overlooked by the place where my grandparents’ built a cottage 60 years ago. The place that is my longest home. A place that has dissolved my father’s ashes. A place built for love, connection and that, I often joke, is the only place my large family can go without getting kicked out. I know that’s not what you see. Yoga is personal too. What do you experience when you stand tall and still and look straight ahead? Our first experience of this pose, tadasana, might be kind of boring. Then, over time, we begin to sense the soles of our feet on the ground, we press down and engage the muscles of the legs, we stretch the sides of the waist and lift the heart, slide the shoulders back. Long neck. We contemplate what it means to be connected to the ground and how our legs give meaning to the spine. The story of the pose becomes interesting and maybe even enjoyable as it unravels and we become attuned to its whispers.
Over time, we might refine our poses with intention and alignment, becoming gentle editors of our bodies. Maybe we begin to read over our past through the unfolding pages of history in the body. We inquire by taking expression with the bones, the muscles, the skin. Sometimes it answers and sometimes it questions back. Can I stay in this pose a little longer? Can I allow myself to trust the ground beneath my feet? Is this kindness or cruelty? These are not questions that can be answered with the mind. Even though a yoga practice is filled with rhetorical and unanswered questions, we are in a conscious physical conversation with ourselves and the world.
We might flip our feet in the air. We might inquisitively string poses together in different ways, we might start practicing at home in private, like writing poetry in blank pages of journals that no one will ever see. We might begin to see that we have been creating this poetry from the first day that we showed up to move through our body, and even before that.
Poems aren’t about perfection. Even our stories, our poetry that are written through our bodies might not always bring us to a place of full understanding of our human experience. But, both are good tools to have.
Language is richer than just words and asana is richer than just the poses. In the true intention of words and in the ultimate meaning of yoga, both are methods for connection. Connection to ourselves, to others, and to the world. And maybe, if we begin to truly experience this aim of interconnectedness, we can let these practices fall away as we rest with one another or ourselves. But for now, I must bend my knees, sit on my heels, rest my head on the ground and feel thanks.