This post is part of the series entitled “The embodiment of stories”.
The 3 first posts of this series were written in collaboration with Beth Cleland, a certified yoga instructor who recently turned 60. In the second post of this series, Beth Cleland shares how her experience with yoga and meditation made her mindful about her body, conscious of her thoughts as well as her on-going story.
How do we lose connection with our body?
Quite often our daily life clutters our perception of self. We start living mostly in our heads instead experiencing life through our bodies. In that way, we not only neglect the benefits of using our bodily senses but we also become overwhelmed by our thoughts.
Once I became aware of how my head affects my body, I moved to change it, literally. I physically moved.
In a previous post Beth shared how she struggled to stop thinking and start feeling what was going on in her body during a yoga workshop. One situation illustrated how much she was living in her head:
One morning while getting out of my car in an icy parking lot I twisted my ankle. I had gone through my entire work day without noticing the throbbing discomfort of my ankle until I lay on my yoga mat in the evening. I was amazed at how disconnected I normally am from my body. Over time, I discovered pockets of built up muscle tension and stiff connective tissue and realized that my thoughts, my worries didn’t just stay in my head. They become embodied and affect the way I inhabit my personal space and move through life.
The embodiment of emotions
During Yoga teacher training, Beth witnessed her fellow students start to laugh or sob uncontrollably after holding a yin pose.
Myself, I hated a yin pose named “Dragon”, which works the connective tissue around the psoas muscles (located deep in the pelvis, groin area). Those muscles tighten during stress and the connective tissue covering them are known as the “emotional junk drawers” of the body.
The extreme physical discomfort and pain Beth felt in the pose had her want to quit and flee the class. She was upset by the intense feelings of anger and agitation while in the pose. The only way she got through those 3 minutes was to practice “Ocean breath” – a breathing technique in which inhalation and exhalation are both heard and felt at the back of the throat.
I sounded like Darth Vader, but kept practicing Dragon. Gradually the physical pain and anger lessened as my muscles relaxed.
How do you feel transformative change in your body?
By getting into the yoga tradition, Beth got to study several methods for transformative change. Beth explains that one method (asanas) involves a series of physical poses. Among the physical poses there are different styles. For example, while one style incorporate discrete poses (Hatha), other style choreographs these poses into a sequence of continuous dynamic movements (Vinyasa). Hatha and Vinyasa yoga are muscular and are usually referred as “Yang styles”. Beth was also introduced to Yin yoga.
Accumulated emotions, especially traumatic ones, can block energy flow in the channels and lead to dysfunction and disease. Yin yoga manipulates the connective tissue to clear the blockages and often this will produce an emotional release.
The Hatha balancing poses gathered her attention into a single point of focus and acted as a way to measure her concentration.
If my mind wandered, I lost focus and fell out of the pose.
On the other hand, the physical effort applied through Vinyasa generates endorphins that often left Beth feeling “blissful”.
In that state, I no longer felt mentally uptight and by extension physically tense. Moving through a sequence of poses, I sometimes got into sync with others in the class and felt the seamless flow of one movement transitioning into the next. In those moments, I lost my usual self- consciousness and became absorbed in the sensation of each pose.
Beth explained that by synchronising her inhalation and exhalation with the contraction and release of muscles gave her a stronger body and a more focused mind.
After several weeks my lung capacity increased and after practicing this breathing technique, I felt calm and alert. I began to note the natural rhythm of my breath, the wave like motion of my belly rising and falling with each inhalation and exhalation. The exercise proved as soothing as listening to ocean waves. From a calm state, I could then seamlessly shift my attention from my breath to other parts of my body.
By pressing her feet and spreading her toes into the yoga mat Beth felt anchored in her body and supported by the ground beneath her. She could then develop a new sense of physical security and stability.
As the body responded to the release of accumulated tension, Beth felt a change from stiff and fatigued to fluid and energized
Re-connecting with your body and your story
Some of Beth’s most profound yoga experiences happened when she applied metaphors to engage the active imagination and replace the rational, habitual mind. In that way she could embody new interpretations of her own story.
Metaphors are the language of mystics, poets and yogis because it points to the richness of our untapped collective consciousness. My 200 plus hours of Yoga teacher training was exhilarating, grueling, perplexing and enlightening. After I graduated I was left with one certainty: mind, body, breath are interconnected and interdependent.
Now as a yoga teacher, Beth tries to convey this wisdom by instructing her students to first lie on their mat and focus on their breath while keeping in mind that it’s a work in progress…
Metaphora mediated the story of Beth Cleland to allow others to learn from her experiences on this topic. As mentioned earlier, Beth’s reflections on her yoga journey were divided 3 parts. In addition to the first post “Understanding my story through yoga” and the current one, the next post “Reflections on turning 60” will put into context how stories can be interpreted through age. Stay tuned!
Do you have a story you would like to share in relation to this topic? Feel free to share it in the comment section bellow.
Thanks for stopping by!
Story mediator and founder of Metaphora