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. Beth Cleland shares how the practice of yoga and meditation gave her insight into understanding her own story.
We have mediated the story of Beth Cleland to allow others to learn from her experiences on this topic. Beth was very generous in sharing her reflections of her yoga journey, so we decided to divide this theme into 3 parts: Understanding my story through yoga, Re-connecting with my body and my story and Reflections on turning 60.
What is the connection between yoga and stories?
Beth’s first inkling of how stories operate at an unconscious level occurred while attending a yoga and Buddhist meditation workshop. Through meditation she received insight into her hidden story lines and realised that many of them were competing or in conflict.
“Get out of your head and into your body”. I heard this instruction repeatedly during my Yoga Teacher Training. Intellectually I understood what it meant, “Stop thinking, start feeling what’s going on in your body”, but I struggled to do so. Lying on my mat, I found it hard to relax and let go. I kept remembering unfinished tasks at work, something a co-worker or family member had said, or the errands I still had to do. My thoughts would careen off to other associations and worries until I was totally back in my head and not in the yoga class let alone my body. As my frustration grew, my instructor seemed to intuitively know and would encourage me to practice self -compassion, to be kind and patient with myself.
Beth was told by her instructor that the practice of yoga is always a work in progress and what mattered was to show up every day and keep practicing. So she did. In the process she also learned that some stories we carry can be harmful and manifest as auto immune disorders or even cancers.
… for me they show up in my tight shoulders and tension headaches. Through consistent yoga practice, I have learned that my stories don’t just hang out in my head but become embodied and affect the way I inhabit my personal space and move through life. I continued to practice yoga and meditation as means to access the more adverse stories, especially the sneaky self-sabotaging ones. Not much wonder I felt confused. More significantly, I discovered the underlying beliefs that perpetuated my stories. Buddhist meditation has taught me that suffering occurs based on the stories I wrap my experiences in.
Beth was assured by others that she was not the first one to discover contradictions between story lines. But how yoga allows the hidden stories to come to light?
In part the role of body movement (Yoga asanas) and Buddhist meditation (settling the mind) is to break the constant feedback loop of habitual internal story telling, so that a transitional space of no-stories opens up. The practice of breath control (Pranayama) helps me calm down the over stimulated central nervous system in such a way that I am able to slow down my thoughts and concentrate in an conscious and relaxed way. In accessing the transitional space of no-stories a transformational process happens in which the old dysfunctional story lines are exorcised so that new rejuvenating ones can emerge.
Beth perceives the body as a walking bill board of stories and as such, it carries her cultural stories and it embodies even the reactions of others in regards to her body language, body shape and it reflects how others criticise or interpret her stories. On the other hand, Beth found out that attachment is deadening and to let go is to feel alive and lighter.
The embodiment of stories and the possibilities of future stories
For me, yoga and meditation was my ticket off the self-perpetuating merry-go-round of habitual story telling that no longer serves me. Yoga not only opened up my cramped body but my perception of possibility. Meditation opened up not only a creative, liminal space of no-stories, but made me present to the moment without the filter of old stories. Being open and present, I feel less judgmental, more compassionate, less anxious, more accepting, less self –critical, more adventurous. I feel more at ease with myself and others and can appreciate the uniqueness of each person and situation I encounter.
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