I feel things deeply. I embrace the knife’s edge of disappointment and frustration in anger, the cavernous void of sorrow and loss, and the jubilant ecstasy of happiness and elated joy. I believe wholeheartedly in the famous words of Hellen Keller – author, activist, and the first deaf-blind person in America to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree – when she stated, “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.”
Yoga is the artwork of awareness on the canvas of body, mind, and soul.
This past January, I traveled back to the Midwest to celebrate the life and mourn the death of my last grandparent. Reflecting on her funeral and time with family, I was reminded that emotions are more than mental thoughts about a topic or situation. They are somatic expressions, i.e. deeply held experiences that we carry in every brain cell, fiber, organ, bone, and tissue in our bodies. The breadth of our emotions is in constant dialogue with each other, and with our minds and the human frame. To feel the weight of emotional valleys and peaks with our bodies and minds is to experience the primary colors found in the kaleidoscope of the human experience. More than any other manifestation, emotions profoundly reveal the interconnectedness of body and mind.
In his research and work with trauma patients, Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk highlights the phenomenon of body-mind connection as expressed in how the body remembers traumatic events and experiences. In The Body Keeps The Score, he writes, “… trauma is not just an event that took place sometime in the past; it is also the imprint left by that experience on mind, brain, and body. This imprint has ongoing consequences for how the human organism manages to survive in the present.” Recognizing this, one comes to acknowledge that an ingredient of mental and physical health then, is to identify where these far-reaching emotions reside and how they impact one’s perceptions and actions; to reveal how the body-mind system reflects one’s emotional history.
The ancient wisdom and philosophy of yoga is built upon this mind-body connection and accepts that by becoming more attentive to the psychosomatic reality of the human experience, yogis and yoginis lay a foundation for body-mind health. With each breath exercise, meditation, and physical asana, yoga practitioners often experience an emotional surrender that not only releases toxicities but also creates a mindfulness; a mindfulness that Dr. Van Der Kolk says, “makes it possible to survey our internal landscape with compassion and curiosity [and] actively steers us in the right direction for self-care.”
The third week of the Lenten journey is dotted with road signs of body-mind unity. More than a fitness routine, the practice of yoga has the capacity to create a psychosomatic discernment, an opportunity of bringing clarity to the bodily patterns that house mental and emotional pain. Or as Dr. Amit Ray poetically states, “Yoga is the artwork of awareness on the canvas of body, mind, and soul.”
Trauma is not just an event that took place sometime in the past; it is also the imprint left by that experience on mind, brain, and body.
The greater attentiveness and safety we feel and experience in the body and mind, the more keenly aware we become of our emotions, our perceptions, and our inclinations that guide our lives for better, or for worse. By engaging in a body-mind practice, you create the physical space and mental space to survey and heal the emotional landscape of your human experience, a poetry of rehabilitating movements.
Week Two: Yoga Pose & Meditation
YOGA POSE: EKA PADA RAJAKAPOTASANA (PIGEON POSE)
Step 1: Come to all fours with your hands below your shoulders, knees below your hips. Bring your left knee to touch your left wrist. Keep your left thigh parallel to the side of your mat and inch your left foot forward until it’s just in front of your right hip. If your hips allow, walk your left foot closer to the front of your mat to create a more intense stretch.
Step 2: Slide your right leg toward the back of your mat and lower both hips toward the floor. As you lower your pelvis, be sure that your hips don’t spill to the left. Look over your shoulder and make sure your back leg is extended straight. Press the top of your back foot into the floor to more deeply stretch your hip flexors. Stay here, with your arms straight and your hands alongside your hips, for 2 to 4 breaths, letting your hips settle toward the floor and observing the sensations in your lower body.
Watch This Video on Pigeon Pose
Step 3: Walk your arms forward so that they’re at a 45-degree angle to the floor—roughly the same angle as Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose). Press your hands firmly into the floor as if pushing away the ground. Complement this action by rooting down through your front shin and the top of your back foot. Feel how this increases the opening in your front hip and back thigh. Take 2 to 4 deep breaths.
Step 4: Continue to deepen the posture by walking your arms forward until your forehead rests on the floor. You’ll stretch your outer hip more deeply by keeping your elbows off the ground. Continue to root down through your front shin and back foot. Breathe into the sensations that are rumbling in your hips; relax your eyes, jaw, and throat. Take 3 to 4 breaths, release, and repeat on the other side.
Step 1: Gently close your eyes and draw your attention to your body and the physical space that you are inhabiting.
Step 2: Scan your body looking for places to soften or disengage your muscles – beginning at the crown of your head; slowly making your way down, across your forehead, eyes, jaw, neckline, shoulders, torso, etc. making your way to the soles of your feet.
Step 3: Focus your attention on your breath; noticing as your belly and chest rise with each inhale and release with each exhale. As you breathe in through your nostrils, breathe out through the mouth by ever-slightly constricting your lips (e.g. like your blowing out a candle on a birthday cake). Establish this slow and rhythmic breath, deepening your breath with each inhale and lengthening your breath with each exhale.
Step 4: Now, draw your attention to the mind. We often buy into the lie that we can be in two places at once, we cannot. We can only inhabit the here and now; the gift of the present moment. Therefore, any thoughts that would seek to draw you away from the present moment, allow them to pass by. And any thought that would help facilitate your awareness of the present moment, hold onto lightly. When it no longer serves you, allow it to fade as well.
Step 5: Now with a calm body, a rhythmic breath, and a still mind, begin your meditation by setting an intention, a prayer. The suggestion for this meditation is a quote from Jess C. Scott – “When our emotional health is in a bad state, so is our level of self-esteem. We have to slow down and deal with what is troubling us, so that we can enjoy the simple joy of being happy and at peace with ourselves.”
Step 6: To exit practice, return to natural breath and softly open your eyes. Next, take a moment to journal your experience.
Images and article by Mark Carter and originally published on March 11, 2020 on MC Photography