Stories Yoga Tells: Movement as Metaphor

Yoga is a natural at story telling. Partially because of my love for writing, the metaphors behind the poses are what drive me to keep practicing. Every time I do yoga, a storyline unfolds, both informative of, and formative to, my life off the mat. Yoga feels like a visceral representation of life in that moment - a visual guide of the my body’s reactions to the external environment.

The breath certainly reflects the mind, which yoga helps us to become aware of. If thoughts are busy or chaotic, often the breath is shorter and jagged. If the mind is still and peaceful, the breath is fluid and whole. Similarly, if my life is going through a rough patch, that will manifest in my practice: tears hit like a truck in pigeon, I may wobble and fall out of balance poses that usually come easily, I may feel weak and shake in boat pose. Stress manifests via lower back pain. Anger manifests via raised body temperature. Stagnancy manifests via fidgety restlessness. Lately, as I’m working through some fascinating (albeit new and wildly uncomfortable) symptoms of trauma, I don't practice with my back to the room’s exits or to other people. I no longer close my eyes in Shavasana. Feeling safe is something I consciously think more about, and vulnerability seems to come with a whole new set of dangers.

In an effort to re-learn that it is safe to open up to people - and to de-stigmatize this under discussed topic - I’m being fairly candid with peers that I’m going through a strange and complicated grieving process. I’m healing from various layers of relationship abuse, working on how to hold myself accountable for my own unhealthy behaviors and habits, and committed to re-wiring my brain to both give and receive the love all beings deserve.

My yoga practice grows just as I do, and my relationship to the practice is evolving too. I no longer view yoga as an answer or a cure, but rather as one of my many tools for healing and one of my many outlets for creativity. I’m aware of my privilege to have access to so many resources. Many people in my situation have few or none. Yoga is an unbiased mirror, (I am still, after about a decade of practice, terrified of going upside down - just as I’m afraid of vulnerability, lack of control, and rejection in my life off the mat). But, despite its brutal honesty, yoga is also a friend who supports your breath and mobility. Yoga is a space to move how the breath and body need to move - it teaches how to clear space, shed layers, how to be in my power. While practicing yoga I can choose when to be open, when to be closed, when to expand and grow in tree pose, or when to contract and be held by the ground in child’s pose. Yoga wants you to love your bodies. It shows you that that’s an option. It shows you how to hear your body’s signals - and then listen and respond to them accordingly - without fear or judgement. Then, in turn, you learn how to listen to others with the same kind of love.

The fact is that we are all writers. Yoga instructors, in particular, have this interesting responsibility to not create the story for the class, but to allow the class’s story to tell itself - this is what we’d call “holding space.” I do not believe in a teacher or a healer filling someone else’s cup with knowledge, but rather I’m of the Socratic Method of Teaching school of thought - I believe we are all healers, all our own teachers, and we are all capable of cultivating our own education, our own peace, our own medicine. We write our own stories. The yoga mat is just the blank page.