A common theme of my last several posts has been the importance of feeling. And this morning, at a lecture and asana class with founder of Off the Mat and Into the World, Hala Khouri, she emphasized a similar point: “Yoga is a process of becoming – by feeling the sensations in our body.” By this she means feeling in the fullest sense. Yoga is about allowing ourselves to feel the discomfort, fear, anger and anxiety in our lives, of past traumas. Yoga is about letting things come up, feeling them fully for a brief moment and then, letting them go. She followed this idea with, “Of course, if we told people that yoga is all about “exploring your grief and misery,” nobody would come!”
How many people are affected every day by past traumas? We know how past traumas affect us personally, many of us living under the rule: Never make the same mistake twice. You live, you learn. And, like anyone, you pick up (or rather, pack up) a bit of baggage on the way. These past traumas soon surface in other ways. Body aches and physical tightness (muscle tension), depression, social anxiety, binge eating, domestic violence – and school shootings. Undoubtedly, our past shapes who we are in the present. So it stands to reason, that only once we’ve come to terms with the past can we be our happiest and fullest selves, in the present.
This is how yoga is described as a “process of becoming.” It’s about fully realizing your [True] self, or the best version of you. In the science world, yoga as a healing modality is increasingly considered a viable method of somatic psychotherapy. Recently, yoga has begun planting its roots in Western science, working its way into physical therapy, occupational therapy, psychology, counseling, and even physician’s offices throughout the country.
What happens when we feel? How much better can we be? Hala explained, for her kids feeling means running outside to the trampoline or hitting the punching bag, instead of hitting their brother. Rather, “This is progress.” To recognize a feeling in your body, instead of reacting impulsively or burying it away. To consider the best reaction – whether or not we express that emotion, and how. And to consciously choose a healthy way to release the feeling of tension, distress or anxiety from your body, without harming yourself or others. (Pretty impressive for a six-year-old! And a great example of applying mindfulness.)
To feel something in its fullest expression, to allow yourself to let it out, is to know yourself without the baggage. Whether it’s running over a squirrel (as was Hala’s recent trauma) or the death of a loved one, a car accident or betrayal by a friend – it’s often easier, and cooler, to just put it away. But when we hang on and never allow ourselves to surrender to what we’re feeling about a given situation, it shows up in other places. Insecurities, eating disorders, cheating, anxiety, depression, PTSD, OCD, perhaps even ADD. How different would our world be, if we were raised to express every feeling – in a safe, deliberate, mindful way?
Yoga is one way, but this kind of yoga is done off the mat. It’s a way of thinking, non-judgmentally and with compassion, patience and mindfulness towards yourself and others. It’s a practice and a process; it helps you let go and be free, to easily become our best [kindest, warmest, loveliest & most lovable, thinnest, trimmest, funniest, happiest, etc.] selves.
Everyone has trauma, small ones and big ones, that they carry with them. What are our real reasons for holding on? What happens when we let go?
I’m grateful to have the opportunity to explore somatic psychotherapy and yoga for trauma from the best in the field. My dream (in its ever-evolving form) is to bring this knowledge to all of you. Because how different, how good could our world be? Could our community be? Could our corporate leaders and politicians be? Could you and I be, if we dropped all the baggage and lived mindfully?
Dare to dream,
For more on yoga & somatic psychotherapy – an interview with clinical psychologist, Bo Forbes: Narrowing the Gap Between Insight and Change: Yoga, Psychotherapy, and the Body
Photo: Point Dume, Malibu, California