After years of feeling unable to find my yoga “voice”, I recently began deepening my yoga practice and teaching. I owe that to the inspiration of Matt Sanford, a paraplegic yogi who teaches yoga to able bodied and disabled people and yoga teachers. After attending a short workshop with him, I remembered that the power of yoga lies in deepening our awareness of the connection between our bodies and our minds, not in creating perfect poses, or in caloric reduction – (although both of those things may also occur as a result of rigorous practice).
My brief time with Matt helped me to touch the impact yoga made on me when I first began practicing. I was a young married mother, working in corporate America, who began to find a connection to myself through my practice – not even being aware that I had become disconnected!
This is not uncommon for people who have experienced repetitive physical or emotional trauma in their lives. And lets face it, there are way more of us who have experienced trauma than those who haven’t. Consider caregivers and first-responders! They see trauma daily.
And here’s what I find most interesting: according to trauma research, trauma ”lives” in our bodies on a cellular level, such that certain sounds, movements, smells, sights, any number of things can act as “triggers” causing us to feel as though we are re-experiencing the event that caused our trauma. A physical practice, like yoga or martial arts can help release the trauma on a somatic level. (You can read articles about trauma research at http://www.traumacenter.org/products/publications.php )
As human beings, we unconsciously try to protect ourselves from traumatic pain by creating a separation between our mind and our body. We literally cut off the connection; we “dissociate”. For example, I sometimes work with coaching clients who claim they cannot feel or cannot identify sensation in their bodies.
This is a handy device in some ways, and unfortunate in others. When we disconnect ourselves from our somatic pain, we sometimes also disconnect ourselves from our joy – and a ton of other useful information that our bodies can provide to us.
Apparently, I unknowingly, employed this protective behavior. There were times in my youth that I woke up on a Saturday morning and had no idea of what I wanted to do, or why. The good news is that after I started yoga in the early 90’s, I reestablished a relationship with my body. I didn’t even realize the transformation in myself. Looking back now at 15 years of practice, yoga has so integrated me with myself that I nearly always feel centered. Most of the time, I can perceive what I want and what I need with ease, even under stress.
Yoga reeducated me that my body and my mind need to take care of each other – and helped me to learn how to do this. In this way, I have developed a loving, caring friendship with myself.
In short, I feel at home in my body. I can relax there. I no longer discern who is master and who is servant. Mind and body have become partners, cuing each other as to what the other needs and wants. And I am grateful and joyous to return daily to my mat to calm my mind and to reaffirm its partnership with my body.