During one of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Programs I introduced the first Yoga session by asking participants to step onto their mats as the metaphor for stepping into the present moment. The instruction was to then listen to the fine whispers of the body and let IT tell them how to move.
This particular participant I shall call Lucy was frozen and could not move, even though she had attended Yoga classes for 2 years prior to this session. As I invited her to tell us what was happening in her body and why she felt frozen, she reported feeling extremely anxious, embarrassed about her body, and that she ‘did not want to go there’. “To go where?” I asked, to which she replied “to go where it hurts”. Following the call of mindful attention I invited her to turn to exactly what she did not want to face, upon which she broke down into tears and sobbed. She told us how she has always hated her body, indeed herself (with a long childhood history of events explaining this state of affairs), and she always tried to avoid feeling this pain, which is deeply embedded in the implicit memories of her body. The Yoga she was involved in for 2 years that used movement as an avoidance was perfect to perpetuate her suffering under the disguise of helping her feel superficially better.
The brain uses movements of the limbs not only to act in the world, but also to avoid awareness of embedded emotional pain. Her 2 years of Yoga practice did just that – reinforcing her defenses against emotional pain by enlisting muscular movement. This occurs in typical Yoga classes where you are asked to imitate the teacher’s postures. Once invited to approach movement in a different way, not as a mechanism of avoidance or as a thing to do to achieve a posture, but as an energetic process that wants to integrate those parts in us we have unconsciously dismissed as too painful to deal with, Yoga moves into an entirely different direction. It becomes what the word itself ‘Yoga = yoking’ originally meant: To yoke and reconnect our superficial conscious life with the deeper life of hidden truths we have long forgotten. Instead of working with our muscles, tendons and fascias, we work first and foremost with the brain.