A whole human being is a balanced human, one who experiences emotional wellbeing along with physical health and mental contentment. These three lead to spiritual fulfillment.
As a meditation practitioner of five decades and a meditation teacher of three, I have come to see our emotional body as the most liberating for our time because it is the one most people want to avoid.
Just as frequent meditation stretches our ability to focus, pay attention, concentrate and does, in many people, lead to deep emotions surfacing and releasing, yoga stretches the physical elements: muscles, tissue, fascia and brings much needed fresh oxygen to our blood. Yet practiced without emotion, as most yoga practitioners do, yoga may become another way to put the brakes on emotions.
What does this look like? Yoga practice without emotional release involves willpower overcoming the body’s natural ability to let go into deep emotions.
Repeated enough, the issues drive farther into the tissues through willpower, creating an ever more precise yoga practice, at the expense of the health and wholesome balance of the practitioner.
Even more dangerous, we unconsciously believe yoga practice will provide an energy source for the out of whack, intensely frenzied, constantly on the go lifestyle we think means success.
As Diane Bruni, a storied yoga teacher in Toronto, founder of Downward Dog studio and inspiration behind the tv series, Breathing Space Yoga says, “the painful reality is that continued, persistent practice over years does not continue to improve one’s health. In fact, only doing yoga asana can lead to over-use injuries. This does not mean that what yoga classes teach is unhealthy or wrong. It simply means that too much of anything can turn into a bad thing.” Injuries and illness are the result.
The question is why? Why do people practice persistently, right to the point of over-use injuries?
Without the balancing effect of emotional release, a release that provides exact information about this glorious individual body at this precise moment, yogis rely upon willpower to sustain their practice. That leads to over-use injuries and perhaps illness.
The imbalance in mental attitude, of using willpower to overcome, manifests in physical injury. In this way, striving for perfection becomes an enemy instead of an inspiration.
The combination of willpower and the desire for perfection in our culture rampages throughout many lives. We feel insufficient. We cling to notions of doing our lives like someone else, because we believe then we may feel a slight tickle of success, a slight diminishing of that ugly side that mocks and tells us we are not enough.
In meditation practice, a goal of something called enlightenment often becomes a way to feel spiritually superior. This is really a cover for insecurity and doubt and prevents students from being connected deeply with the present moment. Students often mimic the teacher, in hopes of gaining whatever unfolding the teacher has attained. I’ve seen men wearing toques and growing moustaches just because this was their teacher’s style.
Here’s the truth — trying to learn about your life by exclusively mimicking others, by silencing those emotional truths that live inside your own tissues, creates negative results. Trying to learn about your body only by watching someone else practice meditation or yoga is like going to a garage and watching the mechanic in hopes of learning how to drive.
We need experienced and proficient yoga teachers, yes. But, at this time, we need yoga teachers who, having experienced their own emotions in depth, have no fear about emotional release in their classes.
To say the problem another way, many people attend yoga in an effort to override or overcome their depression, anxiety, deep-seated fears or life paralysis. If we use physical exercise of any kind — running, yoga, sports — to overcome our emotions through willpower, we set up an internal conflict. It’s that simple. The primary way to encourage deep knowing within our individual bodies lies in our emotions, in flushing and working with them.
No longer plaster caste figures strictly attending to an ideal of perfection, we learn to embrace emotion in our yoga practice. Emotion as we experience it describes the true uniqueness of our soul in this moment and when we engage with this level of intensity, allowing emotional expression, we tune ourselves to the truth of our authentic being including the deep needs of our bodies, right now.
Only you can drive your vehicle. Your body is your vehicle. Within your particular body live all the memories, bound with emotions, gathered through this life. Only you have the ability to release those binds and experience increased connection to your deep instincts and understanding. Only you have the ability to learn how to drive your vehicle in a loving way.
Practiced in harmony, within our skin, and including emotional expression, yoga may lead to changes in lifestyle towards less activity, less doing and more being. In short, this kind of yoga leads to a life lived with deepening relationship to our physical and emotional bodies and to life itself. This deepening unfolds yoga at its highest intention: to bring us to union.