We seem to have strong desire as humans to figure out what a body is and what the role of our bodies are – how we use them, place them, hold them, how they differ from other bodies and how they are alike.
In every culture and race there is different assigned ‘roles’ for bodies, whether ‘real’ or fictional. Rarely are bodies neutral. They grow and change shape. They exist in memory and can reflect future hopes. Human bodies can be naked or clothed, spiritual, political, sacrificial, ceremonial, experimental, artistic, sexual, pregnant, dead or alive.
They can be represented through age, gender, status or religion. Bodies can be imprisoned or free. They can be loving or violent, distant or close. Bodies can be expressive and metaphoric. They can be diseased or healthy, active, or passive. They can be disabled and abled.
Bodies host questions of ownership and who or what has rights over physical bodies. Bodies have needs and desires.
There is great anxiety over understanding and comprehending our bodies – as we constantly try to assign labels and to figure them out.
I have found through teaching yoga and in my personal life that how we relate to our bodies, has direct impact on the quality of our lives.
We all sit on a sliding scale, anywhere from a non-conscious or disconnected relationship with our own body, right through to intense body dysmorphic disorders- and all the other levels that lie between the two extremes.
In Western society there is a big focus on the physical side to the yogic practice. The Asanas and postures in classes, the shapes we make with our bodies all labeled differently under the various branches and names of particular styles of ‘yoga’ – ie. Astanga, Vinyasa, Hatha, Forrest, Jivamukti, Kundalini, Bikram etc.
For me there is great potential for exploration of the human body on the mat through yoga and I will discuss two here in this article.
Balance within the body
The first idea discussed here is creating a ‘Functional Body’ – dealing with Range of Motion.
Often in yoga this transaction is about how to create and sustain balance within the body by marrying strength and stability with flexibility and suppleness so that we can live our life in a pain-free, struggle-free way. It seems to be the reason majority of people come to a yoga class.
‘Functional’ for me is NOT defined by how thin, fat, good looking or muscular we are but rather is reflected in our ability to adapt to our environment when needed to ensure survival. ‘Functional’ is to be strong enough to hold and carry our children, fight intruders and heal quickly from injury, to have access through all our joints to use tools, to run from danger and to be able to smell, hear, see and palpate our surroundings for our needs. To be able to move in all directions without any limitation or pain.
Homo Sapiens as a nomadic species in the past needed an agile body that could run barefoot at high speeds from danger or to hunt, have balance and coordination to climb trees to escape floods, have stamina to hunt for days to find food, fight off wild animals or other tribes, smell their way through the dark, find complete stillness or leap to action in a heartbeat to stay alive.
Of course as modern humans we have no need for all these things but our physical bodies are still designed in that way and require us to remain physically in tune and have full range of motion.
To move in all ways free from discomfort, pain and disease is to ensure quality of life.
The physical side to yoga can assist our shift from having an active lifestyle to a more passive one where we sit at computers, drive cars, take elevators, eat poorly, breathe shallowly and rely on modern medication to keep us ‘healthy’ and pain-free.
Physical yoga when practiced on a regular basis in a safe way has been shown to create and maintain able bodies even with our general lack of physical activity.
The emotion side of movement
The next idea explored here is the emotional side of movement, and is my favorite exploration journey on the mat.
Afterall, we are not just ‘functional moving beings’ but thinking, feeling and sensing beings. We have innate body intelligence. This is also an interesting world where I feel dance and other non-verbal body work cross over and share similarities with the yoga asana practice, and is why I sometimes choose to blend dance with yoga in classes.
There comes a moment of pure sweetness where we discover that in our physical shapes and movement we can express our inner landscape in ways words fail to.
Sometimes we are processing and dealing with emotions bigger than our vocabulary is equipped to handle. Sometimes there just are no words, or words do not do us or the situation justice.
The body does not just live in language, it has its own language
Sometimes resting in humble Balasana/ childs pose can be the most healing way to process what is going on internally or externally with ourselves and can say more than words could ever say about the relationship we have to ourselves and the state we are in at that moment.
You can also observe this in how we relate to ourselves and others using physical movement metaphor. Some examples:
- Jumping for joy
- Shaking with fear
- Being ‘spineless’
- Getting something off your chest
- Twisting someones arm
- Carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders
- To have butterflies in the stomach
- Jumping out of your skin
- Being thick skinned
This journey can also work in reverse where sometimes coming into Asanas and specific shapes can invite in emotional qualities or cause shifts in emotional states. Sometimes memories are triggered through placing the body in specific alignment through Asana practice. It is as though we are transported in and through movement.
You can request a body exploration class with Angela on Muuyu here.
Alternatively, all those looking for a great yoga retreat this springtime can also join Angela and fellow yogini Tihana from the *15th – 22nd August 2015 in the beautiful scenic surroundings of Crikvenica, Croatia for a week long retreat.
Over the week you’ll enjoy 10 yoga sessions (Ana Forrest inspired yoga, Vinyasa and Yin Yoga with Angela and Sivananda classical Indian yoga with Tihana) , fantastic coastal accommodation and delicious vegetarian/vegan meals prepared by your yoga teachers personally!
* These dates have been revised as the retreat as originally scheduled to take place in March.
More details & book information here.
Australian-born Angela Collins is a yoga teacher based in Berlin. RYS Certified, trained in Vinyasa Flow Yoga, and a graduate of Advanced Teacher Training in Forrest Yoga, Angela is committed to nourishing mind and body both off and on the mat. She has had the privilege of teaching Yoga across the globe in Australia, Thailand, Germany, UK, France and with people of all differing ages, nationalities, and needs. Having trained alongside Mark Stephens, Kathryn Budig, Kino McGregor and Ana. T Forrest, Angela now teaches a number of different Yoga disciplines including Pregnancy Yoga, Yoga for Addicts, Yoga for Athletes, and child Yoga.