discovering yoga’s emotional body

Louie Netz, Director for Harley-Davidson’s Styling and Graphics Department, once said: “Form and function both report to emotion.” It’s likely that a yoga pose, just like when observing the stylish symmetry of a Harley-Davidson to believe a motorcycle is about the eye-catching chrome machine rumbling down the road, is believed to be what everyone sees on Instagram: a slender yogi reaching into a perfectly aligned asana.

A yogi on the mat or a Harley-Davidson on the highway both perform their function at a high degree and garner attention, but the brilliance of yoga is its regression from form to function and ultimately to emotion.

Like many newcomers, when I started yoga I thought it was about what I saw; and I noticed people bending into forms that were – at first –perplexing. To a lesser degree, I thought it was also about what I heard yoga could do, and that was to heal my injured back. I believed if yoga could heal my injuries I would be happy and that would be all I could expect.

As a dedicated yoga student, my yoga evolution was gradual; I practiced to feel better, then to learn good alignment. I paid attention to my teachers as they led me to conscious breathing and correct placement of my feet and hands.

But right away, I sensed there was something happening well beyond what happened on the mat, and this was confirmed as I discovered the philosophy undergirding asana was just one of the eight limbs of yoga’s full expression.

Yogis are on their way to connect, or yoke deeply to their full selves, but also to something much broader and deeper than themselves. And while this intra-connection takes time – a gradual knitting of mind, body, and spirit into one – most yogis sense good changes happening early on and find themselves taking initiative to learn more. It was true with me as my growing awareness revealed how yoga works: the building of awareness beyond the outer forms of asana and a corresponding move to a deeper emotional base.

Yoga is a dynamic leader – both gentle and firm – that invites the yogi to an active partnership. Before long, the yogi can be caught up in a transforming spiral of learning where form begins reporting to emotion. In the words of B.K.S. Iyengar, yoga is “discovering evolution through a journey of involution.”

Preparing the yogi for a deep connection to self-was originally a long and arduous process of discipline for the mind, body and spirit, and it happened in predictable steps. The stages that have shaped me were predictable too: first a physical transformation as a result of disciplined attention to asana. The result was improved flexibility, strengthening of muscle, better balance, and heightened endurance.

The second practical step in any yogi’s journey is cerebral. The yogi enjoys an enhanced ability to concentrate, and a wider awareness of life’s physical and metaphysical relationships and spaces. The yogi starts asking questions and discovers that his/her mind and body answer life’s challenges in new ways, and then the yogi graduates to step three, or emotional growth.

Teachers frequently say at the start of a pose, “This might bring something up in you.” That something could be any person, place, or event from the yogi’s past that hurt, limited, rejected or doubted them. This happens, but it is only the start of yoga’s emotional rescue and an apt illustration of how the form and function of yoga report to emotion.

If one is aware of their emotional body through meditation, journaling or deep reflection, they will be put directly in touch with emotional connections through yoga.

By yoga’s work on me and a corresponding increase in emotional awareness, I realized that for years I held tension from my professional and intellectual work in my shoulders. The emotional body of my practice taught me that this tension is aligned most closely, but not solely, with jealousy. Further energetic work here would have me attend to the throat chakra which works toward a therapeutic of speaking truthfully.

A second realization I came to is that I hold family and tribal tension in my hips. This is associated most closely, but not solely, with guilt and aligns with the spleen chakra. Energetic work there addresses the therapeutic ability to feel, to be social and intimate.

Third, I hold self-esteem and the effort to establish and maintain positive self-worth in my lower back. This is associated most closely, but not solely, with sadness and the solar plexus chakra. Energetic therapy there would address the ability to achieve and take pride in my accomplishments.

I came to these understandings through self-work, and out of necessity. It’s not easy to find a curriculum for emotional/spiritual and mental integration, yet a heightened mind/body/spirit awareness that happens through yoga raises emotional healing as an accessible and ongoing self-project for the yogi.

Certainly, our lives carry imprints of what I’ve mentioned in my own awareness of tension blocks and corresponding chakra awareness, but there’s much more. The final and redemptive therapeutic awareness is that issues sometimes shape us, but through yoga, they can be reshaped.

We can learn that emotions need not define us, and because the yogi is the one person in the world with the largest stake in what happens, they also occupy the best position to know the emotional body and use this knowledge to rewire their lives and release the negatives.

The yogi’s working ground is the yoga mat and self-reflection in private. When he/she practices and reflects, healing happens in remarkable stages. All it takes is the yogi’s courage to pick-up and shoulder yoga’s emotional body, and then begin their work to transform the emotions that form and function ultimately salute.

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