Yoga and the Somatic Voice
Below are the notes I wrote prior to teaching on the retreat at Cortijo Romero. Enjoy 🙂
‘In order to have room for what’s difficult, we have to have access to a sense of safety and peace.’
To me, this is a major reason as to why I / we partake in some form of conscious practice, be it yoga, dance, movement, Meditation, singing – any embodied practice that includes awareness of the felt sense and present experience.
We learn to develop the muscle of ‘grounding’ and the ability to contain and embrace our experience as well as coming back into the body when we may otherwise be dissociated.
So much of life can be spent living outside of the body, often in ways we are not even aware of. An embodied practice and an embodied focus allows us to come back home to the field of our physical selves and meet life through every cell, interring the various sheathes of our beings from physical to emotional to mental to subtle.
Of course, it is not possible to be in this state of full presence at all times (at lease, I am yet to meet someone who is – even “enlightened” masters). We need moments of respite from ourselves. These moments can be very helpful for us to process events on an unconscious level that may yet be too shocking for the nervous system to fully experience on a conscious level.
It is important that we allow for this time and don’t beat ourselves up for ‘zoning out’ occasionally. What we may wish to look at, however, is if that ‘zoning out’ is happening on a more frequent basis and is, therefore, affecting the quality of our lives and relationships with others.
This ‘zoning out’ can happen in many ways, even through our, so called, ‘conscious practice.’ The response I get from many when I ask why they want to learn to meditate or practice yoga nidra or the likes is that they would like to ‘switch off.’ I often respond that these practices, if embraced fully, are not about switching off but switching ON and engaging more fully with life. There is a very fine line between zoning out and the mind becoming dull and tuning in to a space of pure mind. Often the former is mistaken for the latter and some can develop the ‘zone out’ muscle which can lead to all sorts of apathy and ‘detachment’ towards life.
Even if someone is zoning out, there is likely a very good reason for it and it is certainly not about trying to produce a counter action that will get rid of this experience. Rather, it is about gently turning towards it with and open sense of inquiry.
When we turn towards it, we invite that otherwise sleeping / unconscious experience into our awareness and it is only then that the essential energy of that part of ourselves can be freed into motion. Unless something is first accepted as it is, it is almost impossible to let it change.
Paula Shaw, of the Max states three stages in relation to acting that I think are very applicable to life as well.
It is as it is
If we look at these three stages using the energy of, say, anger we can see that if we can turn towards the anger and see it for what it is then we can see more clearly and realistically. Then, if we can own our anger and say ‘I am angry’ or even ROAR! When we own that part of ourselves we make it less of a taboo and shame driven emotion and we allow it into the open space of our unconditional awareness. When it is owned by is it can no longer own us. The acting out of this emotion now comes from a conscious space rather than an unconscious one. The energy has been freed, as oppose to repressed / suppressed / pushed down.
(think about emotions that are uncomfortable for you…. how do you push them down? How do they unconsciously rule your life?)
When the energy of the emotion has been freed through truly owning it, then you are free to create with it what you will. There is so much energy even in the most challenging of emotions. If we can learn to use that energy then we can even allow those emotions to create something beautiful through us, albeit raw and wild at times.
‘To be fully alive is to say Yes to the wild array of human feeling.’
All emotions are valid. Every single one. All too often we have been delivered the message that we somehow need to cultivate only positive emotions and get rid of the ‘negative’ ones. A ‘negative’ emotion only becomes negative when we make it so through our perception. So called negative emotions can actually have a very positive influence in our lives.
(Think of ‘negative’ emotions… how can they have a positive influence?)
‘Our emotions are not the enemy after all but messages that reconnect us in the most basic and intimate of ways with the adventure and experience of being alive.’ John Kabat-Zinn
Any emotion, whether deemed to be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ become toxic when it begins to run the show and we become identified with it, acting it out in unhealthy ways. Happiness can soon become neediness when it is dependent on some external factor. The root emotion of anger, which in and of itself is not bad, can become violence when we have not learned to effectively contain this emotion, own it and allow it to offer energy to create healthy boundaries in our lives.
“What gives light must endure burning.’ Viktor Frankel
‘To live in truth is to be able to live in these contradictions – to accept that each piece can be true without negating the other.’ Anode Judith
Let’s take a look at some of the primary emotions and see how they can affect us either way.
The following from ‘The art of empathy’ by Klara Mclaren
Emotions become unhelpful when we become ‘angry about anger, fearful about fear and ashamed of shame.’ Klara Mclaren
Anger is the emotions that sets boundaries and helps you hold firm in your sense of self image.
Anger, Shame, Apathy (a masking state for anger), Hatred.
Gifts that come from anger: Honour, Conviction, Healthy self esteem, Proper Boundaries, Healthy detachment (one where you can look at others and not be totally enmeshed with them), Power in yourself not power over others.
Anger ‘arises when there are challenges to your voice and to yourself.’ The task is to restore your personal boundaries, restore your stand point…. without violating the boundaries of others.’ Klara M.
Guilt and Shame: In the dictionary, guilt is not an emotion. It is a fact (you are guilty, you don’t feel guilty). Shame is the emotion. (according to Klara M.).
Shame helps you restore your integrity.
Gifts: atonement, integrity, self respect, behavioural change, the ability to make amends.
Who has been hurt? What must be made right? (sometimes you are the person that has been hurt – sometimes by yourself.)
Most of us learned about shame by being shamed – which is different. Shaming shame is not the point. When we are shamed we do not learn how to deal with shame authentically. Wait to see if someone feels their own remorse before adding shame. If there is no remorse, there are kind ways to invite awareness into the action that caused harm.
Gifts: Detachment, boundary setting, Separation, Taking time out.
‘The mask for anger.’ – arises in situations where it is hard to express anger openly. When anger is repressed it can become apathy.
What is being avoided? What must be made conscious?
Hatred: ‘the profound mirror’
Gifs: Intense awareness, piercing vision, sudden evolution, shadow retrieval.
‘The shadow is things that you cannot accept in yourself and demonise in others.’ KM
Can be an extremely dangerous emotion. Shadow work helps you to make your container larger to hold hatred without it becoming destructive. In this way, you can unlock the energy of the emotion and free it for creative use.
Fear, Worry & Anxiety, Panic & Confusion, Envy & Jealousy.
Fear: ‘Intuition in action.’
Gifts: Intuition, instinct, focus, clarity, attentiveness, readiness, vigour.
Focuses you on the present moment and on the immediate surroundings.
What action should I take?
Worry & Anxiety: ‘Focus and completion’
Gifts: Foresight, focus, conscience, task completion, procrastination alert!
Arise to help you organise and plan for and complete your tasks. Future focused, where fear is present moment focused.
If you are feeling anxiety it likely means that everything is OK in the present moment… you have the time to focus on the future.
What triggered this feeling? What really needs to get done?
Action focused, fear based emotion. Can be helpful to make lists.
Confusion: Masking state for fear and anxiety. You lose your instincts and intuition.
Gifts: defused awareness, innocence, malleability, taking a time out.
Can arise when overwhelmed by change, novelty and too many tasks.. confusion can offer a vacation from these.
What is my intention? (present, near future, distant future) Anger is helpful here in setting boundaries and making clear who I am in this situation.
Panic and Terror: ‘Frozen fire’
Gifts: Sudden energy, fixed attention, absolute stillness, healing from trauma.
Fight, Flee Freeze. Panic will make the decision that will give you the greatest opportunity to survive – before your rational mind can come in.
No questions – just react for safety. Sometimes we get stuck in panic and it arises in other non threatening circumstances. It is natural to keep going back to it yet it is uncomfortable and can get into a feedback loop – PTSD
What has been frozen in time? What requires healing action? Peter Levine’s work.
Jealousy: protects connection to love and stability in the area of relationships.
Gifts: commitment, security, connection. loyalty, fairness
What has been betrayed? Me betraying myself by choosing mates who cannot love me or my mate who has been loyal but focusing attention elsewhere? What must be healed and restored?
Envy: arises from challenges that threaten material security.
Gifts: fairness, security, access to resources, proper recognition and self preservation.
What has been betrayed? What must be made right?
Sadness, Grief, Depression, Suicidal urges
Sadness: ‘the water bearer.’
Arises when it is time to let go of something that isn’t working anyway. Different from grief.
Gifts: Release, fluidity, grounding, relaxation. rejuvenation.
What needs to be let go of? What must be released? What must be rejuvenated?
Grief: ‘The deep river of the Soul’
Arises when something has died or been lost irretrievably. When loss is out of your hands and you need to mourn.
Gifts: facing loss,
What must be mourned? What must be released completely?
Situational Depression: can be tracked to something that isn’t working in your life. Depression isn’t the thing that bums you out… it stops you because of a situation that is already going on… ‘ingeneous stagnation.’
Where has my energy gone? Why was it sent away?
Once you know that you can work with those things. If you can’t see where the energy has gone it is hard to free it.
Suicidal Urges: needs support. ‘The darkness before dawn.’
Arise when there are already life threatening / soul threatening situations going on. The situation needs to end but your life does not.
Gifts: certainty, resolve, liberty, transformation, rebirth
What idea or behaviour must end now? What can I no longer tolerate in my soul?
Comes to help you end things that are making your life unliveable already, not to end your life.
Happiness, Contentment, Joy
Happiness: anticipation and possibility
delight, amusement, hope, playfulness, wonder, invigoration.
Arises to help you look forward to the future with hope and delight.
Contentment: Pleasure and appreciation
Enjoyment, Satisfaction, Self respect, pride, confidence, fulfilment.
To look towards yourself with satisfaction. Connected to anger and shame. Make sure you are standing in your ground and speaking your truth.
Thank you for renewing my faith in myself!
Joy: Affinity and communion
Expansion, inspiration, splendour, radiance and bliss.
Thank you for this radiant moment!
Too much joy can cycle into Mania… watch internal regulation around joy. Work with it in a grounded way.
All of the above from Klara Mclaren’s book ‘the art of empathy’
‘As much as our breath comes in and out it must integrate inner knowing and outer expression. It is not enough to touch awakening. We must find ways to live its vision fully.’
For me, it is not enough to practice asana and meditation. I realised after years of practice that, in some way, these practices were keeping me safe from fully engaging with parts of myself and relationship that actually offered to challenge my edges much more than the practice I had become so familiar with.
I have a background in the expressive arts and music and the voices of these began to make themselves known through my body in ways I could not ignore. A few years ago, life asked me to return my focus to these parts of myself and feed them. They have been a huge part of my own journey into integration, which is ongoing.
The practice of yoga, which includes meditation, yoga nidra and conscious movement, have given me a home in my body; a heightened awareness of what is alive within me. The arts, which includes improv, vocal play and singing have allowed me access to my emotions in a way that I could not reach with yoga. They have turned me on to life and are wonderful tools for me, an introvert by nature, to come out of myself and express my truth to the world. I believe in their power to do the same for all those inclined towards the arts in which ever form.
The arts allow us to access different textures of our psyche and to play with them in a healthy way as well as developing healthy relationships with those parts of ourselves as well as with others. We can ‘act out’ in a safe environment things we may otherwise feel ashamed to do and play with different ways of doing so. We become more at home in our bodies and with our emotions so that when we meet them in ‘real life’ we have created a larger holding space within ourselves to experience them from. In this way, they are less overwhelming and we can choose to consciously respond to them as oppose to unconsciously react to them in any given situation.
It is one thing to be able to sit still and meditate, to rise above the mundane reality of the material world. It is another thing to fully engage with the material world with eyes wide open and heart fully engaged. This is not a question of ‘either or’ but one of ‘both and.’ A contemplative practice coupled with an expressive one integrates our dualistic nature into a dance of oneness, where both contribute to make up the whole as well as being individual in and of themselves. A healthy mixture of the ridiculous and the profound makes one neither too serious nor too flippant.
In this way, we can apply humour when appropriate and pierce into our relationships with depth and presence when necessary. When we are in trauma it is near impossible to play authentically. When we learn to work with and through our trauma in a way that integrates it as part of our whole experience as a human being, we then free up the energy we were using to protect ourselves for living a fulfilling life, as well as cultivating discernment as to where and with whom to focus that energy.