I’ve mentioned a number of times on this blog how much I love yoga and how it is such a great way to get started with energy work at home. I haven’t really explained why, though, so I want to dig into it more today.
Yoga is essentially a practice of moving your body into poses while also paying attention to your breathing. In many ways it is a meditative practice that combines movement and mindfulness.
It is generally believed that yoga originated in India and, in the past 100 years, has spread widely throughout the world. These days it comes in many forms. Practices include everything from the very Westernized power yoga to the more traditional and spiritual-based kundalini yoga.
There is a type of yoga for every person no matter their race, gender, weight, fitness level, religious beliefs, or socio-economic status. It improves fitness and flexibility while also encouraging calm and centeredness. If you don’t know much about yoga, you can get a good overview of what it is and how it can help you in this great introductory post over at Board and Life.
No matter which form you practice, yoga is all about aligning the body, mind, and spirit to create wellness. This, in my opinion, is what makes it energy work as opposed to just exercise. In many ways, modern culture divides us up into component parts. We are bodies to be exercised. We are minds to be taught. We are souls to be spiritually guided. Depending on which camp you exist in, your particular subculture may see everything through one of these lenses. The academics and scientists want to fix everything by taking it apart, labeling it, and understanding it with their minds. Sports people and gym rats see all health issues as originating in the physical body to be fixed with the right supplement and the right workout. Religious groups corral all your problems into some sort of spiritual lesson or failing that needs to be resolved though prayer.
Yes, I’m exaggerating a little bit. But this is the reality of the modern mindset that likes to compartmentalize everything and see it from one point of view. Energy work in general breaks down these barriers by seeing people as complex and interrelated spiritual, mental, emotional, physical, and energetic beings. Yoga acknowledges all these elements and allows each to be a source of wisdom and healing. Yogic philosophy is based on the understanding that to create health and wellness in your life, all levels of your being need to be nurtured and supported.
I just want to point out some of the ways yoga supports these various levels of being.
Physical: This one is pretty easy to connect with. Yoga practice is good for flexibility, core strength, and balance. It also supports a healthy body by reducing cortisol (stress hormones), increasing dopamine and serotonin (good mood hormones), and encouraging relaxation. Controlled breathing practice is also good for the respiratory system and for controlling physical stress responses.
Mental: One of the most basic elements of mindfulness practice is following your breath. Yoga movements are matched to your breathing for a number of reasons, one being its ability to bring your awareness into the present moment. Nearly every yoga teacher will start class by reminding you to put aside thoughts of everything but what is going on at the moment. Many classes even incorporate short meditations and prompts to remind you to recenter in the present moment. You are also taught to set intentions, examine your beliefs about what you are able to do, and accept your body as it is at the moment.
Emotional: Many people don’t realize how interconnected their emotional and physical bodies really are. We don’t just feel our emotions in our hearts or our heads, but our bodies feel them as well and often hold on to them. Most people know that they might, for instance, “hold their stress” in their shoulders or backs. We are just as likely, however, to hold sadness in our guts, grief in our hips, anger in our elbows, or disappointment in our knees. Yoga practitioners are aware of these possible emotional connections and know that during practice emotions may be released from where we hold them. They often prompt people to be mindful of what is coming up (aligning the mind with the process) and allow the emotions to release.
Spiritual: This is, for many religious people, the biggest issue with yoga practice. Yoga comes out of Hinduism, and you can get a healthy dose of Hindu spirituality with your practice depending on your teacher. However, there are many more yoga teachers in the West who don't teach any form of Hindu religion. Many have more of a “new age” bent (also something certain conservative religious groups fear) but this is pretty easy to ignore or adjust to your own beliefs. I personally think that you can integrate the basic tenets of yogic spiritual teaching with any religion, if you choose to do so. We are often reminded in practice that we are spiritual beings as much as we are physical, that we are all connected, that we should cultivate love for ourselves and others, and that we do the inner work of healing so that we can be of service to others. I think these are concepts that underlie most religions, even if they can be hidden by more abrasive teachings on the surface.
Energetic: We could argue that all the above are really just forms of energy, but it can be easier to tackle the complicated world of energy if we separate some of it out. Our energy bodies carry elements of all the above, plus information from our families, the people and cultures around us, all our past future experiences, the land we live on, the purpose of our lives, our potential, and much more. As much as I love yoga, I have to admit that it can only skim the surface of the deeper reaches of the energy world. On the other hand, a yoga practice that works to align the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and energetic bodies not only sets you up for deeper energy work but can also point out what you need to work on next.
Let’s talk a little more about how yoga can support people healing on these multiple levels of being. It is this alignment of the energy bodies that makes yoga so well suited for supporting people dealing with trauma. Trauma and PTSD are complicated conditions but are very often characterized by a disconnect of the mind, body, and emotions. In a sense, a traumatized person was in a situation they could not process so a self-protection mechanism was tripped that separated the body, mind, and emotions so that they would not be totally overwhelmed. Many current forms of trauma therapy work on reestablishing that mind/body/emotional connection in a slow, safe way that reintegrates the patient’s shattered pieces of self and lets them process the original Trauma. Yoga is a perfect way to start this type of work. If you suffer from PTSD or severe Trauma, I recommend finding a therapist that also works with yoga who can guide you safely through restoring that vital body/mind/emotional connection.
Another reason why yoga is a powerful healing tool is because as it aligns the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and energetic layers, it also supports you in any change you want to create in your life. It helps to release old beliefs holding you back, face your emotions about relationships you need to let go, acknowledge the physical toll your job is taking on your body, and much more. It does all this because as your energy bodies align your intuition and sense of self are restored. It reminds you that you know things you have forgotten you know. It brings your true self back into focus so you can start to create a more authentic life for yourself. Aligning all aspects of yourself also highlights the things that are out of alignment. Maybe you can see your job, the place you live, the people you spend most of your time with, or the way you take care of yourself in a new light that allows you to move ahead in a new direction. Yoga is an energetic practice that doesn’t necessarily create all the change you want, but certainly supports it.
Let me tell you a few of my yoga experiences to illustrate what I’ve talked about above. I started practicing yoga about eight years ago. I have never been very flexible, but despite the fact that I was fairly active, I was losing a lot of mobility in my body. I was losing range of motion in my shoulders, legs, and back simply because I wasn’t consciously trying to stretch regularly. So I got some DVDs from the library, bought a mat, and gave yoga a try. This was about the same time I was starting to learn about energy work and I didn’t know what I thought of it. I was pretty mainstream fitness-oriented and the yoga programs I watched fell into that category. It took quite a few months, but I started to see improvement in my flexibility and range of motion. As far as physical results, I was pleased.
I also started noticing that when the yoga teachers would say things like, “we hold a lot of emotion in our hips,” that I could actually confirm that with my own experience. Sometimes I’d be doing a pose and suddenly start crying as a flood of old emotions were released. Other times I’d just get ridiculously frustrated or suddenly recall something that happened many years ago. Hmm. Apparently, there was something to this stuff.
As I continued to learn more about the connection between emotions and the body, I started experimenting with Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) and visited a practitioner of Neuro Emotional Technique (NET). I also visited an acupuncturist and tried to wrap my head around what she was doing. One day I was home practicing Yoga and suddenly felt a searing pain in my right inside ankle. I stopped for a moment to try and figure out what it was. Using everything I had learned to that point I could tell that it was emotional energy that was being dislodged and moving out. I mentally gave myself a moment to feel it and allow it to fully release from my body. When I felt better, I started yoga again but a few minutes later the same pain showed up in my inside right groin. I stopped and again mentally allowed it to clear. Thankfully, it seemed to move out of my body after that, so I finished my practice in peace.
Later I tried to figure out what had happened and a whole bunch of new connections were made in my brain. Clearly, we store emotional energy in our bodies and yoga can release it, as I had noticed many times. Emotional energy travels through our meridians (energy pathways used by acupuncturists for centuries) to clear which is why I felt that particular emotion move up my leg and then disappear (that was new for me). But there was also a piece of it that was me mentally noticing, accepting, and allowing it all to happen that I hadn’t fully appreciated before. There were certainly depths to this practice I still had to explore.
So here I am years later still practicing yoga fairly regularly. As I’ve learned more about the energy world, I can see a lot of the concepts mirrored in yoga poses or teachings. I understand so much better how it helps to align the levels of the body so that you can create the wholeness from which wellness flows. I can appreciate how the yoga poses and the teacher's prompts guide you to manipulate the flow of energy through your body, release areas of blockage, and allow your energy to come into balance. I still have days when I feel totally fine and then as soon as I start my yoga practice, I know something is off. The balance and alignment needed for a good practice simply highlights anything that is ready for me to work on that day. I take these moments to inform me of the work I need to do next. At this point, that work is often deeper energy work that yoga can’t touch, even though the yoga is what brought it to my attention.
For all these reasons I highly recommend yoga as a base energy practice for anyone. I suggest starting with Hatha or Pranayama because I find they work with a good balance of the different forms of energy I’ve talked about here. Power yoga concentrates a little more on the physical. Kundalini is more energy based. If you are dealing with a lot of stress, check out Yin yoga that is physical without being intense. If you don’t have a lot of mobility, then something like chair yoga or yoga for seniors would be a good place to start. If you don’t know what you like, then hire an instructor or check out some of the many online yoga services that let you experience different styles. DoYogaWithMe.com is one I have tried that has some free classes you can explore.
Will yoga meet all your needs for energy work? Of course not. I’m not fanatical enough to claim that. Do I think it can help support anyone with their goals of creating better health and wellness? Yes, absolutely. I recommend it so often because I think it is a great basis for creating any larger transformation you want to make in your life. If you have never done yoga before, then it’s time to give it a try.
Have you been doing yoga for a while and have noticed that you still have areas of weakness, stress, or strain that you can’t get through? It could mean that there is deeper energy work that has to be done in that area. Contact me and we’ll talk about how I can help you align your energy body with the work you are already doing.