Yoga at it's very best for me has always been a homecoming. It is how I arrive in my body with the sensory awareness of being alive. It has been something for me that allows me to inhabit my body in a way that is pure, and only for me and that makes me feel strong.
Temperamentally I am a fast person. I don't like to wait. I am not very good at being meticulous if good enough will get the job done so that I can move on to something else. I think quickly, I speak quickly and I grow impatient quickly, too. As I make my way through the coursework to become a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner I am learning about myself just as much as I am learning about SE, the nervous system, trauma and patterns in the experience of being human. After all, my nervous system is the template that I am learning all of this through first. Being in this program has had a profound impact on the way that I approach my own yoga practice, and the ways that I help other people cultivate their yoga experiences. Where I have been happily speeding along through life and enjoying the vigours of a vinyasa based practice, I have become deeply curious about what happens when I stop to smell the roses.
So how about a quick sidetrail?
Do you ever walk into a cafe and the song that is playing transports you to a different moment in your life? Suddenly you can place yourself in a different context, the sensory experience pulls you in as if that moment it happening all over again. Your body re-experiences the emotions from that moment in time. For that moment because of the song you are no longer in the cafe, you are a time traveler, temporarily returned to a moment of emotional intensity in your past . When called to examine it, the song itself means nothing to the actual event that occurred in the moment that you are now re-experiencing. But it has become associated with that moment as part of the snapshot that was taken in your physiology in that event. The two details are now linked together. Sometimes these associations are pleasurable. But that isn't always the case. Let's say the song that comes on recalls a time in your life where you felt deeply afraid or stressed out. You are now doomed to re-experience this series of emotions every time you hear the song. With SE and with yoga, we have the opportunity to choose something new with every breath we take. I wanted to share four ways that being a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner in training has influenced my yoga practice:
1. More Isn't Always More
In order to break down the "devil in the details" way that link our senses and the past events we tie the details to each other, we have to slow down. A lot. It actually takes a lot of work for us to fully arrive in the present moment. Even right now as you are reading these words, are you able to feel your tongue? Are you tapping your toes, or maybe reading this on a mobile device while doing something else altogether? So when that song comes on in the cafe, what can you do to bring yourself more fully into the moment so that you can create a new experience for your nervous system? Can you wiggle your toes in your shoes? Can you look around and notice the little details in the cafe? The pattern of the floor tiles? The font on the cafe logo? Even in a yoga practice we can find ourselves mostly absent. When you are in your seated twist can you pay attention to the movement in your ribs as your breath changes, while also noticing the loosening of your shoulder tension? Can you keep your sit bones equally on the ground while you twist your torso? Or does the movement into the pose occur, immediately followed by the cascade of thoughts that take you back out of the moment (what's for dinner, don't forget to email the project team, don't forget to renew the car insurance...) We all do these things and guess what - they happen quickly. So when you notice yourself leaving the moment, take a second to re-establish your sensations. Getting good at being slow takes time, apparently. But I'm starting to appreciate it.
2. People Are Resilient
We humans have an enormous capacity for taking strain and finding ways to bounce back. None of us make it through life without the contusions left by doubt, instability, expectations, heartbreak, physical injury, spiritual questioning and any number of other indignities that we may endure. Our battle scars accompany us on the yoga mat too. But the act of showing up again and again even when we are plagued with doubt, when our bodies hurt, when we are drowning in sadness, when we feel lost is a sign of that capacity. We can adapt to work within the restraints of so many situations. Imagine cutting your index finger. Without cognitive command your body sends platelets to clot the cut and you instantly adapt your movements in order to temporarily protect your finger. You don't have to think about it every time; your body already knows exactly what steps to take. You have an innate capacity for healing at a level that is far greater than you may imagine.
3.We Need Each Other in Order to Thrive
People are designed to create community. Our physiology rewards us for spending time being in the company of other safe mammals. Our desire to be near each other is deeply wired and holds many benefits to our nervous systems. When we spend time with other people who are pursuing similar goals not only does that help to validate our sense of purpose, it also creates a very real downshift in our nervous system cycles. It helps us to feel secure and it helps us to slow down. Some people find it awkward that I have such a penchant for doing partner work in classes but I have many reasons why. When you engage in contact with another person in a safe environment where there is mutual respect and care, you are refining your neuroception, which is a neat way of saying that you can more clearly define and identify what is safe and healthy in your environment. We are also living in a culture that is sadly lacking in opportunities to nurture one another. Touch is mostly relegated to parenting, or it is assumed that it belongs solely in the realm of either sexual overture or violence. But touch is a vital part of being a healthy mammal with a well functioning nervous system and we benefit from being nurtured but also being in a nurturing role. Partner poses are wonderful because they create opportunities for that kind of connection with someone. I'm also a pretty big fan of high fives and hugs too (with consent, of course)
4. Don't Assume Anything
When a new practitioner shows up to my class, it is an opportunity for me to refine my observation skills. I am not responsible for making them have any specific experience, I can only invite them to notice what shows up for them in any given moment. I'm not there to entertain them, or cater to them. We can't always know what battles a person is engaged in at any given time. One of the biggest gifts that we can give to anyone is to hold space for them to be and to do so without layering our own expectations and needs onto their experience.
I am learning to enjoy the messiness a little bit more. I have always been in a big hurry but I can feel moments where I am less rushed and I am grateful for it. When I notice myself hurrying through something, I ask myself a question that I once heard Tom Myers pose to a class I was attending, "Where are you going? There is no there!".
To learn more about Somatic Experiencing or to book a session with Lindsay click here.