One of the major contributions yoga can make to greater mental and emotional well being is its capacity to develop new ranges of feeling and expression. Like a tree that wants to grow into full expression, in the directions inspired by its natural ability, we also have a myriad of potential for feeling into and expressing our aliveness. But, like a tree forced to grow inside a box, we are hampered in our expression by cultural norms and expectations as well as our socialization. From a young age we are taught what kind of emotional expression is acceptable and will secure us the affection of our caregivers and peers. We are also taught what is not acceptable. We try to grow in boxes, knowing intuitively that something is missing. We can sense the constriction and mistake the craving for fuller, more alive expression with the craving for achievement, things, money or power. We have been taught that on the other side of striving for and attaining prestigious externals, such as status or influence, will be that aliveness that we so crave. And often despite the momentary exhilaration we let ourselves feel upon achieving some external standard of success, the moment ends and we are forced once again inside our boxes, pawing at the inside seeking desperately for a crack of fresh air. And we do this again and again, compulsively seeking those highs of achievement, where the accolades of success feign the illusion of true freedom. Like the obsessive compulsive handwashing of a germaphobe, mistaking a moment of “cleanliness” for true freedom from the burden of bacteria, we attach to these external achievements a pray they give us the aliveness we crave and sense as our birthright. As we compulsively seek greener pastures and better vistas outside of ourselves our inner landscape becomes neglected and we become even more alienated from our internal life, exacerbating the feeling of lack and subsequently amping up the feverish pursuit of “MORE” in our external world. We become enslaved by the allure of achievement and dependant upon attaining external standards for experiencing life inside the body. Excitement is permitted when we get that shiny new car, high power job or media coverage but soon that dies and we are again at the mercy of our compulsive pursuit of the next big thing. And our energy is not activated until the next big thing is arrived at, or things start to go “our way”. In the meantime our energy is stuck in patterns defined by the boxes we have adopted like a tree conforming to the box it grows in. Our growth and energy is restricted only to minimally acceptable ranges and at some point the atrophy takes over, our energy gives up and we succumb to various forms of neuroses to cope.
But there’s another way. Yoga can offer us the possibility of liberating our energy from these boxes if we practice it in a way that allows that. Unfortunately much of yoga today offers us simply more boxes – fancier boxes, perhaps, shrouded in complex or beautiful forms. We pursue “floating” sequences of arm balances, inversions and other circus feats – the achievement of which has come to indicate one’s superiority in the realm of yoga culture. We pursue external standards once again. Yoga becomes, then, not a vehicle of liberation but yet another of enslavement as we seek to “keep up” with the images endorsed by popular media and unquestioned by much of the yoga leadership in our midst. And yet yoga has the potential of being a powerful force for breaking down the boxes of conditioning we live in and offering us new possibilities for movement and expression. Bioenergetic body worker John Conger says we can build a “vocabulary of liberation” in the body and “change from one physical psychic state to another” through the awakening to unconscious patterns and increasing the repertoire of expression through movement practices. Through yoga we can begin to expand choice and possibility beyond the taken for granted patterns of our culture. We can reclaim our nature, expanding the branches of our expression and leaf out in the many directions of our inherent potential. Conger goes on to say: “ Life as a construct of simple physical rituals can be enacted out of vitality or submerged in depression; and attention to the range of simple human activities is most especially the province of a psychology of the body” He states “ As the range of movement is constricted so our experience is impoverished” and we know this impoverishment deeply and long for its resolution. A yoga practice that takes us into these conditioned patterns and offers us choice in the midst of their rigidity is a practice founded on liberation. This practice may not be fancy or externally pleasing but it is profoundly empowering. Yoga that offers us the ability to connect to our aliveness and move in increasingly new ways and expressing through a myriad of forms is one that ends our dependence on external achievement to give us the surge of aliveness we yearn for. In the moments we feel the crushing pressure of the box of expectations around us, we can enter into our practice, commune with what is, and offer ourselves alternatives that are dependent on nothing but our own willingness to pay attention and to move. These new movement possibilities become vehicles of expression rather than constriction and our life force is enable to grow and stretch, root and center, solidify and flow based on the natural urge within. The key is to ask yourself if your yoga practice is building up the boxes of pressure and achievement around you or breaking them down. Are you willing to drag up the conditioned body from the shadows of your unawareness and know it? Will you offer yourself new possibilities of expression and become your individuated self or will you allow yet another yoga authority to tell you what’s acceptable movement and what’s not?
The choice is yours to stand amidst the influence of our culture and BE as you are in your NATURAL self. Push back against the box. Let yoga be your vehicle of choice rather than yet another system dictating right and wrong. Through yoga collapse the boxes of your conditioning with every fresh movement and allow every style of practice to permit a new mode of expression and a more vibrant experience of your life force.
Conger, John. (1988) Jung and Reich: The body as shadow. North Atlantic Books.