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Last week I set out to write about some struggles I was having in my physical practice and how they related to my emotional state.  Once I started writing, I realized that a whole separate blog would be necessary to make clear that there is a connection between the physical and the emotional and spiritual spheres, so I wrote that one first.  (If you haven’t read it, link HERE.) I don’t usually write about asana because frankly, I find reading about it to be kind of gross!  BUT, in the sense that it is a manifestation of an internal state, in this entry I will make an exception and use my own personal practice as an example.

Our bodies carry our life experiences and specifically hold on to any situations that we don’t let ourself feel fully and allow to pass through.  Certain parts of the body take the lead at holding certain kinds of situations.  No one person is the same.  There are universal holding patterns, cultural, and individual ones. For example, instances which provoke anger are often stored in the jaw.  Over time, these storing areas become very good at their job and jump in to hold vibration and protect you from pain sometimes even before there is any pain to protect you from.  Then these preemptive responses become patterns and without our conscious input, habits are formed.  These habits manifest themselves in everything we do, from the way we walk, to talk, to eat, to brush our teeth.

The habits we carry with us, for example, the way we shift or cross our arms in response to a stimulus, were likely very useful mechanisms for dealing with some uncomfortable situations in our lives.  We probably had an experience where we didn’t want to show all our feelings when talking to our boss, or a new romantic interest, and even with a loved one.  Sometimes it is appropriate to edit.  The problem begins when we don’t even realize we are doing it and our bodies start to send messages we don’t agree with and hold tensions we don’t want to hold.  The solution lies in bringing our unconscious tendencies into the conscious realm where we have choice.  This is done through mindful yoga practice.

Last week I was struggling with pain under my left shoulder blade.  It was immediately obvious to me that the cause was not my hard Indian bed, 30 hour journey, or overly enthusiastic first practice (though those were triggers).  The root of the tension was my heavy reliance on that area in the previous weeks.  Busy getting ready for my trip to India, and not wanting to engage fully (aka feel) I fell into old habits like tensing my neck and shoulders.

Once the pain got severe, I was forced to correct my overuse.  This meant a week instructing myself to initiate all movement from my lower body.  Even when lifting my arms up above my head, I imagined that they were being lifted by the use of the bandhas.  This caused my lower body to engage and my shoulders to relax.  The point I am making is that in order to heal my body, I had to retrain my mind to override patterns that were no longer serving me.  I recommitted myself to mula and uddiyana bandhas and promised not to lift up or jump through if the action couldn’t be initiated and supported from these inner locks.  In the cases that it wasn’t I would step back and forward.  I had to be stringent because the mind is very tricky and wants to maintain its old habits.  Complete honesty with the self and consistent repetition of the new pattern must be there to make change.

Forced to look INSIDE for strength I soon became happily reacquainted with the bandhas and reminded of their numerous benefits.   One of the great things about drawing strength from the bandhas is they don’t leave you with residual tension.  They also have a well of power to pull from which gets stronger, not weaker as you use it.  They demand presence and encourage and support deep breathing.  In addition, they move energy upward and leave you feeling light and elated.  In fact, the bandhas have energetic and emotional affects so intricate that whole books are written about them.  The deepest understanding, however, comes from experimentation in your personal practice and by allowing them to develop over time. 

I knew I was cutting off emotion and increasing upper body tension in the days leading up to my journey.  I allowed it to happen knowing I would soon be in India where there is a lot of time and support for obstacle removal and self development.  With any pain or injury there is a great potential for learning about oneself, especially about ones habits.  Still, if injury and tension can be avoided they should be.  In fact, there is so much to learn in this oh so short lifetime that in addition to not repeating ones own mistakes, we should also avoid making the mistakes others have made.  And that, is the number one reason I share this story with you.  There are many paths to enlightenment and we need not all take the same one, but at least take one that doesn’t have too much divergence.