The Tip of the Iceberg

Yoga helps you notice some pretty interesting things. For instance, this is what happens with my tongue when I practice asana:

This is an example of unintentional tension within the body. It is misappropriated effort. We all have this somewhere in our physical bodies. Perhaps it is a furrowing of your forehead, a slight tension at the corners of your mouth or a gripping in your neck. It could be as subtle as a curling of your baby toe. We all have something. We all have some tension, gripping or resistance in our bodies that left unchecked begins to manifest into pain, injury and disease.

This tension in my tongue is only partially due to the effort I am putting forth to be in a pose. It’s also a product of chatter. I’m also noticing this tendency in other parts of my body – most vividly during conversation, either with another person or with the commentary of my own thoughts. You don’t have to “do yoga” in order to begin to understand where these tendencies lie within your own body. Driving is a perfect place to tune in and become aware of your default resistance. Notice where you are gripping in your body while at the wheel by first asking yourself the question, “Where do I have tension?” Often, simply asking the question is enough to bring your awareness to that space within your physical self. Sit back into the support of the seat and lighten your grip on the wheel. Red lights are a great place to do this. You can close your eyes for a moment and scan the internal space of your body. Maybe you are holding tension in your hip or your upper back or your jaw. Just notice where this happens for you. You can do this anywhere at anytime.

A yoga teacher once said to me, “Our issues are in our tissues.” I think this is an example of what she was speaking about. As we encounter experience and build associations and acquire thought patterns, we also develop physical responses to those stimuli. It is my personal belief that we only have two emotions: joy and fear. Everything else is a fractal, a hair split of the primary two. Joy is our natural state, our essence. Fear arises with the insertion of anything that defies or obscures that truth. Fear manifests within the body as tension. We are literally holding ourselves back from experiencing the bliss of our true nature.

Lately, I’ve been working on cultivating a quietness within myself – physically and mentally – as a way to experience and mitigate this tendency toward gripping in my day to day experience (I’ll write more about this later) and practicing noticing what’s going on in my body (these days especially my tongue *see above) during my time on my mat. Fear and resistance work together in a well practiced tango. They are the perfect partners. In the wild or in a truly life threatening circumstance, fear slows down your power of perception. You are able to tune into the environment in a focused, systematic and  methodical way and make discerned choices about where to put your effort and where to conserve. It happens in a split second. Once the danger is beyond you, then the adrenaline leaves and your parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, returning your systems to normal functioning.  Hala Khouri has used this example: A possum in danger of being attacked by a fox plays dead. Thinking the possum is already damaged goods, the fox moves on. Once the danger has left, the possum begins to shake uncontrollably for a time, releasing all of the pent up adrenaline and tension it produced during the threat. Once the adrenaline is released, the possum gets up and goes about its day. It does not develop a chronic fear of foxes. It releases the tension built up during the fear response and it moves on. We, on the other hand, often don’t release the pent up tension we experience from the stress of our day to day lives. These repeated experiences and impressions help to form the thought patterns that we utilize to sort through our day to day experiences. These thought patterns create unintended, often unnoticed, tension.

The coolest thing about my crazy tongue is that being aware of it is opening up whole new spaces in my body. It’s opening up a whole new practice for me of becoming more quiet, and receptive to my inner voice. Awareness of this crazy tendency to cling and grip with my body is just the tip of the ice berg. There is a vast universe of space filled with joy and wisdom, love and enchantment resting within me just on the other side of those tense places. It is so within all of us. That is why we cling to that space right at the opening. Our deepest fear is the fear of our own light. The joy and happiness that so many of us seek to the point of exhaustion outside of ourselves is already within us. It is vast and ecstatic and resonant with truth. All we have to do to experience it is let go.