Updated: Jan 8
Yoga with Feeling
Somatic or embodied yoga is a mindful practice with awareness on the way that you feel. Learning to be be present with your body and your breath, not doing yoga with your mind in the fridge! Or still at work. Or on tomorrow's to do list.
Embodied practice is an effective way to re-educate your brain and nervous system. You learn how to release and connect to the stuck places in your body, your breath and your emotions. Places holding on to tension because they have forgotten how to relax and let go.
It’s tempting to think that movement is just movement. You put your left leg there. You put your right arm here. So long as it looks like the picture, then everything is good. Some physiotherapists work on this principle. They prescribe a movement. You learn to make the same shape and repeat it a certain number of times a day.
It’s easy for yoga to become disconnected like that too. Instagram and Youtube have made so much yoga about the way that it looks on the outside, but nothing about the way that it feels from the inside.
‘A living body is not a fixed thing but a flowing event.’ Alan Watts
You are a beautifully complex system.
You need to move around your environment so your very wise body will use different muscles and techniques to get there when one part isn’t working the way it should. You learn how to do what you need to and avoid the sensations and feelings you don’t like.
You will find a way to pick up something from the ground without irritating your grumpy knee. You'll probably learn to hold your breath at the same time. You reach the cookies on the top shelf by arching your back when your arm won’t go all the way overhead. These are compensating movement patterns. You’ll still get a cookie. But you’re not using the best joints and muscles for the job. You’re recruiting muscles to centre stage that should only have a bit part.
Those stuck places have 'sensory amnesia'. They’ve forgotten their connection to the rest of the system. They may have forgotten how to work to support you, or how to release and let go. Some muscles are overused just because you use them all. The. Damn. Time. Like the way your bag is always on your right shoulder, never the left.
Sit for an hour somewhere busy and watch the way people walk. You’ll see a rainbow of different movement patterns just to put one foot in front of the other and move forward.
It’s fine to use different muscles for a while – maybe while you recover from an injury. Over the long term the overworked places become uncomfortable and eventually hurt or get damaged.
‘Learn to listen to your body whisper without having to hear it scream’ Susi Hately
Embodied yoga. Move with awareness
It’s simple. As you practice, move more slowly and listen to your body and breath without judgement. Adapt your yoga to improve the quality of your movement and your breath, and the quality of your experience.
‘The point of any movement if we're interested in negotiating sensation is to try to get it to feel better. So all those feelings you have in your body of effort, of movement, of quality of movement, they're the things we're trying to improve. Can I make it feel smoother, can I reduce the disturbance to my inner calm if you like... It's not about working harder, stretching more. It's about feeling easier in your body.’ Peter Blackaby
Moving slowly means that you can notice how you feel in every millimetre of the posture. You don’t use body weight to swing yourself from one place to the next. It takes strength. It’s simple. But a not always easy.
You have time to notice compensating movement patterns and the stuck areas that don’t move or you can’t seem to sense them.
Repeating movement with awareness reconnects your brain through your nervous system to your muscles. If you can’t move at all, you can start with awareness and touch - massage the area with your hand, or a tennis ball to wake up the connections in your nervous system. Slowly you build a better internal map of your body.
You can tune your self-awareness to help you move with grace and strength and breathe with more freedom and ease.
With practice you can relearn functional, balanced movement patterns that reduce pain and anxiety. Then you can move well throughout your whole life.
Join me to bring an embodied approach to your yoga practice. See you on the mat!