Most folks come to Therapeutic yoga to heal their body. That’s what I designed the program to do, all that hard work squatting, crunching, and bending leads to healthy posture. Healthy posture promotes a healthy body. And yet, there is another quite important part of the experience that I rarely talk about. The practice of yoga heals more than just your physical body. It can bring spiritual healing as well.
In yoga we are taught that physical ailments often have a psychological or spiritual root cause. I do believe this. I have seen it happen time and time again that sometimes a person develops illness in the area of the body that eastern medicine would predict is sensitive to a psychological cause. Examples include: kidney and bladder issues in a person feeling disconnected from their family and community, infertility in someone who has been sexually abused, frozen shoulder in a person dealing with emotional abuse, autoimmune disorder in a person who loses a loved one… the examples of this are numerous.
The reason this sort of psychic illness is so common isn’t mystical. When we undergo emotional stress of certain types our body responds in specific predictable ways that put the corresponding area at risk for illness. A person yells at us and we stiffen our shoulders. If it happens enough, our shoulder could freeze. We guard the area of the body that is psychologically equated with certain responses – for thousands of years these sorts of ideas have developed in different cultures and they are held in common for a reason. It isn’t a coincidence that we see our hearts as where we feel love or our gut as where we feel nervous. While I do not believe that all physical ailments have a psychological root, sometimes we just get sick, I do believe that at other times we need to heal our hearts to heal our bodies.
Find Healing Rituals
In class, I read from a book that I call “The Magic Book” at the end of most of my classes. This book is by Melody Beattie and is called Journey to The Heart: Daily Meditations on the Path to Freeing Your Soul (http://tinyurl.com/prcp82d).
For me, using this book is a healing ritual. We all need these special practices that help us to heal our spiritual wounds. With mine, I hold the book in my hands lovingly. I think about what is causing me stress or angst. I open the book and whatever I turn to first – WHATEVER I turn to – I read it and meditate on it. I don’t flip around to find something else when my eyes rest on a passage title I don’t really like. That’s cheating. I let my mind be open to what I see and really ponder it.
Be an Empty Vessel
There is a Buddhist teaching story that I love:
A scholar went to an accomplished Zen master to ask for instruction. The scholar had an extensive background in Buddhist Studies and was an expert on the Nirvana Sutra. She came to study with the master and after making the customary bows, asked the master to teach her Zen. Then, she began to talk about her extensive doctrinal background and rambled on and on about the many sutras she had studied.
The master listened patiently and then began to make tea. When it was ready, the master poured the tea into the scholar’s cup until it began to overflow and run all over the floor. The scholar saw what was happening and shouted, “Stop, stop! The cup is full; you can’t get anymore in.”
The master stopped pouring and said: “You are like this cup; you are full of ideas about Buddha’s Way. You come and ask for teaching, but your cup is full; I can’t put anything in. Before I can teach you, you’ll have to empty your cup.”
This story is an old one, but it continues to be played out in our lives day-by-day. We are so enamored of our own ideas and opinions and so trapped by our conditioning that we fill ourselves up to the brim and nothing can get in.
Sometimes our conditioning serves us well. Positive thoughts such as, “I can do it!” or “I deserve to be well compensated for my hard work!” or “I am loved.” Those thoughts serve us and should not be emptied from our cup. BUT other thoughts such as, “This is too hard for me.” Or “I’m not smart enough or pretty enough.” or “There is no reason why things will go well for me.” That kind of thinking is not useful for us. It doesn’t serve us and should be poured out of our cup. Yoga helps us to find these sorts of damaging ideas so that we can choose to discard them.
A Chinese guru, Seng Ts’an, said, “Do not search for the truth; only cease to cherish opinions.” If we empty ourselves out, let go, and cease to hold on to our views, the truth will come to us.
This concept is really essential to healing your heart. You must empty your vessel and be open to finding the tao – the way things work. One of the fortunate side effects of going through an emotional trauma is that it has a tendency to empty your cup; everything you thought you knew, thought was true, has been poured onto the ground and swallowed up by the earth. One of the unfortunate effects is that it empties out the good with the bad and sometimes folks choose to refill their cups with the bad. Don’t refill your cup with dirty water or spoiled milk. Refill your cup with nourishing substances to promote healing.
Make Self Love Your First Sip
There is a Zen saying:
Acting on and witnessing myriad things with the burden of oneself is delusion. Acting on and witnessing oneself in the advent of myriad things is enlightenment. (Master Dogen in Genjo Koan)
I’m not here to find enlightenment. I’m not hoping to end suffering. All I can hope to do is react to it without too much bitterness, to release my anger quickly and move on. That’s hard but some people do it well; it can be done. Part of the trick to it is to see yourself as experiencing an adventure that is life rather than seeing life as something happening to you. Then, each trial becomes the next adventure you move through. And to do this, you must recognize that you are wonderful and perfect, you are a spiritual being having a human experience… as they say. I don’t think you can fail to find yourself miraculous once you accept this. How can you not think: “A spiritual being? Me? Well, that sounds good, that sounds delicious. I want that in my vessel!”
I just want to be as productive as I can, to be as connected as I can with my community and my family, and to feel that there is purpose in my life. If enlightenment comes, great. That would be a cool thing to experience, I’m sure.
Search for ways to stay strong and healthy.
Search for healing of body and soul.
You are beautiful and amazing and you deserve it!
-With Love, Erin