“The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are.” -Jim Morrison
I began class this weekend inviting my students to consider the connection between freedom in our lives and freedom in our bodies and how yoga can help to enhance the former and achieve the latter. Connect the liberties and freedom we have in our lives to that which exists in the body as we use breath to free tension for example. B.K.S. Iyengar states that “Yoga is extension–extension giving freedom for the body to relax by itself.” Layers of tension, however thin, can build and form stress if we don’t work to relieve them. When we train the mind to identify tension in the body, we are strengthening the power of the mind to let go. Consistent yoga practice keeps me in tune with how my body feels, if and where I hold tension and how relieving it on that physical level with breath and movement can guide the release of tension off the mat.
It would seem remiss to discuss freedom without mentioning freedom of speech and expression given my right to publish this blog. That is a gift I enjoy as a US citizen, something that’s been available to me any time I’ve wanted to take advantage. I wanted to write for a long time, was encouraged by many to pursue it, but I had to free myself of fear before I could pursue it. The yoga term udana refers to “expressive breath”. “The ancient yoga texts state that, physically, udana energy governs your body’s growth, your physical make-up and your ability to stand and move, while emotionally it reveals itself through your enthusiasm and will power and also sustains your voice, giving you the ability to express yourself in a unique way,” as stated in Swami Saradananda’s “The Power of Breath, p. 129. The fact that I could make such strong breath-mind-body connections through my yoga practice strongly contributes to my ability to drop the fear and judgement and let my voice be heard. Saradananda continues on page 130, “Yoga teaches that once energy has been released at a cellular level, your expressive breath is free to help you manifest your ‘self’ in whatever way your choose-physical or mental, emotional or spiritual-since udana represents your ability to grow and change in every sphere.”
Choice is our biggest freedom. Freedom to choose wellness by caring for your body through movement and nutrition…freedom to choose to root your actions in kindness…freedom to choose to live peacefully…freedom to choose to focus on positive things in life. On page 50 of “The Power of Breath,” Saradananda states, “The ancient yoga texts teach us that the more you hold onto or engage with negativity, the more that negativity will control you.” It’s further explained by comparing it to the exhale breath…if you are not able to exhale fully, you deprive your physical body of the oxygen it requires on your next inhale, as well as “cheats your emotions out of a fully vitalizing dose of prana.” Choose to let go and your freedom will become that much more expansive.
The same principles and values upon which our country’s freedom was established are required to achieve the freedom within yourself: trust, loyalty, strength, courage, physical and mental fortitude. My yoga practice has forced me to examine all parts of the physical body and how I can more freely express it. It’s taught me to free myself of expectation while on my mat…and gifted me with the ability to at least recognize the limits of expectation off the mat, even if it is not always easy to put that into practice. Embracing that my practice is indeed “practice” and never perfect is an exercise in freedom. It allows me to accept imperfections as not only part of myself but also as part of life in general. When you can be who you are, take ownership in the good and the bad, only then can you truly live freely.