As Pagans, when we perform ritual, we are using the magic of action and movement; our bodies expressing and re-enforcing the intention of our being to embrace and honour change. In Pagan spiritual practice the body is perceived as sacred, and we try to challenge those cultural preconceptions that the mind and intellect are superior. With an understanding that we have all been influenced by the body/spirit split that still dominates much of our culture, we attempt to perceive of these parts of ourselves as more holistically interwoven, as extensions of each other, and in doing so, open ourselves to a deeper understanding of self and other.
For a few years now I have practiced Yoga, more or less daily. I was first introduced to it when I was sixteen. I was training to be a dancer and so liked the physical challenge of its poses. Through it I first encountered meditation and with these techniques brought myself out of a particularly awful three years, post my mother’s death. I didn’t fully grasp what Yoga was but was acutely aware of the benefits.
Over the years I have left and come back to it as a practice, something in me remembering the feelings of that initial encounter. Through it, I gained my first real understanding that change and transformation were possible and that I could play a central part in its unfolding in my own life.
Now that I am much older, my understanding of it, and my relationship to it, has deepened. Some people mistakenly assume that Yoga is a way of the mind controlling the body, forcing it into unnatural positions, to tame its unpredictable nature. But I have found that, on the contrary, it is a dance between body, emotion, mind and spirit, a coming together of these in movement and breath, focus and stillness. It reaches for the flow within us.
Our bodies are an extraordinary miracle. Through them we access the material world around us via our senses; it is both the boundary that separates us from others and our environment but also our gateway to sensuous and intimate interaction with these. Our bodies are deeply responsive to our emotional lives and over time, our emotions can sculpt the shape of our physical selves, displaying our wounds and struggles to the world around us. If we leave our bodies out of our spiritual practice, the chances are we are cutting ourselves off from a valuable source of knowledge and potential for change.
After a session of Yoga, I am often surprised by the emotions that surface within me as I relax on my mat. Unresolved emotions are often stored in our bodies. When we involve the body in spiritual practice, we enable many of these to be released and processed. Barely acknowledged emotional stuff can block the conscious efforts we make towards change; they can sabotage the conscious plans we have for ourselves. When the body speaks, when our emotional truths are fully heard, we stand a better chance of embracing healthy change in our lives.
Loving to write, I am aware of how much my mind enjoys playing over ideas. I often become caught up in the chatter of that internal dialogue, entranced by the construction of systems, the placing together of language in order to explain my world to myself. Both Yoga and ritual has enabled me to coax out of myself the often ignored voice of body and feeling. At these moments of connection and communication, I am given the opportunity to open to a greater personal authenticity in the relationship I have with myself. It is not always a comfortable moment – the mind is adept in finding distractions from anything it might find unpalatable, boxing off anything that contradicts an ideal. However, the intense relief in allowing the truth of our beings to emerge (warts and all) is a powerful thing; it is the trigger point of our most important, life-changing transformations.
We hide so much of ourselves (or is that just me?), fearing that to express ourselves as we truly are might lead to rejection. I think there is a great healing in letting the body speak; in allowing it to articulate our deepest, most profound needs. Without doing so, we cut ourselves off from true intimacy with others and our environment; we become severed from our core.