How Yoga Cleanses Your Spiritual Closet
My yoga practice has yielded some unexpected results over the last few years. It is the changes I never anticipated that I find the most intriguing. Take for instance my toes. I certainly did not anticipate how aware I would become of these little appendages, even taking pride in my ability to spread them wide and anchor down through each one. No one mentions that to you when you start yoga. Then there's my desire to shop. Gone. I used to be an avid shopper. Now I have a few outfits that I wear regularly. My sense of style changed too. I am not as comfortable in heels or suits, both of which I used to wear nearly every day. Somehow all of those layers feel like they are covering up my authentic self.
So over the last few weekends I've been clearing out my closet. There is a lot of space to be created. The final restraint or yama in the 8 limbed yoga path is aparigraha or non-hoarding. Emptying one's closet is a pretty good way to practice aparigraha at the most basic level. It was difficult for me. Still once I started or rather forced myself, it became easier to fill bag after bag of gently and not so gently worn clothes. Most of the bags were filled with items that had become too big from a steady yoga practice. Some were filled with items that I had outgrown spiritually due to the same.
It became clear I wasn't just holding onto clothes, shoes, belts and jewelry but to memories, beliefs, thoughts and habits as well. And so this act of cleansing my closet got me thinking quite a bit about how we dress both literally and figuratively. Most of us start with the layers closest to our body and work our way out. It is also fairly common to start at the top and work our way down ending with our shoes.
In yoga it is the reverse. Every posture builds from the foundation or feet up. The postures also often start from the outside in. We hug into center (skin to muscle, muscle to bone) engaging muscular energy before shining out from the midline (bone to muscle, muscle to skin) engaging organic energy.
With this in mind, beginning from your foundation, the next time you get dressed maybe take a moment to think about whether or not you are dressed in yoga.
Feet. Yoga teaches us to spread invisible X's across the soles of our feet rooting down through the little and big toe mounds as well as the inner and outer edges of the heels. If we loose our balance usually we are either rolling in or out on the feet. Where in your life are the edges of your foundation curling up? Can you reconnect with what grounds you? When?
Legs. The legs are our stabilizers and pillars of strength. It is critical to have a strong standing leg before moving on in any balancing posture. Stability proceeds flexibility. Where in your life are you overextending yourself? Can you find balance where you are before moving on? When?
Hips. These incredible tension holders could tell quite the story. Many of us store emotions and unexpressed feelings in our hips. In pigeon as we breathe into the hips and become present the tension often releases. Where in your life are you holding onto the past? Can you let it go? When?
Waist. When we move from our core we find stability and balance. At our center is our intuition and personal truth. It is a place of knowing. Where in your life have you lost touch with that which you know to be true for you? Can you tap into your calm clear center? When?
Chest. Inside the chest is perhaps the most sacred organ our heart. It can be filled with love or fear. Opening the heart in a deep back bend like camel can be both invigorating and emotionally overwhelming. Where in your life is your heart closed? Can you open it up to both giving and receiving? When?
Shoulders. Another common spot for tension is the shoulders. They can be rounded creating a hunched over appearance. The imagery of carrying the weight of the world on one's shoulders is telling. In mountain pose we consciously roll the shoulders back and down setting them along the spine. Where in your life are you burdened? Can you unweight what is holding you down? When?
Neck. Yet another tension magnet the neck tends to direct where we are headed. Some of us overextend the neck or lead with our chin up. In mountain pose we level off the chin and draw the jawline back. Where in your life do you need to level off and possibly pull back? Can you allow yourself to do less? When?
Mouth. As you draw the jaw line back notice the teeth. In final resting pose the lips may be together but the teeth are apart. As we drop into corpse pose we gently let the tongue fall away from the roof of the mouth. Whether you clench your teeth or hold tightness in your jaw during the day or at night as you sleep it can often be a sign of unexpressed anger. Where in your life are you not expressing something? Can you find your voice? When?
Eyes. The space between the eyes can be soft or hard. During final resting pose we soften the space between the eyes. Deep vertical lines between the eyes may signify stress or over-thinking. Where in you life can you soften? Can you notice your thoughts without becoming attached to them? When?
Head. Just as we we ground down through the feet in mountain pose we lengthen through the head. From the crown of the head radiates your light and beauty. Where in your life are you not allowing your light to shine? Can you give yourself permission to radiate unabashedly? When?
Perhaps the real beauty of dressing in yoga is that you do not need to shop for it outside yourself. It can not be bought or attained. If you forget to put it on in the morning before you leave for the day it is available to you anywhere. When? Now.
"Conscious breathing, which is a powerful meditation in its own right, will gradually put you in touch with the body … As soon as your habitual state changes from being out of the body and trapped in your mind, to being in the body and present in the Now, your physical body will feel lighter, clearer, more alive."
- Eckhart Tolle