Three and a half hours drive along the dry coastline of Southern California, we turned East into a small town shrouded in oak trees. I have come here to attend a yoga retreat at the Sagrada Wellness Center near San Louis Obispo. The center is rustic in that there is nothing fancy about it. It is not luxurious. Instead, it feels stripped of any excesses. Its style is a fusion of ranch and Zen. Being here, isolated in nature in a place designed for wellness, there is no way to escape being with yourself. The Sagrada Wellness Center feels as if it is designed minimalistically so as to be a bare container for self-reflection, transformation and rejuvenation. There is no distraction to be found here. They provide the most wonderfully high vibration foods and make it so that you have nothing to do or to think about. You are left squarely in the space of... self. As is customary on the first day of a retreat, everyone managed to bring their outside life with them here. We congregated and shared our stories about ourselves and our lives. Like most people, the attendees were highly identified with these stories and the sense of self they found in them. At the same time, they were desperate to shed the weight of them. As the days progress, these “things” people confuse for themselves are shed one by one until all that is left is the rawness of a person in the present moment with life coursing through their veins.
Even though I hardly ever attend them, I love retreats. I love the way that a group of strangers is drawn out of their separate and seemingly unrelated lives to the same spot at the same time. I love how over the course of a retreat, the synchronicities keep rising to the surface and the divine order of the universe reveals that there is no accident to the meeting of any and all of us. On the first night, in the restorative yoga class, I acclimatized to the feel of each of them. Each person is like a blast of unique flavors to each one of my senses and combining them all in one room is overwhelming when I am unfamiliar with the full range and depth of each one. In the meditation, I dis-identified far enough to watch my mind. I watched it resonate with and seek connection with some people right off the bat. I watched it bump up against and feel repelled by other people right off the bat. I watched it struggle with the fact that I was not in front of the class and leading it as a teacher, which is the role I am most identified with. I watched it resist the lonely feeling of having to be introspective during the exercise while everyone else was deep in their own process; instead of performing where everyone’s focus (and therefore mental company) is entirely with me. It did not settle for the duration of the meditation.
In the mornings here, we do Qigong. I love Qigong. I certified in China years ago to teach it in fact.
We have been doing yoga sometimes 3 times a day since I arrived here. I find it interesting that yoga is considered a pleasurable luxury by some. It is not my favorite discipline. Yoga practice will stimulate conscious and unconscious responses in every individual. Your body’s responses to yoga, whether those responses are sensations, emotions, moods, or images, are the first sign that something important is going on within you. Yoga meets the psyche and emotional center in the place where we feel reactive to the yoga. Every muscle has its own associated psychological/emotional function. A health practitioner, like myself is concerned with the responsiveness of a muscle. And a muscle’s responsiveness in yoga is mostly related to its state of elasticity. If the psychological/emotional function associated with a specific muscle was abandoned early or was not learned at all, the muscle will be under-responsive. A person will usually have a lack of aliveness and sensory awareness in this area of the body. Psychologically there may be a sense of numbness or of something missing or of not knowing how to do something. In yoga, when we stress the under-responsive muscle by using it strongly, the psychological history related to this muscle will be triggered.
If the disruption occurred later in the developmental period when a muscle was being imprinted, it will be over-responsive instead of under responsive. A person will usually have a sense that they lack flexibility, hold back, or respond in a rigid way relative to these muscle groups. For an over-responsive muscle, the trauma associated with this muscle will be triggered when it is stretched. Conversely, either stressing an over-responsive muscle or stretching an under-responsive one will tend to suppress the psychological and emotional content associated with that muscle. In my opinion, the psychological and emotional content contained in the muscles will not change simply by stretching or strengthening the muscle. You must first work-through the particular psychological/emotional issue. But that being said, working from both the direction of body and mind is ideal. Working through a psychological/emotional issue frees the associated muscle from having to “hold” that trauma. This leads to more freedom of movement and more flexibility on a mental, physical and emotional level.
Most asanas (yoga postures) will stimulate more than one set of muscles, stretching some and stressing others. As a practitioner of yoga, it is super beneficial to notice if there are certain asanas you enjoy doing and others that you consistently dislike. Are there moods or emotions that are usually evoked by certain asanas? Do you feel fatigue and give up easily when you stress certain muscles or stretch certain muscles? If you hold the asana instead of continue through with a movement, what kinds of sensations, thoughts, feelings or images come up for you? What insights come up for you? Of course, positive experience is also stored in the body. And when these parts are stressed or stretched, they also cause positive response on a psychological and emotional level. But these negative feeling experiences that occur during yoga are indications that some unresolved part of your past that is currently being triggered so as to call your attention and say, “I need your conscious presence and I need to be worked with”. Obviously, strong physiological and emotional reactions to an asana may indicate that a traumatic experience you had in the past is being triggered.
As the sun rose this morning, I participated in a group meditative walk. We staggered ourselves so as to feel as if we were on a solo walk. We wound our way through the shadows and fragile light of the morning, listening to our footsteps crush the frost that covered the grasses on the trail. We were asked a question on the walk… “What am I ready and willing to let go of?” We were told to allow the answer to come to us naturally with no thought over the course of the walk. My invitation to you is that in honor of New Years, you ask yourself the same. “What am I ready and willing to let go of?” My invitation to you is to make this question part of today’s meditative practice in your own life so that you may step into this New Year as if it is just that… NEW.