When omTownYogis (nee Milwaukee Yoga Teachers Group) was born in April 2010, I sent a survey to around 75 area yoga teachers. One of the questions was “what brought you to yoga?” Many of the responses, in fact most of the responses, were heartwarming stories of personal trauma ~ the loss of loved ones, the onset of an illness, a near-devastating physical injury. My entry into a more diligent practice of yoga came with the loss of my mother and birth of my first child. With these teachers’ stories I realized that I shared common ground in that personal trauma, either emotional or physical, was instrumental in opening the door and shedding the light on what yoga has to give. But I had to ask myself why.
Yoga nurtures. Asana cultivates self-love. When I look at my toes it feels like childhood. All kinds of baggage is shed while practicing. I become light. When I stand on my head I’m back in 4th grade. I begin to feel like ME again. I begin to get to my beginnings, my Self. I am finally paying attention to it! And paying attention to it, really allowing it to resurface, tuning in to it, must be a form of loving it. It sure feels like love. Then oh heavenly Savasana. After a hearty asana session, corpse pose lets even the Me dissolve, and there is peace.
But the nurturing most of us so badly need that asana gives, as powerful as it is, must be just one aspect of why trauma victims are like iron filings to the magnet of yoga. What trauma victims truly know and, more than that, feel is that our pictures of the future are imaginary. They don’t exist. The future, if we have one, is unknown and unknowable. Likewise the past doesn’t exist, not now anyway. We have memories, but that’s all they are, sisters of imagination, incomplete and mutable. And there are so many versions of the past in so many versions of memories. The past is also in the realm of the unreal. Sure the past happened, of course it did, but it’s gone now.
The present is what is real, and we truly have it every moment. Trauma victims are able to relate to this deeply, and that we must not only tune into it, but to make anything of our gift of life we must relish it. Breathe it in. Let our breath pin us to it. Yoga’s practice of postures, breathwork and meditation pin us to the present.
But why is partaking in the present so tasty and beautiful? While the future and the past --- goals, dreams, memories, lives we imagine we are supposed to lead, stories we tell ourselves, brands we think we should wear, roles we think we should play that have worn grooves into our behavior --- while these are all in our heads, being in the present sheds these imaginary images, these bits of unreality, and is the experiencing of true reality. The present, reality, is liberating! It’s rich. It’s hi-def. The past and future are fuzzy collages, fleeting phantom images.
Leaving the imaginary worlds behind and living in reality is both grounding and elevating. It’s grounding in that we feel the weight of it, the touch and texture of it. It’s elevating in that being conscious of it allows us to identify it, discriminate it from the imaginary worlds of the past and future. And as in asana practice: grounding as we elevate – intentionally creating these oppositional forces - is where we find balance, and where there is balance, there is exhilaration and there is joy. That’s the draw, that’s the magnet of yoga.