Yoga is an embodied practice. It sounds obvious when I put it like that, but many of us haven’t taken the time to consider what it truly means to work with the body. The body we are interested in as yogis is not so much the physical body as seen or imagined from the outside, but the body that we can feel from within, when we breathe and move. This is our embodiment, or what we call the soma. Yoga is the practice of coming into embodiment through movement, breath and attention.
Why is it important to come into embodiment at all? The body is our home in this life, and yoga is one way for us to come home. Practicing yoga is coming to know ourselves in a somatic way, as embodied, incarnate beings. When we connect with our soma, we instantly feel more relaxed, more alive and more present – more like who we truly are. In a sense we are remembering our own wholeness, and grounding ourselves in the totality, rather than floating around, disconnected, in parts and pieces. This is why we feel so much more centered and in balance after practice – we have come into alignment with a larger sense of self, where we feel we belong.
No matter what style of yoga you practice, the body is the cornerstone and the key to everything. In my view and my teaching, each form of practice helps us come into embodiment in a different way. Each style has its own unique approach and quality in terms of what it opens up in the body, and what we learn from it about our body. So, for example, in yin yoga we learn to explore sensations and feeling-states gently and patiently – waiting for our body to respond, over time, to each posture. We take time and offer support, in the process discovering the inherent stillness and spaciousness of our own soma. On the other hand, in hatha and vinyasa practice, we activate, stimulate and energise. We explore the edges of our capacity and uncover our own hidden strength and resilience. As we flow, we also become familiar with the feel of our own energy, coming to know and rely on the heat and power that reside in the deeper layers of our body. We tune in to the pulsation and dance of our life force, enlivening ourselves and finding freedom through flowing movement. Ultimately, no matter what you look for in your yoga practice, your soma can and does provide.
Our embodiment is something that, unfortunately, we tend to forget. A large part of our daily life is spent ignoring or neglecting our soma in favour of what we think. However, even the smallest step in the direction of the body brings us closer to joy, peace and healing. I encourage you to come into embodiment and take a step towards your soma, as often and in as many ways as you can – who knows what you might discover?
This post was featured on the Yoga in Common website. Take a look here and join Vaishali in class to explore your embodiment through yoga.