Yoga is…

by Michaela McLaughlin

Yoga is richly symbolic. What are you rising up from? What are you bowing down to? What keeps you gripping your toes and clenching your jaw? What are you opening your hands to give? What are you opening your hands to receive? Yoga is a physical practice of surrendering to what is mentally, emotionally and spiritually deep inside of you.

Yoga is courage. Courage in allowing one’s self to be seen and trusting that the seer honours what and who is seen and treats it with gentleness and respect; courage in letting the sweat drip over our scars and letting our breath bloom over our wounds.

Yoga is balance. The balance of extending up to the sky and rooting down to the earth. The balance between feeling at home in your body and simultaneously unattached to how your body ‘be’. The balance between a surrender to self and an openness to community.

Yoga is breath. When words divide humans into language groups, the breath unites into a universal chorus of life. Yoga is loudly humble and silently victorious.

Yoga is healing. The first thing we do upon entrance into this world is inhale. We are defined by our breath. And as we live, we become broken by misfortune and fear and shame and anger and worthlessness that is shouted loudly and whispered manipulatively into our ears. Our environment stifles our breath, suffocates our ability to exhale that which we do not claim as our own. We begin to define ourselves NOT by our innate ability to breathe, but by these emotions that envelop us into their tight grip, convincing us that we are them.

Brokenness is part of the human journey. Maybe the brokenness is in the form of injury, illness or physical limitation. Maybe the brokenness is in the form of internal scars over one’s heart. Maybe the brokenness is in the form of limitations in one’s mind about one’s ability, worth or potential. This brokenness could be self- or other- inflicted. Whatever the source and wherever stored, the brokenness seeks healing. And so we lay ourselves out on our mat.

There is something powerful in the symbolism of yoga asanas. Mountain Pose takes the lead in our practice. What happens to the brokenness when someone can stand upon their mat like a mountain? Feeling rooted, connected, strong, and stable? What happens when someone realizes that they, too, possess the ability to rise up? The mountain: a symbol for changeless beauty and strength available to the person who stands in Tadasana – Mountain Pose.

What are people coming to yoga for? Is the space a playground? A gym? A church? A community center? A school? Maybe a hospital? A rehab facility? A family reunion? A home? Yes and yes. The ancient yoga philosophy teaches us that our divine qualities include being eternal, infinite, and unified. Let these qualities blow those mental limitations out of your being. You are eternal. You are infinite. You are unified. People need to hear this. People need to hear that they are stunning. People need to hear that they are gorgeous. People need to hear that they are doing it right. People need to hear that they can choose. People need to hear that they are adored. People need to hear that they have a home.

These are some of the reasons why I do yoga. At a time in my life when everything was broken, yoga was the only practice/relationship/outlet that made me feel whole. Yoga restored a sense of safety, trust, self- acceptance and self-worth. Yoga is a gift – graciously given to me – and a gift I hope to pay forward to others.

Michaela McLaughlin is pursuing her PhD in Counselling Psychology at the University of Minnesota. To empower and inspire people through movement and art, to help the heart sing and heal and to recover the ability, grace and power that people already possess is Michaela’s reason of being.