How can we develop a more vast interior life through our yoga practice? This question has become a major focus for me even though to relate to one’s interior is quite personal and can be experienced in as many ways as there are people! This is such a rich inquiry to put into dialogue with my students and fellow teachers, so we can share our techniques and our lived experiences of moving inward.
I’ve come to understand that the experience of one’s interior could range from:
Interoseption, or the sense of the literal interior of the body. Getting still enough to feel a sensation within an organ or tissue.
Somatic practices that allow us to touch into what emotions or memories are stored in our bodies.
The depth of one’s innermost musings. Creating a space within to be present with these thoughts and eventually through the practice insight arrives.
An imagined inner space: a house, a garden, a car, or a map of some kind that avails itself to become an object of transference for us to see ourselves and how we relate to ourselves and the world.
I am particularly interested in how we combine the sensate experience of organs and glands (interoception) while integrating the imagination through maps overlaid on the glands. This pairing is yet another way to take a primal experience based on sensation and intersect it with an archetypal experience of a universal map creating a relationship to one’s interior which we get to mediate.
The process of diving deeper into the interior gives us a refuge, a space to be with ourselves and our most intimate thoughts. When we can align this soulful experience with something universal we gain a greater chance of accessing insight. The insight this process is seeking is not something that will come from forcing nor is it simply learning a technique. It is the grace that comes from repeatedly practicing a technique that will give us a chance to project our primal sensate experience onto something more universal. This projection gives us the opportunity to see how our personal experience of the world and our body measure up to the universal patterns of Nature. We are able to have the granular experience of the personal with the bird’s eye view of the universal. Reconciling this polarity allows us to become more spherical when we are able to zoom out and see how experiences, practices, and histories converge into a rich narrative tapestry integrating the individual into the cosmic.
Within a pranayama practice we are working with the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the body, at times increasing the amount of oxygen leading to the heady feeling that is so common after the practice. By virtue of working with the breath we are causing the nervous system to move into its parasympathetic mode i.e. relaxation. This is done by increasing the quality and efficiency of our breath as well as moving more blood and lymph to all of our internal organs via the pumping of our lungs. In a way, taking pressure and work off of the heart. We are truly in the midst of a chemical game.
In a Katonah pranayama practice we typically go up or down the glandular scale, pairing the work with the metaphor of the body as a car, house, garden, etc. After this has been done for quite some time, one may gradually want to spend time meditating on the housing and sensation of each gland. I would argue that this is a version of a long held practice within the traditions of yoga. Each of the seven main endocrine glands is in a similar place to each of the seven chakras, which permeate a good deal of modern yoga classes from casual mentions to workshops on how to tune into these energy centers. Some have even overlaid Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs onto the chakra system. What we are doing is yet another iteration of this exploration, a version I frankly find fascinating.
By virtue of my cultural context I tend to be more interested in the glands as a map. Conveniently enough they contain strikingly similar qualities with the chakras they correspond to. The reason I mention that I am more interested in the glands is because there is more of a culturally relevant conversation to them, and less of a risk of cultural appropriation, an issue so rampant within the Yoga community. Western practitioners outside of the traditional Indian context are more likely to have a personal relationship to glands; speaking of them with healthcare providers, or a friend. In short, I think the cultural relevance means there are many more ways to access the information and theory. In this context we can use all of this information to play with how we relate to it in our yoga practice.
I deliberately chose the word “play” to emphasize that we are not moving into this with a medical mindset, a common potential pitfall of a Katonah Yoga practitioner. Instead, the goal is to keep it magical not medical; using medical information when it helps to lead us somewhere more spherical and stop when it makes us too linear because nothing in nature is linear. Science is amazing and should be cross referenced to make sure we’re not verging on quackery, yet we can hold the linear medical conversation in dialogue with a mystical one. Yet again creating another triangulation birthed from the practitioner knowing how to mediate their experience of the world.