Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Yoga, Breathing, and the Unconscious

For at least a couple of years, I was attending a yoga class at least once a week. It was a type of yoga called "Shadow yoga", a technique based in the ancient Hatha texts, ha meaning sun and tha meaning moon, the union of the opposites. As analyst Judith Harris wrote in her book, Jung and Yoga (2001), "The union is desired in order to awaken higher consciousness" (p. 53). The focus on the spine in the shadow yoga method brought me into a deep state of balance after each class. The connection made with the earth, with the breathing, with my own inner structure, was crucial to allowing me to root into the world in what was otherwise a very chaotic period.

Like observing the unconscious, accepting what arises in images, dreams, fantasies, thoughts, words, gestures without judgment, Harris writes that the same non-judgmental observation of one's breathing allows a heightened consciousness to develop as well.
At the beginning of a breathing practice it is only necessary to observe what is happening with the breath, what is happening in the body. It is here that consciousness begins. With only the simple act of observation, the breath is able to change, to transform into a breath that not only quietens but also can go deeper, gradually penetrating the cells of the body where healing can take place. (p. 59)
By observing breath, a primary focus in any Eastern tradition, we come into greater consciousness (or mindfulness) about our own selves. Not only do we become more aware of what is happening within us and around us in the moment, but it is a manner of working with the unconscious through the physical, versus intellectual, realm. We come to connect psyche and matter, a union of the highest importance for our psychic and physical health.

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