Monday, September 7, 2009

Talking the Talk

Feminism has long noted that our language helps construct our reality. Far from being mere exercises in “political correctness,” feminists note that the language we use shapes our understandings of social issues and our relationships with one another.

Anusara yoga has taken this awareness to a new level. Anusara teachers infuse our speech with life-affirming attitudes. We recognize that language matters; the storylines we tell ourselves influence our understanding of the world. As yoga practitioners and teachers, we can take the opportunity to create more empowering storylines.

What does this sound like? Instead of squeezing or tightening our legs together in handstand, we hug in toward the midline. Instead of stretching our torso in a forced way, we imagine inner body bright, which creates fullness while maintaining a soft opening. We receive a deeper breath. We allow our experience to be what it is. And we shine forth our full potential in each pose. The difference in wording crafts a more loving and empowering tone both on and off the mat.

With its base in Tantric philosophy, Anusara takes this positive angle even further to infuse yoga practice with metaphor. Anusara teachers learn how to paint descriptive pictures for our students. We radiate our energy outward on exhales and draw in on inhales like an ocean tide. We float our leg up in Warrior I, allowing the waves of energy to ripple through us. As we transition from Warrior I back to Downward Dog, we recognize that when we flow with our breath, we can harness surprising strength.

Mere semantics? I don’t think so. In a media-infused culture that trains women to view ourselves with a critical, objectifying, and fragmenting gaze, it can be transgressive to speak to ourselves and others with language that reflects our value systems and our principles. Over time, we can sculpt a more compassionate and empowering reality with life-affirming language, much like ocean waves carve softer shapes out of hardened rocks. The rhythm of time and practice enables ripples of powerful change.